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Natural Affairs: A Botanist Looks at the Attachments Between Plants and People Hardcover – March 16, 1993


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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Among the "natural affairs" of plants are floral structures designed to attract only certain pollinators and nectars that will only accommodate others. Such botanical curiosities are the essence of these entertaining and instructive essays by the author of Wily Violets and Underground Orchids ( LJ 6/1/89). While the marvels of cross-pollination dominate his attention, Bernhardt also considers the interactions of artists with flowers, an Australian sanctuary in which art and nature become one, and the salad bowl, which instructs us on elementary botany. In each of these pieces, Bernhardt seasons his science with history, mythology, an occasional recipe, and wit. For popular science and natural history collections.
- Laurie Bartolini, Lincoln Lib., Spring field, Ill.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

``The image that the study of plants was something to occupy polite ladies in nineteenth-century drawing rooms is an image of botany that is gone forever,'' says the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney in a foreword to this second essay collection by St. Louis University botanist Bernhardt. That message was clear to readers of the author's estimable Wily Violets and Underground Orchids (1989), who will be delighted to have further confirmation here. Bernhardt again details plant lore based on his experiences down under and in Central and North America. The underlying theme is people in relation to plants. So we have accounts of greenhouses and orangeries and of artists as disparate as Rousseau and Mapplethorpe capturing flora in paintings and prints. We learn that daffodils were once despised by the English as ``bastard affadils'' but later rose to respectability to the point of boring plenitude on roadsides and lawns. Meanwhile, Bernhardt has his own likes and dislikes. He likes the poorer old Australian cemeteries where true wildflowers can be found, including myriad species of orchids. He makes a case for columbines instead of roses as our national flower (they grow in almost every state and come in red, white, and blue). He waxes eloquent on wattles, the woody acacia shrubs that come in abundant colors and scents. Elsewhere, we learn of the cannabis trade, the consequences of human transport of species across continents, and the origins of your garden-variety salad. Through it all, Bernhardt's interest in reproduction enlightens the reader in the weird and wonderful ways of plants and pollinators, sometimes to mutual benefit, but sometimes to murder, cannibalism, and other malign events that do indeed cast botany in a fascinating, unladylike light. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 225 pages
  • Publisher: Villard; 1st edition (March 16, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679413162
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679413165
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,891,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Bernhardt was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1952 and grew up on Long Island. His interest in natural history developed thanks to the woodland reserve two blocks from his house separating the towns of Merrick and Freeport, his summer attendance at Meroke Day Camp and the influence of local plant breeder and garden designer, the late Joseph Reis. His indulgent parents allowed Peter to keep many small pets (birds, tropical fish, newts, turtles) as well as pots of cacti and succulents. His 1974 BA in Biology came from the State University of New York at Oswego and Peter credits his first attempt at botanical research (a project on how prickly pear cacti grow spines) to Professor James Seago. After taking his Masters Degree in Biology from the State University of New York at Brockport in 1975 Peter spent over two years in Peace Corps at the University of El Salvador in Central America collecting plants for the university's herbarium (plant museum), teaching undergraduate courses and conducting field studies on the pollination of the Gabriel flower (Echeandia macrocarpa). His first popular article on how wild orchids street trees and telephone poles in the city of San Salvador appeared in "Natural History Magazine." After a few months as a technician at the New York Botanical Garden in 1977 he was contributing articles to their now defunct magazine, "Garden." By 1977 he accepted a doctoral scholarship at the University of Melbourne, Australia, where he studied the breeding systems of box mistletoes (Amyema) under Malcolm Calder and the late Bruce Knox. He remains a Professor of Biology at Saint Louis University, Missouri (see his web page at the SLU Department of Biology) and a Research Associate of both the Missouri Botanical Garden (St. Louis) and the Royal Botanic Gardens of Sydney (Sydney, N.S.W., Australia). His fieldwork in pollination biology takes him to Kansas, Missouri and Oregon and abroad to Australia, Israel and China. A sabbatical in 2009 took him back to Australia where he and Retha Meier studied how blue sun orchids (Thelymitra) are pollinated by native bees and why blue-flowered species often hybridize with each other or with the yellow lemon orchid (Thelytmitra antennifera). Consequently, Dr. Bernhardt's books on plant life are often based on real experiences he's enjoyed in the field, the laboratory and his own home garden.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Harry Eagar VINE VOICE on October 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As I wrote in a review of one of Peter Bernhardt's other excellent collections of botanical essays, a surefire way to identify a faker when it comes to discussions of evolution is to ask whether he says anything about plants. Fakers never do.

The whole intelligent design fraud is about animals. Darwin knew better.

Even if he had never written about theory, he would still have been the greatest experimental biologist of his time (perhaps of all time) and one of the greatest field naturalists.

In 1877, Darwin published "The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species" based on his study of South African wood sorrels. What he noticed is heterostyly, an important feature of plant reproduction that is still not fully understood.

Bernhardt writes, "For me, much of Darwin's genius comes from his talent for using the most common creatures to explain complex topics."

I guarantee that none of the phonies at the Creation Research Institute ever heard of a wood sorrel nor could any describe the ins and outs of the forms of flowers that botanists call pins and thrums.

In other essays, Bernhardt considers what goes into a salad, why saffron is so expensive (and describes how phony saffron is made), the contradictory mystical reactions of Spanish priests to the passionflower, and daffodils, among other byways of people inyeracting with plants.

As always, Bernhardt's writing is graceful and meaty (or should we say planty?). In three volumes, I have caught him in only one, somewhat excusable error.

On a visit to Hawaii, he fell for the tall tale about forest places too dangerous to visit because violent marijuana farmers are protecting their (squatted on) turf. It's a good story to thrill the tourists but it isn't true.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Marilyn F Dodge on August 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I would comparethe book Natural Affair to the works of Beverly Nichols, but a century later and in the US!!
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