Plant Physics

Karl J. Niklas and Hanns-Christof Spatz
University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: 

paper, 426 pp., $40.00.

This paperback edition first appeared in 2012, and is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Ten chapters introduce the reader, one not terrified of equations and mathematically laced illustrations, to the basic physical principles that allow plants to function and thrive on Earth. As the authors note in their Preface, "plants cannot be fully understood without examining how physical forces and processes influence their growth, development, reproduction, and evolution."

This book progresses in quite a linear fashion, starting with basic concepts about plants, then discussing basic transport laws and issues related to boundary layers. Plant Physics reminded me of an out-of-print work, published in 1964, entitled Physics in Botany, by J.A. Richardson. Richardson's tome was better illustrated, less intimidating, and hence more accessible than Niklas and Spatz's book. The University of Chicago Press could have learned a lesson or two in the physical production of Plant Physics from Pitman, Richardson's publisher. Physics in Botany is bound in such a way to open flat, allowing you to study some of the text's more complex features without wrestling the binding. I found myself constantly battling with the paperback binding of Plant Physics, which will mechanically fail in short order. Indeed, Richardson's text was a good companion to Plant Physics, in order to build courage to tackle Niklas and Spatz's abundant equations.

In summary, Plant Physics is recommended as an introduction to the biophysical details that allow plants to exist. It requires some background in mathematics to unlock much of its content.

—Edward J. Valauskas, curator of Rare Books, Lenhardt Library, Chicago Botanic Garden