parallel botany, leo lionni

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parallel botanyAs sly as any work by Nabokov, Leo Lionni’s Parallel Botany from 1977 is a fantastic  exploration of “parallel plants” the study of which T.J. Nelson, in his review of the book, states “has often been under appreciated and ignored by other biologists, almost, one might say, a backwater in which progress has been slow and difficult. There are, of course, many reasons for this; but chiefly, the principal difficulty with studying parallel plants is their lack of a basic property possessed by the vast majority of other, non-parallel plants, namely the property of `existence.”

In the General Introduction we find this:

These organisms,” writes Franco Russoli, “whose physical being is sometimes flabby and sometimes porous, at other times osseous but fragile, breaking open to display huge colonies of seeds or bulbs which grow and ferment in the blind hope of some vital metamorphosis, that seem to struggle against a soft but impenetrable skin – these abnormal creatures with pointed or horny protuberances, or petticoats, skirts and fringes of fibrils and pistils, articulations that are sometimes mucous and sometimes cartilaginous, might well belong to one of the great families of jungle flora, ambiguous, savage, and fascinating in their monstrous way. But they do not belong to any species in nature, nor would the most expert grafting ever succeed in bringing them into existence.”

And off we go into this rollicking adventure of a book which is as much an anthropological study of primitive cultures and their mythologies as a biological treatise; The Golden Bough, The Power of Myth and Species Plantarum all rolled into one.

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