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Dimensions:
216 × 138 mm
232 pages
Format:
Hardback
ISBN:
9781780239170
Illustrations:
114 illustrations, 97 in colour
Published:
11 Jun 2018
Series:
Botanical

Palm Fred Gray

The extraordinary palm: diverse, prolific, essential, symbolic and often sacred, exotic – and at times erotic – exploited and controversial. The signature plant of the tropics and subtropics, these record-breaking botanicals produce the world’s biggest and heaviest seed, the longest leaf and the longest stem. Over thousands of years, palms sustained rainforest communities and were bound up with the development of ancient civilizations. They gained mystical and religious meanings and became a plant of abstractions and fantasies, a symbol of being at leisure, away from civilization and closer to nature – and at times of danger and devastation. In the nineteenth century capitalism used palm products to lubricate industry and cleanse empires. Iconic palm houses put on show this exceptional vegetative performer. Far from its natural homelands, it nowadays clothes and glamorizes an astonishing diversity of landscapes. Today oils from palms are consumed daily by millions of people worldwide. The plant is embedded in modern consumer societies, but mired in environmental controversy over the destruction of rainforests.

In Palm Fred Gray portrays the cultural and historical significance of this iconic and controversial plant over thousands of years. Superbly illustrated, this lively and engaging book is the first of its kind.

‘A must-read book. Even if you don’t think you’re interested in palms, you should probably know how crucial a role they play in your life . . . [Palm is] beautifully written and perfectly peppered with good references, photographs and paintings. It's a pleasure to read, but it wasn't until I got to palms and capitalism that for me this book became something else . . . What this book teaches, in its mannered and careful approach, is that palm oil is in much more than just biscuits and lipstick, it lubricates the modern world and how it got to play that role is carefully laid out . . . The palm as a motif is often symbolic of leisure, of opulent exoticism and the remote desert island getaway and yet in reality it is playing a far more destructive role.’ – Alys Flower, Gardens Illustrated

‘This is a beautiful book. The hard-back binding is pleasing and the page layout and type face all carefully thought out and appropriate. Throughout it is illustrated with beautiful photographs or art reproductions, almost all in color. It is also an easy read, and there is much to stimulate. The links made between palms and literature are sometimes surprising and entertaining. This is the sort of book that would sit well on the bedside table in a palm enthusiast’s guest bedroom. Here is an easily read, palm-themed book, filled with entertaining anecdotes and serious political matter, to while away the time, gently informing the reader about selected aspects of this most magnificent of flowering plant families. It is not an exhaustive introduction to the palm family, but the reader may learn much about the interactions between palms and man, particularly in history, art, culture and trade. At £16, it is a steal.’ – John Dransfield, Palms: Journal of the International Palm Society

‘there’s not only great depth, there’s also tremendous breadth in this comparatively slim volume, and you never really know where your palm adventures will end up. But, that’s a big part of the delight and surprise in this book, and one which is not only abundantly illustrated, but also stylishly and well-written.’ – Botony One

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Fred Gray is Emeritus Professor of Continuing Education at the University of Sussex, Brighton. He is the author of Designing the Seaside: Architecture, Society and Nature (Reaktion, 2006).

1 The Prince of Plants
2 Dissecting the Giant Herb
3 The Civilizing Date
4 Western Discovery
5 Empire and Utility
6 Of Tigers, Plantations and Instant Noodles
7 The Ornamental Palm
8 Captive Performer
9 Abstractions and Fantasies

Timeline
References
Further Reading
Associations and Websites
Acknowledgements
Photo Acknowledgements
Index