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Jacques Lawinski

Jacques Lawinski

PhD candidate in philosophy and ecology at Université Paris VIII, visiting researcher in Lesvos, Greece. A writer, an activist, and an avid walker, I explore the planet and what it means to relate to nature, finding new, ecological ways of being.

The Cabaret of Plants: Botany and the imagination – Richard Mabey

Profile Books, 2016.

Richard Mabey is a British writer and broadcaster on the relations between nature and culture. This book is a story of plants, and their incredible place in our imagination.


If you’re remotely interested in plants, or the history of plants and human beings, this book is for you. Through numerous chapters each dedicated to a different form of plant life, Mabey takes us on a journey of our relationship with the natural world. We’re confronted with obscene and quite frankly bizarre habits of bygone eras such as the Victorian times, as well as fascinating stories of research and scientific observation which cause us to question what we know about plants.

There are several standout stories in the book, for me. The story of the apple tree is fascinating – how they evolved in a very small mountainous area in China, were selectively bred by bears more than 7,000 years ago, and then were gradually spread by human ancestors across the continent. Another favourite is the story of the orchid, how Victorian growers and plant enthusiasts would travel to the other side of the planet to find orchids to bring home and sell at extortionate prices. They would create false maps to lead others off the trail, and ensure that they collected all the species they could find to preserve the rarity and ownership of the orchids.

This relationship between humans and plants has evidently been one of interconnectedness and dependence. We rely on plants for our food systems, but also so much of our cultural references. New Zealand, for example, is not mentioned in the book, but one need only look at our significant national symbols, such as the silver fern and the koru, as well as the mānuka used to sell honey, and the giant rimu and kauri trees that used to populate the country, as examples of how closely we are linked to our vegetal life.

The book is poetical and brilliantly written, and reads like a voyage into the life of plants and their relations. Relatively easy to read, yet also incredibly informative, this book is a great way to remind ourselves of the way we think about plants, and challenges our view that they are inert and inactive beings.

The Cabaret of Plants is available at Paper Plus NZ here, or check out your local bookshop to see if they have it in stock or can order it for you. 

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Our environment is more than a resource to be exploited. Human beings are not the ‘masters of nature,’ and cannot think they are managers of everything around them. Plurality is about finding a wealth of ideas to help us cope with the ecological crisis which we have to confront now, and in the coming decades. We all need to understand what is at stake, and create new ways of being in the world, new dreams for ourselves, that recognise this uncertain future.

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