A Garden of Marvels

It was cold and rainy outside on March 30, but the classroom at Adkins was cozy and full of folks who sought a bit of insight into what makes plants work and how our understanding of them has developed over the past 300 years.


Ruth Kassinger

Ruth Kassinger, author of A Garden of Marvels, delighted us with her humor and knowledge of the evolution of botany from its origins in the late 1600s until Darwin stormed the scene in the 1800s.

Her book was admittedly “born of a murder” of a kumquat tree in her conservatory, and she took us through a timeline of the many scientists who developed the field of botany between 1608 and the 1870s. Four hundred years ago plants, were referred to as “imperfect animals” until Darwin connected some dots that have proven to astound us with their accuracy and wonder.

The subtitle of Kassinger’s book,“The Discovery That Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of the Way Plants Work,” gives insight into her way of teaching us through stories and illustrations. She invokes a side show of freak plants: pumpkins that require 125 gallons of water a day to grow! She states that “flowers are all about sex!” She seems more like a mystery writer, spinning stories of intrigue and revelation.

Kassinger asserts that although science has come a long way, it is still a profession of discovery and there is no ‘last answer’ to any of the questions we might have about the miracle of nature. We must ‘stay tuned!’

Her next book will be about algae.

by Anna Harding



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