Plants Go to War: A Botanical History of World War II by Judith Sumner (August 2019)
As the first botanical history of World War II, Plants Go to War examines military history from the perspective of plant science. From victory gardens to drugs, timber, rubber, and fibers, plants supplied materials with key roles in victory. Vegetables provided the wartime diet both in North America and Europe, where vitamin-rich carrots, cabbages, and potatoes nourished millions. Chicle and cacao provided the chewing gum and chocolate bars in military rations. In England and Germany, herbs replaced pharmaceutical drugs; feverbark was in demand to treat malaria, and penicillin culture used a growth medium made from corn. Rubber was needed for gas masks and barrage balloons, while cotton and hemp provided clothing, canvas, and rope. Timber was used to manufacture Mosquito bombers, and wood gasification and coal replaced petroleum in European vehicles. Lebensraum, the Nazi desire for agricultural land, drove Germans eastward; troops weaponized conifers with shell bursts that caused splintering. Ironically, the Nazis condemned non-native plants, but adopted useful Asian soybeans and Mediterranean herbs. Jungle warfare and camouflage required botanical knowledge, and survival manuals detailed edible plants on Pacific islands. Botanical gardens relocated valuable specimens to safe areas, and while remote locations provided opportunities for field botany, Trees surviving in Hiroshima and Nagasaki live as a symbol of rebirth after vast destruction.
"In this impressively researched exploration, esteemed ethnobotanist Sumner takes a scholarly yet totally accessible approach to the myriad ways plant materials were critical to both Allied and Axis war efforts. With balanced attention to domestic sacrifices and ingenuity, Sumner's astonishing discoveries make this a fascinating read for botany buffs and those steeped in military history." --Booklist
"A unique blend of botanical and military history... Plants Go to War is an original and meticulous study that is as informed and informative as it is accessibly organized and reader friendly in presentation...recommended" --Midwest Book Review
"[Sumner's] research is exhaustive...authoritative and informative...destined to be a classic source on this topic"==The Herb Society of America
"The comprehensive volume takes the story far beyond the victory gardens that perhaps immediately come to mind when discussing WWII and plants. Although this topic is addressed, the book spans across the European and Pacific theaters, touching Allies and Axis civilians and combatants."--The Times of Israel
"The first botanical history of World War II"--Southern Naturalist
"In all our years of experience with books about Wold War II, never have we seen one quite like this...a big, serious study of the subject" --Stone & Stone
About BRIT Reads Book Club (ZOOM)
If you love to read and you're passionate about botany, natural history, sustainability, and other similar topics, then join us the third Monday of each month for the BRIT Reads Book Club. This informal group meets from noon - 1 pm in the Oak Conference Room at BRIT. Bring your lunch and bring a friend and come tell us what you thought about our book of the month. No time to read but still want to hear what people have to say about a particular book? No problem! We'd love to have you!