Green Plants: Their Origin and Diversity

Green Plants: Their Origin and Diversity
Peter R. Bell and Alan R. Hemsley
Cambridge University Press
Publication Date: 

paper, 349 p., $31.95

This book is a comprehensive exposition of Earth's earliest green plants, the cyanobacteria that first appeared almost a billion years ago, and their evolution to today's amazingly diverse group of gymnosperms, angiosperms and other living organisms. Fossil records and reconstructed ancient life forms help to fill in a continuum, from the simple to the complex. The development of structures of the cell and the path of organization to higher forms is laid out in the text in great detail. Only a trained botanist or biologist will be able to follow the intricate technical expositions of this masterpiece, but it is so well written that an educated layman will gain a basic appreciation of the subject. This book is a textbook and reference work, newly updated from the first edition of 1992, which shows how rapidly our understanding of the intricacies of plants has advanced.

Non-professional readers will be most comfortable with the treatment of gymnosperms (conifers and cyads) and angiosperms (flowering plants). The authors have a wonderful knack for the apt and arresting example, often provided when the reader's attention has been strained to its limits. One memorable factoid, in the context of describing annuals, perennials and others, is the life cycle of the tropical palmCorypha. The life cycle of Corypha terminates after many years in an inflorescence of some 100,000 flowers in a mass 14 meters high and 12 meters broad. The fact that so many mysteries of four billion years of evolution have been unwrapped in the past century suggests that the age of discovery has not passed.

— John F. Swenson, Volunteer, Plant Information Office, Chicago Botanic Garden