Germination Genius…

Author:  Thor Hanson

triumph of seeds cover (230x346)Are they dead or alive?  Even with a magnifying glass it’s impossible to tell if there’s any life in a handful of beans or an old dried up peach pit.  Yet even in the harshest conditions seeds can display incredible  durability.  You can neglect them in the driest desert, send them through the digestive tract of a grizzly bear, expose them to the vacuum of space or bury them in rubble for more than two thousand years and they can manage to germinate if you provide them with just enough soil, water and air.  In fact, the only way to really know if some seeds are dead or alive is to plant them and wait patiently.  In The Triumph of Seeds, naturalist Thor Hanson engagingly explores these remarkable wonders of the natural world.

The book answers countless questions:   Where do baby plants get the energy to grow?  How did plants conquer dry land?  Why are hot peppers hot?  Why do rodents have such big teeth?  Why are dandelions everywhere?  Each question has one seemingly simple answer:  seeds.  Of course, biology is never so simple and the complexity is in the many details, which Hanson delves into with great enthusiasm.   Dividing the book into five thematic sections – roughly indicated by the preceding questions – Hanson reveals how the evolution of seeds about 300 million years ago revolutionized the plant kingdom and went on to change Earth’s other lifeforms in ways that impact humans every day.

 An airborne dandelion achene, which contains a single seed.

An airborne dandelion achene, which contains a single seed.


Not only does Hanson entertain with numerous amazing seed stories, he presents his own experiments as well.  Frequently referring to his dissertation work in the forests of Costa Rica, as well as pea plant experiments he performed in the family garden and flying seed contests he conducted with his three year-old son, the author injects plenty of his own personal passion into the topic.   Every bit as good as his preceding book, Feathers, Hanson is becoming my go-to author for inspiring geek nature books.  The book is full of amazing seed facts and I’m confident that your friends and family will thank you as you expound endlessly about why there’s caffeine in their coffee, why strawberries are so delicious and why their cotton underwear is so comfortable.

Brimming with curiosity and enthusiasm, The Triumph of Seeds is a thoroughly entertaining look at the history, science, evolution and cultural impact of the lowly seed.   After reading this book, you’ll never look at an avocado, a pistachio nut or a garbanzo bean the same way again.  Highly recommended for all fans of great nature writing.

— D. Driftless

Read Dave’s review of Feathers, Hanson’s previous book.

dandelion seed photo by Didier Descouens (CC BY-SA 4.0

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