Review: A Field Guide to Surreal Botany

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Field Guide to Surreal Botany (cover)

A Field Guide to Surreal Botany
edited by Janet Chui & Jason Erik Lundberg
illustrated by Janet Chui

Two Cranes Press, 2008
76 pages, ISBN 9789810810177
$12/Trade paperback

These days you have to crinkle the map a bit to find any edges, but that makes the edges no less real. And still at the edges of the map lie not only dragons and other fauna, but quite curious flora as well, though in some instances the distinction is difficult.

"A Field Guide to Surreal Botany" begins with an elegant introduction to the world of surreal botany, and its move to the underground of science since the eighteenth century. But:

The publishers of this book believe that the time for remaining ignorant of surreal botany has come to an end. Personal safety alone would justify the information on some of these specimens coming to light, and readers will surely appreciate learning of the plants whose threats are lesser, or that are disappearing as the plants themselves become more rare. This book may be read and appreciated by gardening enthusiasts, paranormal investigators, and conspiracy theorists alike.

To that last list, I would add: the whimsically creative, the writer dry of ideas, precocious children, geneticists, and perhaps those very surreal plants themselves as are capable of assimilating information from this printed form. The guide delights with forty-eight detailed and researched (and in the case of the Big Yellow Flower of Unnecessarily Obvious Information, perhaps overly detailed and researched) plants (or plant-like beings, or vaguely plant-like things) that exist across the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and in some cases "beyond".

That is not to say the book is without flaw--with so many contributors, the tone at times falls from the requisite scientific to more mundane turns of phrase; and some of Janet Chui's wonderful illustrations, for me, fall short of perfection. And while I'm wishing, I really could have gone for a more thorough set of indexes--it's frustrating to remember a plant and have to go scan the table of contents, where they're alphabetized per region.

Really, though, it is a beautiful book, and the humor and erudition is more than consistent enough to carry the bemused reader away--they do warn you about some of those plants! While the Forget-me-bastard merely causes itching, stinging, and rash, the Time Cactus can trick the unwary researcher or amateur botanist into a quite deadly trance (sending nutrients back along a wormhole to previous times of scarcity). I would recommend a copy of this book to be nestled in among any collection of its more prosaic ilk.

- reddit, digg, facebook, stumbleupon, etc... please! ;)
posted by kaolin

34 comments; 17 subscribers

Wednesday, January 21, 2009 / 07:28:02
TO ENTER TO WIN OUR (Signed!) COPY, TELL US--about your favorite flora (real or imagined). Entries will be considered through Monday, February 2nd, 2009 (midnight, pacific time). Open to anyone in the US/Canada.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009 / 21:26:46
what a very intriguing book this seems like... I'd love to have it!

And my favorite flora... well, I'm not sure exactly what a flora is. But I'll say "Daisy" even though that surely makes me look stupidified. ;)
Thursday, January 22, 2009 / 05:47:50
Wouldn't mind winning this myself. Damn house rules!
Thursday, January 22, 2009 / 10:39:06
Can I repeat 'Daisy'?

Only because before I started dating my girlfriend, I gave her a daisy and that pretty much told her how I felt. Because I'm lame and unimaginative, I now give her daisy's for every special occasion. :)

@Ghostamongme: we be stupidified together because I'm just as clueless! :D (Not to mention I gave the same answer, but there was a reason behind that. lol)

FACT: My aunt owns a local florist! :D
Thursday, January 22, 2009 / 12:57:04
No favorite, but the book sounds delightful.
Thursday, January 22, 2009 / 12:58:00
Sunnyvale--just so you realize, that doesn't count as an entry. :)
Thursday, January 22, 2009 / 17:36:38
My favorite imaginary Flora is from the Star Trek episode This Side of Paradise - strange flowers that shoot a puff of spores that make everyone feel at peace and happy. Yep, I'm a geek LOL

My favorite real life surreal Flora is the Pink Lady's-slipper (Pink Moccasin-flower) Cypripedium acaule
grew up with those in the woods of my New England home and my parents told me they were fairy shoes discarded after a night of wild dancing in the moonlight that took root where they fell
Thursday, January 22, 2009 / 18:56:01
Primula Japonica, a whole river bank of them, that's my favorite. Thanks for a great giveaway!
Friday, January 23, 2009 / 00:41:48
My favorite flora is the hosta. Thanks for the giveaway!
Friday, January 23, 2009 / 14:23:23
Lilacs. Does that count. Favorite all the way
Friday, January 23, 2009 / 17:51:16
Hosta has got to be among my favourites.
Saturday, January 24, 2009 / 14:26:43
Ursula hurries through the high Catwalk Wood, coming upon rowan hung with berries bloodier than blood, and the silent ringing of foxglove bells in purple and white, and the hum of insects in her ears. Cobwebs heavy with night-wet beads catch in her skirts. Where she walks and runs and walks again, a tunnel through the trees, and to left and right the unstrung fiddle-heads of ferns unfurling, and stepping into air if she misses the path, and trees falling or fell, and she would too, and sliding all the way down if she did, to where rosebay willowherb sets to flame the woodland water edges. But Ursula knows the twists and turns of where she walks, runs, and does not stop to wonder at broken light making jewels from pockets of wood cranesbill and cushions of mossy saxifrage. Ursula thinks she might be late, but I am waiting.

