Houseplant Botany
January 10, 2020 4:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm not a millennial, but I have been having fun building my houseplant collection of late. Now I find that I'm wanting to learn a bit more about these lovely creatures in my house. What's the best way for a non-science person to learn something about the botany of houseplants?

I asked a clerk at the plant shop if something was a maranta or a calathea, and he commented that they're related. Of course! Makes sense! Now I find I want to learn more.

The typical houseplant guidebooks and encyclopedias are good resources for houseplant care, but they aren't teaching me about the plants themselves beyond how much to water them. I barely passed Bio 101 in college and know the scientific names of a few plants, but that's about it. I did read most of Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire several years ago. Is there a way to learn some basic botany that focuses on houseplants? I'd be glad for something with a narrative structure like Pollan's book or something that's closer to a textbook, but I need something aimed at a more popular audience, not an advanced bio major. Can we say I'm an intelligent non-expert?

Given my limited knowledge, I realize my framing might be off, so I'm open to your ideas.
posted by bluedaisy to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
What do you want to learn or better understand about houseplants? Botany is a fairly big tent these days, and no one popular source will cover them all. So you can probably get better answers if you specify more of your interest. Eg Pollan’s book is fun and good but it’s also 90% ethnobotany.

Here are several topics in house plant botany to think about:

How plants are organized taxonomically
How plants metabolize and signal internally
How plants grow and allocate resources
How plants signal externally
How plants reproduce and disperse in the wild
How plants reproduce and disperse in captivity
How plants have evolved
How plants defend against pests
How plants are used culturally
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:05 PM on January 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Phenology, in the wild and human-controlled
posted by clew at 5:34 PM on January 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’d start with a college introductory text on botany, and look up houseplants specifically as I got curious about them. Freshman college texts are exactly aiming for bright and uninformed readers, after all.
posted by clew at 5:36 PM on January 10, 2020

Best answer: This may seem a weird suggestion but I got really into houseplants after I started reading Botany Shitposts. It's a blog run by a college botany student who is just in love with and fascinated by botany, and reading his posts has really opened my eyes to how fascinating and complex plants are. It's not gonna give you a straightforward primer but I definitely recommend reading it regularly. Even the silly stuff and even the stuff you can't fully understand because you're not a botanist.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:00 AM on January 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

You might be interested in books by a German Forest Manager - Peter Wohlleben
Most is about trees, but tons of plant talk. Not hard reads, either.
posted by dustpuppy at 1:00 PM on January 11, 2020

Wikipedia is a great resource for learning about individual plant species and how they are related to other species. Use the species page to find out what family a plant belongs to, read about the family, and learn about related genera in that family. Taxonomy is interesting! Wikipedia is also valuable when you want to learn more about food species, spices, and herbs.
posted by Agave at 5:55 PM on January 11, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks, all! For anyone else who stumbles across this later on, a friend also recommended Plant Families
A Guide for Gardeners and Botanists
posted by bluedaisy at 4:01 PM on February 10, 2020

« Older How can I make the best of an old beast of a...   |   To mix...the impossible mix. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.