“With plants, obsession and passion are key, otherwise you don’t get anywhere. If you continue with traditional techniques, you will never push boundaries or make new discoveries. You have to become obsessed in order to progress.”
Carlos Magdalena is a man obsessed with plants. Born and raised in Northern Spain, his love for horticulture began as a young child on his family’s finca and has developed into a career as a horticulturist and conservationist. He is the Tropical Senior Botanical Horticulturist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in England. In his recent book, The Plant Messiah: Adventures in Search of the World’s Rarest Species Magdalena takes readers all around the world, from the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues to the countries of Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil along the Amazon and through the Andes. He utilizes non-traditional techniques to research and save endangered plants and the best part, is that you feel like you’re there experiencing his stories with him.
I wasn’t raised gardening and I didn’t grow up around plants. My love for plants has only grown and developed over the last few years, as I’ve invested my time and energy towards The Amateur Garden. And when it comes to science, let’s just say that I did what I needed to do to get by in biology class, but in no way was it my favorite or my best subject. So why this book? Initially, I was simply intrigued by the story of Magdalena traveling the world searching for endangered and near extinct plants. But as I read the book, I became fascinated with the role each plant played in its environment and how its extinction would impact the ecosystem. I found myself googling each plant Magdalena tracked down and saved to match his detailed descriptions with an image on my computer screen. And as cuttings of endangered plants were propagated I became emotionally invested in their growth and success.
I can’t say what it is I expected from this book when I first started it. As much as I have grown to love plants, a book entirely about them is a bit out of my wheelhouse. Maybe because this book is so different from what I typically read, I experienced an enormous learning curve throughout its 250 pages. To say that this book increased my knowledge and my respect for plants would be an enormous understatement. Repeatedly I would read a section and then have to reread it in order to understand bizarre plant things that I was unaware were actual things. Like yes, lizards can pollinate plants, there are plants with different types of foliage growing on the same plant, and also there’s a plant that can change gender based solely on the temperature of where it is planted. I learned about waterlilies that go dormant and disappear during the dry season, only to reemerge once the rain returns.
Most importantly, I learned about the loss of flora and fauna throughout the world at the hands of humans and the efforts that Magdalena and other conservationists are making to decrease the destruction of forests and plant life. Efforts such as educating locals on how to take plant cuttings in order to restore endangered plants, while continuing to utilize them. And sharing techniques and plant cuttings with botanical gardens across the globe, in hopes of restoring populations of endangered plants.
The Plant Messiah is the kind of book you read, pass along to everyone you know, and then start from the beginning once it’s returned. Magdalena’s storytelling is captivating and entertaining and you, as a reader, find yourself engrossed by each and every chapter as you travel the world in search of endangered plants that need saving.