Radio 4's Plants: from Roots to Riches: This bone-dry botany show isn't going to grow on me

 

I am not, it has to be said, a plant person. Aside from the palm in my bathroom, which thrives in the face of outrageous neglect, I kill everything green that crosses my threshold.

So I probably wasn't the ideal listener for Radio 4's new mega-series Plants: from Roots to Riches, which promised to "explore our changing relationship with plants since the birth of botany". On the other hand, perhaps Professor Kathy Willis, Head of Science at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, and presenter of this epic 25-part investigation, would help me find my green fingers, or at least instil some sort of interest in plants.

So off I went with Willis to the palm house in Kew, that translucent cathedral to shrubbery, ready to be converted. There she stood underneath a cycad that, she said, was very, very old and very, very big. It's a "massive towering figure" she assured us. "I'm dwarfed underneath it," she added. Crikey, I thought, my head filling with visions of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. So I Googled it and found myself face to face with what looked like an oversized Yucca, the houseplant of choice before orchids turned all our homes into boutique hotels.

I tried not to feel underwhelmed. The cycad may not look like much but it is, we learned, the mother of all pot plants. It has been around for 280 million years, survived multiple climate changes and pre-dates most mammals. This one had come to Kew in 1775, when it was already well into middle age. Now it has earned the right to sit in a glass house, like an exotic antique, while people come and gawp.

How do visitors react to their first encounter with a cycad?" Willis asked a volunteer guide. "For a lot of people, the first thing they do is get out their camera," came the reply. I checked to see if my heart was racing. It was not.

After the anticlimax of the cycad came a lengthy discussion about the system of botanical nomenclature as devised by the Swedish taxonomist, Carl Linnaeus. The following day we heard about Joseph Banks, who was a patron of botanical science and a collector of plants the world over.

Banks was apparently a larger-than-life figure, though it was hard to find any evidence of this in his dreary missives about the best way to transport plant specimens and keep them alive.

Clearly, this was no Attenborough series, with a budget to rival the American GNP, and helmed by a presenter with more gravitas than 20 Greek philosophers. And yet try as I might, in Willis's hands, I just wasn't feeling the explosive joy of our nation's plant life.

Perhaps it was her insistence on focusing on the study of plants, rather than their workings, that drained all colour from the subject. Or perhaps it was my bad attitude.

Either way, listening to her bone-dry reflections on botanists past was like leafing through a dusty old encyclopaedia, and it confirmed my long-held suspicion: botany is boring.

By contrast, this week's Desert Island Discs with Doug Allan, biologist, explorer and long-term cameraman on various Attenborough series, effortlessly got the blood pumping.

He told of once being grabbed by a walrus that mistook him for a seal so he hit it on the head and it let him go. "It was only later," he said, "that I was told that they kill seals by putting (their) lips on to the seal's head and sucking their brains out." Now that's what I call nature.

Twitter.com/FionaSturges

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions