Shakespeare famously asserted that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” and that’s as true for common garden roses as it is for the Megacorax, a genus of evening primroses. Though it may not sound like it, the Megacorax was actually christened in honor of famed American botanist Peter Raven, its name a play on the Latin words for “great raven.”
In this lush and lively book, celebrated botanist Sandra Knapp explores the people whose names have been immortalized in plant genera, presenting little-known stories about both the featured plants and their eponyms alongside photographs and botanical drawings from the collections of London’s Natural History Museum. Readers will see familiar plants in a new light after learning the tales of heroism, inspiration, and notoriety that led to their naming. Take, for example, nineteenth-century American botanist Alice Eastwood, after whom the yellow aster—Eastwoodia elegans—is named. Eastwood was a pioneering plant collector who also singlehandedly saved irreplaceable specimens from the California Academy of Sciences during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Or more recently, the fern genus Gaga, named for the pop star and actress Lady Gaga, whose verdant heart-shaped ensemble at the 2010 Grammy Awards bore a striking resemblance to a giant fern gametophyte. Knapp’s subjects range from Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin (Darwinia), and legendary French botanist Pierre Magnol—who lends his name to the magnolia tree—to US founding figures like George Washington (Washingtonia) and Benjamin Franklin (Franklinia). Including granular details on the taxonomy and habitats for thirty plants alongside its vibrant illustrations, this book is sure to entertain and enlighten any plant fan.
University Chicago Press
Hardcover/ 192 pages