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In Praise of Plants

 In Praise of Plants
Francis Hallè
Timber Press
Publication Date: 

cloth, 334 p., ISBN 0-881-92550-0, $24.95.

The statements presented in this book are counter to those held by a majority of botanists and biologists. Mr. Hallè argues in this work that botany, including all aspects on the development, reproduction and taxonomy of plants, has long been ignored or misunderstood by most biologists. This is certainly not considered true. For example, the author bluntly states, "Plants to us are principally food, drink, raw material for industry.They do not arouse any real passion in most of us." Later he adds, "To most people, plants are not even alive." These views are certainly controversial. Given the current interests of both the public and researchers in ecology, seed banks, botanic gardens, and national parks, it would seem obvious that many are very interested in and aware of plants and their importance in the world.

The author pulls examples from recent scientific literature to illustrate his points on the physiology, reproduction and development of plants but misinterprets different findings in order to fit his thesis. He argues that plants are not individuals but composites, stating, "In plants, hybridization and convergence translate into fusions and anastamoses between the branches such that a tree is not a tree, but a network."

Mr. Hallè is a proponent of Lamarckian evolution, which holds that characteristics acquired by plants are transmitted through their heredity. Mr. Hallè states, "Between Darwin and Mr. Lamarck, nothing is certain any more. Nothing is worked out; that is my personal conviction." His statements about Darwinian evolution and genes are misleading, if not totally wrong, as in "Plant form can be established without control of genes. Genes would control the biochemical constitution of the plant but not its morphology." Morphology in the expression of different rates of growth of portions of the plant is controlled ultimately by genes and their effects in the plant's biochemistry.

Other statements in the book are equally inaccurate, such as the reference to growth of a plant cell due to the expansion of vacuole by water intake. This is instead cell enlargement; growth involves metabolic synthesis. Mr. Hallè also wrongly states that the transfer of substances through cell membranes is achieved by holes in the membrane. Instead, this process is an active one involving selective transport, the use of energy and protein receptors. This book says that chloroplasts and mitochondria are bacteria. While they may have originated at some point in the distant past as bacteria, they have become an integral part of the cell and cannot function outside of it.

The drawings scattered throughout the book are amateurish, silly and at best amusing but do not aid the reader's understanding of plants. For example, an illustration is devoted to a supposed "second Noah's ark" for plants.

Mr. Hallè, in conclusion, anthropomorphizes the characteristics of plants, stating, "We should be inspired by plants, by their sobriety, their prudence, their dignity." This book is certainly uninspiring and is not recommended.

— Luretta D. Spiess, Master Gardener and Volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden