Ten Books to Read for Plant Lovers

Thinking of snuggling up with a book this winter? With the holiday season knocking at the door, staying in with a good reading and a steaming cup of tea is an exquisite pleasure.

Here you will find ten book recommendations for botany lovers: our reading list includes both classic and contemporary books, to explore the plant universe and its connections with other worlds, from history to art. 

1. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants

The encyclopedia edited by Andrew Chevallier brings together over 550 medicinal herbs from around the globe, with practical information on medicinal properties for the treatment of common ailments. 

Plants are listed alphabetically by their Latin names and are profiled with plenty of photographs and details about their habitat, cultivation, active constituents, therapeutic actions, and traditional uses. 100 of these plant species are given additional space, with a specific section on herbal preparations, home remedies, and tips for self-treatment. 

Reference: Chevallier A., The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, Dorling Kindersley, 1996.

2. Botanical Art. From Renaissance Herbaria to the 19th Century

Plants and flowers have always influenced our imagination and the creativity of many artists who, over the centuries, have approached botanical illustration. From the pages of Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica to Renaissance herbaria, up to the work of Maria Sybilla Merian, the union between art and science has given life to authentic masterpieces. 

This book with an introduction by Chiara Nepi traces the fascinating history of botanical representation through refined color reproductions. It is a joy to flip through

Reference: Nepi C., Botanical Art. From Renaissance Herbaria to the 19th Century, VMB, 2018. 

3. Garden Flora

The volume every garden lover should keep on their bookshelf! Renowned garden designer Noel Kingsbury tells the story of 133 common plants, retracing the journey from their place of origin to our backyard and shedding light on the contribution of famous botanical explorers and gardeners in history. 

The book is richly illustrated with historical and modern photographs, as well as lavish reproductions of botanical illustrations. 

Reference: Kingsbury N., Garden Flora, Timber Press, 2016. 

4. Florario. Miti, leggende e simboli di fiori e piante

Alfredo Cattabiani is an Italian scholar of the history of religions and popular traditions, as well as a writer attracted to the plant universe. 

His book Florario is a journey into the religious and fantastic imagery, exploring the symbolic links between plants and pagan rituals, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and oriental philosophies. It includes Biblical tales, but also myths, legends, fairy tales, and literary accounts inspired by plants and flowers. 

Reference: Cattabiani A., Florario. Miti, leggende e simboli di fiori e piante, Mondadori, 1996.

5. The Commentaries of P.A. Mattioli

The Commentaries of Pietro Andrea Mattioli are a translation and expansion of Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica and a cornerstone of botanical literature. 

The Italian edition by Aboca is a reproduction of the large print published by Valgrisi in Venice in 1568. The specimen, now held at the Alessandrina Library in Rome, is renowned for the magnificent decorations by Gherardo Cibo. The work is completed by a commentary in Italian that examines the role of Mattioli and Cibo and their influence on modern botany and pharmacy. 

Reference: P. Andrea Mattioli, I Discorsi di P.A. Mattioli. The specimen painted by Gherardo Cibo, Aboca Edizioni, 2015. 

6. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World

Michael Pollan’s fascinating essay explores the relationship between humans and plants in the way people cultivate and reduce the botanical world to their will. The author discusses four fundamental desires, linking each of them with a plant species: tulip for beauty, cannabis for intoxication, apple for sweetness, and potato for control. 

History, symbolism, psychology, and botany are woven into an original and unusual tale, perfect for lovers of unconventional reading. 

Reference: Pollan M., The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2002. 

7. Taming Fruit

Over the centuries, orchards have been places of worship, rest, and sustenance, as well as a source of inspiration for artists and writers. In this book, Bernd Brunner traces their history, focusing on how man has shaped nature according to his own desires.

From the first fruit cultivation in the East to the vegetable gardens of medieval monasteries, the history of orchards is first and foremost a human story. The book offers plenty of anecdotes, as well as rich reproductions of paintings, photographs, and botanical illustrations. 

Reference: Brunner B., Taming Fruit, Greystones Books, 2021.

8. Mirabilia, la botanica nascosta nell’arte

Flipping through this book by the Italian botanist Renato Bruni is like entering a Wunderkammer of fascinating plant specimens. Eighteen botanical stories are derived from the artworks of Dürer, Degas, Hokusai, Rivera, Duchamp, Warhol, Banksy, and many others. 

The volume also addresses complex topics, such as ecological dynamics, archaeobotany, and the latest frontiers of research. Recommended for art and botany enthusiasts, to satisfy their natural curiosity.

Reference: Bruni R., Mirabilia, la botanica nascosta nell’arte, Codice, 2018. 

9. The Incredible Journey of Plants 

In this brilliant essay, botanist Stefano Mancuso tackles the theme of botanical migrations, explaining how, generation after generation, plant species have moved around the planet to conquer new spaces, exploiting every means at their disposal.

There are plants that use animals for their migrations, plants able to colonize inhospitable lands and even to travel by sea. It is a story of resilience and struggle for survival, reminding us of the potential involved in every act of migration. 

Reference: Mancuso S., The Incredible Journey of Plants, Other Press, 2020. 

10. Around the World in 80 Trees

Author and environmentalist Jonathan Drori collects the stories of 80 trees from around the world, using them to shed light on different aspects of human existence, from religion to creative inspiration, medicine, and nutrition. The book is populated with strange and bizarre tales, leading the reader from the tree-lined avenues of Berlin to the intricate forests of California, combining history, science, and a taste for anecdotes. 

The volume is completed by the illustrations of Lucille Clerc, who accompanies this literary journey with the delicate poetry of her style. 

Reference: Drori J., Around the World in 80 Trees, Laurence King Publishing, 2018.

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