The Triumph of Seeds

Hanson, T. 2015. The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History. Perseus Books Group, Basic Books, New York, NY. pg. xix-18, 55-80

The Triumph of Seeds was a very interesting read, keeping my attention throughout reading the separate chapters. Concerning the chapters within this book, they are very easy to read; each chapter is like a separate story, and you do not have to have read the previous chapters in order to understand what is going on. I liked that part about it. As well, each chapter was focused on completely different, yet somehow connected, topics. It really gets you thinking about the many different aspects that we have on plants, from their diverse seeds to their evolution and traits.

Even in the introduction, Hanson does a good job in introducing the importance of seeds in the world today. He brings up the fact that “even children know that the tiniest pip contains…the spark an all the instructions needed to build a carrot, an oak tree, wheat, mustard, sequoias, or any one of the estimated 352,000 other kinds of plants that use seeds to reproduce” (pg. xxii). It’s almost kind of comforting knowing that children are raised and taught to recognize and know the function of seeds – at least they have some sort of knowledge about the importance they have. Hanson also talks about how we literally live in a world of seeds. They provide so many crucial food items that we use in everyday life, from bagels to hot cocoa. “They are quite literally the staff of life, the basis of diets, economies, and lifestyles around the globe” (pg. xxii). This was very eye-opening for me, for I had not previously put a lot of thought into what seeds actually provide us. Yes, the obvious peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, etc., but never what vast amount of items they produce. It’s quite amazing how much we rely on them.

The first chapter of the book is quite inspiring. Hanson describes the magnificence and potential of tiny seeds and saplings, summed up nicely by the sentence on page 6: “This tiny speck had the potential to reach the forest canopy far above me, its first steps fueled entirely by the energy of the seed.” It’s awe-inspiring how such a small little seed can turn into the most breathtaking plants on this planet. The author also writes about how important seeds are in the survival of many species, and how, without seeds, the ecology of a forest could be disrupted, leading to a cascade of changes (even possible extinction of species!). Again, this was an eye-opener for me. Of course, I knew that seeds provided food for many species, I just did not think that the loss of seeds could result in extinction. Yet another reason why seeds play a vital role in the world.

The first chapter also introduces Carol Baskin, a seed biologist who is very passionate about her studies. I think that the importance of mentioning her in the book is subtle but important: she explains the mechanism inside seeds that makes the process of germination and becoming a tree happen, but in a way that every reader will have an understanding of it. This is especially apparent when she describes the ‘baby in a box’ analogy for seeds, that “a seed in a baby plant, in a box, with a lunch” (pg. 9). It’s good to have an understanding of where a plant begins its life in order to further appreciate them, and Carol provides this to the readers.

One distinct thing I really enjoyed about this book, are the descriptions of many things. Hanson does an utterly remarkable job in using descriptive words for the readers to get an exact picture in their minds. There are many situations in which he uses this tactic: “root cells…long, narrow tubes that looked a lot like the balloons a clown might use to tie animal shapes” (pg. 13); “The seed fern’s trunk looked like lizard skin, scale black and orange against the tan surface of the rock” (pg.58); “The spores practically glowed, tucked into speckled golden pouches at the base of each leaf” (pg.65). I love how Hanson does this – it really paints a picture in your mind, making the reading more enjoyable and picturing the plants and images in a crystal clear way.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the few chapters of this book. It got me thinking about the importance of seeds in the world (food for both us and many other species), and also where they came from, how they evolved and prospered, and how they grow from a seed into a magnificent plant. I think Hanson’s main goal here is to get readers to understand and appreciate seeds, and to get engaged in the triumph of seeds, because they are crucial on this planet and will remain crucial until the end of time.  The world needs to have an understanding of “how profoundly seeds, and our intimate relationship with them, have influenced the way we understand the natural world” (pg. 73).





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