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Nature’s Fabric

Leaves in Science and Culture

Leaves are all around us—in backyards, cascading from window boxes, even emerging from small cracks in city sidewalks given the slightest glint of sunlight. Perhaps because they are everywhere, it’s easy to overlook the humble leaf, but a close look at them provides one of the most enjoyable ways to connect with the natural world.

A lush, incredibly informative tribute to the leaf, Nature’s Fabric offers an introduction to the science of leaves, weaving biology and chemistry with the history of the deep connection we feel with all things growing and green. Leaves come in a staggering variety of textures and shapes: they can be smooth or rough, their edges smooth, lobed, or with tiny teeth. They have adapted to their environments in remarkable, often stunningly beautiful ways—from the leaves of carnivorous plants, which have tiny “trigger hairs” that signal the trap to close, to the impressive defense strategies some leaves have evolved to reduce their consumption. (Recent studies suggest, for example, that some plants can detect chewing vibrations and mobilize potent chemical defenses.) In many cases, we’ve learned from the extraordinary adaptations of leaves, such as the invention of new self-cleaning surfaces inspired by the slippery coating found on leaves. But we owe much more to leaves, and Lee also calls our attention back to the fact that that our very lives—and the lives of all on the planet—depend on them. Not only is foliage is the ultimate source of food for every living thing on land, its capacity to cycle carbon dioxide and oxygen can be considered among evolution’s most important achievements—and one that is critical in mitigating global climate change.

Taking readers through major topics like these while not losing sight of the small wonders of nature we see every day—if you’d like to identify a favorite leaf, Lee’s glossary of leaf characteristics means you won’t be left out on a limb—Nature’s Fabric is eminently readable and full of intriguing research, sure to enhance your appreciation for these extraordinary green machines.

512 pages | 514 color plates, 49 halftones, 14 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Biological Sciences: Botany, Conservation, Ecology, Natural History, Tropical Biology and Conservation


“Leaves come to life in this work by an experienced naturalist and scientist. Lee has a wonderful empathy with leaves, and he weaves together the relevant science, history, and culture in a truly readable and informative presentation. After reading Nature’s Fabric, you will be looking at leaves from a different perspective.”

Sir Ghillean Prance, FRS, VMH, former director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

“In this fascinating and original book, Lee leads us poetically through the medium of leaves to unimagined insights into our world, why we should care about it, and how best to love it.”

Peter H. Raven, president emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden

"David Lee’s Nature’s Fabric: Leaves in Science and Culture is a wonderful book. If you don’t know leaves at all, you’re in for a treat! If you do think you know leaves, you’re in for a treat – and an eye-opener – as Lee goes well beyond the obvious leaf facts of the biology lesson. And it’s that going-beyond-the-obvious-botanical-nature-of-leaves that I really like about this book. David Lee has the knack of explaining botanical phenomenon to those who aren’t necessarily that familiar with them, and making them comprehensible. As an interpreter of botanical phenomena for the non-specialist, Lee can be considered the People’s Botanist."

Botany One

Table of Contents


One: Green Men
Two: Leaf History
Three: Green Machinery
Four: Nature’s Fabric
Five: Leaf Economics
Six: Metamorphosis
Seven: Architecture
Eight: Shapes and Edges
Nine: Surfaces
Ten: Veins
Eleven: Color
Twelve: Food
Thirteen: Homes
Fourteen: Movements
Fifteen: Seeing Leaves

Appendix A: Leaf Terminology
Notes for Appendix A
Appendix B: Drying and Preserving Leaves for Craft Projects
Appendix C: Leaves for School Science Labs and Projects
Chapter Notes
Illustration Notes


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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