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5.0 out of 5 stars Some things you've gotta know..., September 20, 2006
This review is from: Insectivorous Plants (Paperback)
1. As I write, the complete works of Charles Darwin are available online for free. For instance, you can view this book's content, including all of its images, and the original page numbers, at John van Wyhe's britishlibrary website. This online version includes an excellent indexing and search facility that contains more information than the book's actual index.

2. This book describes Darwin's studies of how carnivorous plants catch, ingest and digest flies. The experiments are historically significant... and amusing, if only for the interesting forms of gunk used by Darwin to study the plants. Of the 18 chapters, the first 11 deal with one specific variety of sundew, Drosera rotundifolia. The twelfth chapter covers other varieties of sundew. The thirteenth and fourteenth chapters are on the Dionaea Muscipula (Venus fly-trap) and Aldrovanda vesiculosa (an aquatic trap). The fifteenth describes the Drosophyllum lusitanicum (Portuguese sundew), the Roridula dentata, and the Byblis. Chapter 16 covers Butterworts (Pinguicula), while the final two chapters examine Bladderworts (Utricularia).

3. If you are interested in Darwin history: In "Insectivorous Plants," we see Darwin the experimentalist, with his old friends, colleagues and family, uniting in 1874 to catalogue and understand insectivorous plants. Included in the studies are long-time Darwin associates Hooker and Thistelton-Dyer from Kew, Sanderson (experimenting with plant digestion) at University College London, Asa Gray at Harvard, and Darwin's sons. There was some correspondence with Lyell, on this topic, but Lyell's friendship with Darwin had soured, and Lyell died while Darwin worked on this book. This book initially sold more rapidly than The Origin of the Species. Francis "Frank" Darwin met and married Amy Ruck, his first wife during this time. George Romanes, who had studied with Frank at Cambridge, joined the family at this time, and may have had an influence on the book. Darwin also corresponded about such scientific greats as FC Donders. And so Insectivorous Plants will be interesting to those who are familiar with Darwin's life and times. If you want to read Darwin's correspondence during this time, see "The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin" (F. Darwin, 1905, also available online). Chapter 13 covers insectivorous plants. As the book went to press, Darwin wrote Hooker: "You ask about my book, and all that I can say is that I am ready to commit suicide; I thought it was decently written, but find so much wants rewriting, that it will not be ready to go to printers for two months, and will then make a confoundedly big book. Murray will say that it is no use publishing in the middle of summer, so I do not know what will be the upshot; but I begin to think that every one who publishes a book is a fool."

4. If you are interested in evolution, and the the evolution of insectivorous plants: There isn't much if any discussion of evolution in this book. If I'm not mistaken, Darwin took something of a break from evolutionary theory and natural selection when he wrote this book. As far as I know, Darwin didn't spend much time speculating about the evolution of these plants. Apparently, there isn't much of a fossil record of carnivorous plants. As tests of genetic similarity have improved, there has been new speculation about the evolution of carnivores. Some sources: A) Juniper, B. E., Robins, Richard J. and Joel, D. M. (1989). The Carnivorous Plants. London; San Diego, Academic Press. B) Cook, Steve R. (2001). ?When plants kill.? Accessed online: October 10, 2001. (find online) C) Cameron, Kenneth M., Wurdack, Kenneth J. and Jobson, Richard W. (2002). Molecular evidence for the common origin of snap-traps among carnivorous plants. American Journal of Botany. 89(9): 1503-1509. (find online). Barry Rice's new book is due out any day, and I feel confident that it will examine this issue clearly.

5. If you are interested in learning more about carnivorous plants, take a look at the list of sources I'll post under Listmania. I feel confident that the new book by Barry Rice will be an excellent source. There are excellent books to consider that have been authored by Gordon Cheers, Peter D'Amato, Rica Erickson, Barry Juniper et al., Patricia Kite, Francis Lloyd (1940's), Allen Lowrie, Charles Nelson, James & Patricia Pietropaulo, Nick Romanowski, Donald Schnell, Adrian Slack, Dorothy Souza, and others. The new book by Rice is probably the most important new book since Schnell (2002) and D'Amato (1998), both highly recommended. Much depends on your interests and level of knowledge. So stay tuned for my list!
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