Book Review, plants but not bulbs

Joe Shaw
Fri, 01 Dec 2006 15:54:09 PST
Hi Gang,

I've been waiting to read "Sex, Botany, & Empire," a book by Patricia Fara 
(I have the 2004 edition, Columbia Univ. Press).  The book purports to be 
"The story of Carl Linnaeus and Joseph Banks."  But it also is a story about 
the three Ss (sex, science, the state) and how they came to be intertwined 
in 18th Century British society.

I finally ordered a used copy (about $10) from, and the first few 
pages are captivating.  It opens with a wonderful quote about Joseph Banks 
that says in part, "the females of most countries that he has visited, have 
undergone every critical inspection by him."  This mild sentence was, 
apparently at that time, a shocking statement.  Then, the book launches into 
Banks' amazing exploits in Tahiti with women associated with Queen Oberea 

I'm still in chapter 2, but the book hints at wonderful chapters to come 
concerning 18th and 19th Century botanists, as well as the florid Latin 
terms used to describe plant parts--words that were considered erotic (even 
pornographic) in some circles.  Descriptive terms to clarify the 
arrangement, shape, color, and other properties of male and female 
reproductive organs (of plants) were shocking for some people.  Some 
virtuous types proposed that women should be sheltered from the study of 
botany because such lurid words were employed.

A verse by Erasmus Darwin provides some of the insight to the period.  He 
wrote about the flower of Collinsonia, which has a single pistil and two 
stamens.  His description is fascinating and may well have been scandalous; 
he wrote about a sweet female who was concubine to two brothers.

    Two brother swains, of COLLIN's gentle name
    The same their features, and their forms the same,
    With rival love for fair COLLINIA sigh,
    Knit the dark brow, and roll the unsteady eye,
    With sweet concern the pitying beauty mourns,
    And sooths with smiles the jealous pair by turns

Throughout this period (1770-1825) Joseph Banks was living proof that that 
botany was pornographic and corrupting, or vice versa, or at least quite 
erotic.  Apparently he could not keep his trousers up.


Conroe TX
Frost last night.

More information about the pbs mailing list