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We're used to biting plants. We eat them for breakfast ( and lunch and dinner as well). We boil them in tea bags and stomp on them as grass, or burn them as firewood. And most of the time they don't do much back. This book is different, this book is about plants that get their own back. Not always against us, the Venus fly trap pictures on the cover may look fierce, but only to a fly. This book is about defence mechanisms in plants and some of these are fascinating.
The cover features a few carnivorous plants, the Venus fly trap, the sun dew and a pitcher plant. The pictures have been enlarged a great deal to show stunning detail. This book has an excellent section on carnivorous plants, most of which are illustrated with highly detailed photos. A very wide variety of plants are featured, including the fly trap, sundew, pitcher plants, monkey cups and bladderworts. There is information on why carnivorous plants evolved as they did as well as how they work. There is even a photo of the plant from Little Shop of Horrors.
Of course apart from horror films, plants do not grow large enough to eat us. The largest pitcher plants can eat birds and rats, but we are thankfully off the menu. Poisonous plants on the other hand represent more danger to humans. Stinging plants, like the nettle can hurt, but they aren't really that dangerous. The nettle is shown with microscopic detail here, and it really does look like a nasty weapon, but the pain soon goes away. We're lucky not to have Australia's stinger tree, because according to this, the sting can last for two weeks. Ouch! But the most serious poisonings come from eating the plant. Want to knock off your boss, husband or some other annoying person? This book may yield a few ideas, listing some of the most deadly plants. On a more serious note, at least one of these (Monkshood) is a common garden plant, if I happened to have it my garden it would be pulled up after reading this book. A lovely flower, but with children and pets I prefer not to grow anything poisonous, even though my own boys are past that stage - I wouldn't care to walk out and find a neighbour child chomping on it.
Next we get the cacti, and as my sons also like these plants ( since I'm the one who gets poked planting them) this was a very welcome addition to the book. There is one slightly gory section here, where the book talks about Aztecs stretching sacrificial victims out to die on cactus, but for the most part this is very informative and educational as well, and once again helps children understand how habitat influence evolution of the plant.
Finally there is a short section on using harmful plants. This includes using poisons in small doses as medicines, and Mexican home owners using cactus over windows to keep burglars away. Neither my sons nor I quite understood why Roman soldiers would beat their legs with nettles to warm them up though. I'd rather be cold.
We all enjoyed this book. My sons enjoyed the carnivorous plants and the cactus the most. I quite like the map showing distribution of some plants as well, but I also enjoyed the carnivorous plants section the most. This is part of Dorling Kindersley's reading scheme DK Readers, level 3. This is absolutely nothing like the Oxford Reading Scheme. DK only has 4 levels which cover the first steps into reading to a very advanced level. Level 3 is for confident readers and I feel this particular book corresponds most closely to Oxford Reading Tree's level 9 -10. I feel this book suits a very wide age range. My four year old loved the photos and really enjoyed this, although I did have to read it to him of course. My eight year old can easily read this himself, and found many of the plant facts fascinating. I have to admit that I enjoyed this book as well, and found quite a lot that I did not already know about these strange and unusual plants.
Amazon does not have any new copies of this at the moment , but the Book Depository is offering this at a very reasonable price of £2.56 with free delivery. Used copied on Amazon start at £2.67, again including free postage. Considering the quality of this book, I feel this is excellent value for money.