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The Evolution of Plants

The Evolution of Plants
K.J. Willis and J.C. McElwain
Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 

paper, 378 p., $40

Calling The Evolution of Plants a paleobotanic textbook would be a disservice to a prospective reader, even though it is a textbook for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. Instead, I see it as a magnificent review of recent research in paleobotany, paleogeography, paleoecology and paleoclimatology — all focused on plants. It is an exciting synthesis, with plenty of illustrations, of the history of plants on Earth for the past 430 or so million years.

In 10 chapters, this book takes you from the earliest attempts at colonization in the Silurian to mass extinctions at the end of the Permian and Cretaceous to a global evolutionary overview of plants over time. I found Chapters 4 and 5 on the Paleozoic biogeography of the first forests fascinating, enhanced by illustrations of "suggested biomes" and paleogeographic maps. For students and some of their instructors, the work is supplemented by online materials at, which include a sample chapter, all illustrations from the text in PowerPoint format, biome maps (also in PowerPoint), Web links and other useful information.

Overall, this is a great book for anyone looking for a thoughtful explanation of the history of plants. Highly, highly recommended.

— Edward J. Valauskas, Manager, Library and Plant Information Office, Chicago Botanic Garden