(And all my favourites are in there, the flora of the Catwalk Wood, near where I live.)
Monday, January 26, 2009 / 21:49:36
Triffids. That is all.
Monday, January 26, 2009 / 21:52:32
Bah, they've had their day. ;)
Wednesday, January 28, 2009 / 10:18:51
My favorite flora has always been a field full of tulips...
Saturday, January 31, 2009 / 10:33:20
my favorite are tree peonies
Saturday, January 31, 2009 / 14:59:17
the ents -- the walking, talking trees from lord of the rings
Sunday, February 1, 2009 / 02:49:56
Well the pie trees of Xanth fame are great. In this land, these trees create every kind of pie, then there is Ivy, that watches you, shoe trees...its a very puny place
Sunday, February 1, 2009 / 07:08:19
John Gerard, a herbalist from another century, wrote: "...there is a small llande in Lancashire called the Pile of Foulders...whereon is found a certaine spume or froth, that in time breedeth unto certaine shels." These mussel-shaped shells would grow until they split open, revealing "the legs of the Birde hanging out...til at length it is all come foorth." The bird would hang by its bill until fully mature, then it dropped into the sea "where it gathereth feathers, and groweth to a foule, bigger than a Mallard, and lesser than a Goose."

That is to say, geese-bearing plants! And in his herbal is a picture of the plant, the heads of the flowers like closed tulips, and geese legs emerging from the pursed mouth.

The geese, I think, are barnacle geese, and the myth of their plant-birth had apparently been revealed as a falsehood many years before the publication of John Gerard's book. So why did it remain in Gerard's herbal ? One theory explains that if geese were thought to be from a plant, then they could be eaten on days when meat shouldn't be consumed.

When I read about these mussel-shaped flowers and the birth of geese from their opening, they became my favourite mythical plant... I want there to be plants like this.
Sunday, February 1, 2009 / 16:01:58
Hello Kaolin, I took this as a writing prompt, and decided to write a little piece of fiction in the spirit of "A Field Guide to Surreal Botany." Thank you for sponsoring this great giveaway.

[[ excerpt removed at author's request ]]
Monday, February 2, 2009 / 07:36:00
I can't think up a good fictional flora, so I'll go with my favorite real-life one: Penstemon Violet Dusk.
Monday, February 2, 2009 / 08:35:19
Venus Fly Trap real and Imagined is my favorite.
Monday, February 2, 2009 / 09:24:23
Automovilous Devourus: a cross between a dogwood tree and a venus fly trap -- nobody knows just quite what they're good (or bad) for, but it should be considered bad luck to park too close to one...

("okay, dog, chasing that car and barking wildly -- what you gonna do if you CATCH it?? ... Ohhh, hey, wow -- euuuwgh!!")
Monday, February 2, 2009 / 15:14:50
A Joshua Tree
Monday, February 2, 2009 / 17:42:00
I agree with Hostas...they can be beautiful when they bloom!
Monday, February 2, 2009 / 18:26:40
I would like to see a silvered landscape populated with Peyo-esque mushroom cottages imbued in auric crimson hues of crepuscular twilight,yearning for the harvest moon!
Monday, February 2, 2009 / 20:26:55
Christina - - I love the lilies of the valley, who hide shyly behind their large green leaves. As a child I remember being taught a song that went, "White choral bells, upon a slender stalk, Lilies of the valley line my garden walk"!
Monday, February 2, 2009 / 20:54:45
I love the apple trees that didn't want to share their fruit with Dorthy in the "Wizard of Oz".
Monday, February 2, 2009 / 23:32:10
I love lilies for obvious reasons. ;0P
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 / 16:25:30
Gravatar selects the magic number 16 -- pancak! Congratulations! And thank you all for the entries (and especially the freewrites--much appreciated :) )

Keep checking back for more raffles.

And, you know, if you think our opinions on fiction/etc jive with yours a bit, check out a copy of the magazine, yeah? :)
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 / 17:45:23
LOL, wow that sucks! When the contest stated "Entries will be considered" I believed it to mean that entries would be judged on their individual merit, not on an arbitrary random draw. If it had stated that it would be completely random, I wouldn't have put in over an hour of writing time for my entry. Writing time is elusive and comes at a premium. ;~)

Can everything below the "-------------------" line in my entry be deleted please? I want to try to expand a little on what I wrote and use it as a flash piece somewhere. Thank you in advance!
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 / 17:52:41
Damn, very sorry rsdevin--there's usually a blurb about it being a random draw from the valid entries (sometimes with a comment about "special" entries counting double).

I've edited your original post, and best of luck with it--I hope it goes somewhere! :)
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 / 19:05:09
Thank you Kaolin. I was attempting to complain in a light-hearted and carefree manner, which is hard to convey by written word. I hope you did not take it too seriously or think I was upset. I appreciate the contest, GUD magazine, and thank you for all that you do.

Congratulations pancak, I hope you enjoy the book. I have wanted it for many months now; looks like I will have to break down and purchase it finally. :~)
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 / 19:12:20
I'm glad it wasn't too big a deal on your end--I still feel bad. Hopefully it'll put a reminder in the back of my head for the next one I post. :)

Trying to get through a couple of small projects so I can get back to GUD's email and slush. *ulp*

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