NONFICTION

A History of Plants in Fifty Fossils

Smithsonian. Apr. 2020. 160p. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781588346711.
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Gr 9 Up–This paleobotanical gallery offers a plethora of insights into how plants developed over the past 2.6 billion years and how scientists “read” subtle clues in fossil records. Arranged roughly in chronological order, the big, bright color photos begin with a chunk of rock from the Paleoproterozoic era showing mineral banding indicative of photosynthesis and end with a close-up of a modern seed similar to 30,000-year-old specimens that were preserved well enough to grow. The book also presents a range of fossilized cells, leaves, stem segments, and other structures (some microscopic, others, like a giant club moss embedded in a Welsh coal bed, weighed in tons). Some of the fossil photos are paired with pictures of modern relatives for comparison. In his extensive commentaries, the author relays technical observations about “coccolithophores” and “phytoliths” as he tracks the earliest appearances of surviving or extinct plant families, roots, stems, and flower parts, as well as signs of insect damage, and clues about extinction events, changes in climate, or atmosphere. “It’s not easy being a plant,” Kenrick writes, but aside from, possibly, bacteria, “no group of organisms has so profoundly affected the long course of life on Earth.”
VERDICT The dazzling visuals will draw both science-minded upper grade scholars and casual browsers. The meaty analyses will cause the former, at least, to linger.

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