Cover of How Plants Work

Linda Chalker-Scott

Timber Press: 2015


Anyone interested in how plants do what they do will enjoy How Plants Work. Washington State University associate professor of horticulture Linda Chalker-Scott has brought the essentials of plant science together and made them entertaining for gardeners and the otherwise curious.

Chalker-Scott digs into the science of plants while keeping the narrative rooted in successfully growing a garden. Along the way, she evaluates a variety of products commonly marketed to gardeners, explaining why they work—if they do. Vitamin B1, for instance, is commonly sold as a way to reduce transplant shock. But plants make their own B1, so adding more does nothing. The same is not true, we learn, of auxin, a growth hormone that stimulates root development.

Chalker-Scott advocates for “garden care, not control” and learning how to “think like a plant” so that you can deal with the unexpected—and bust through our intuitive misconceptions of how plants grow and thrive.

Even if you’re not a gardener, this book is a worthwhile read simply because plants are fascinating. They’re the original hosts of “alien” life forms. The mitochondria powerhouses in our cells were, probably, independent bacteria that  were engulfed by plant-cell ancestors millions of years ago. Same thing with chloroplasts, the site of the still-mostly-mysterious process of photosynthesis, which has DNA more like blue-green algae than the plants they energize.

In a world of click bait and alternative facts, Chalker-Scott has produced a book that lives up to its straightforward title.