Hot Off the Press: A Botanist’s Vocabulary

This review originally appeared in the November/December issue of Northern Gardener.

Adobe Photoshop PDFHave you ever been fumbling around, searching for the right terms to explain your latest gardening crisis to a Master Gardener so that you get usable information? Or, are you trying to decode the enthusiastic language of a garden catalog to ensure you choose an appropriate groundcover this time? Maybe you just want to know more about the plants that you love to spend time with?

A Botanist’s Vocabulary (Timber Press, 2016) by Susan K. Pell and Bobbi Angel is a straightforward, no-frills guide to botanical terms. After a brief introduction, the book explains 1,300 botanical terms from the prosaic (annual) to the esoteric—any idea what zoophilous* means?

Pell, the manager of science and public programs at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., uses simple language but assumes the reader has some familiarity with botany. Synonyms and antonyms are cross-referenced. For example:

mucro: a short, stiff, sharp point, as on a leaf apex or lobe; see also cusp

Angell, a scientific illustrator for the New York Botanical Garden and The New York Times, provides detailed black-and-white illustrations and highlights the key elements of multi-faceted plant structures. Even if you don’t know what term you’re looking for, you can likely find an illustration to guide you to it by flipping through the book.

The authors conclude with a list of recommendations for additional reading. You don’t need a background in horticulture to use this book, but if you are trying to get one, this book would be a valuable aid.

—Julie Jensen

* Pollinated by animals, especially those other than insects.