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216 × 138 mm
232 pages
114 illustrations, 97 in colour
11 Jun 2018

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.

‘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

Further Reading
Associations and Websites
Photo Acknowledgements