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Distributed for Reaktion Books


From iconic paintings by Vincent van Gogh to their much-spat seeds at baseball games, the massive, golden blossoms of sunflowers have become a part of our literary and visual cultures and daily lives, inspiring artists and poets and used by advertisers to promote countless products. But sunflowers are only the most recognizable members of the world’s largest family of plants, Asteraceae, which includes lettuce, chrysanthemums, asters, dahlias, and weeds. And in this book, Stephen A. Harris unearths the extraordinary history of this entire sunflower bouquet.

Unraveling the interplay between human cultures and the biology of these spectacular blooms over the last six thousand years, Sunflowers explores our persistent fascination with this family and how our uses of the plants have changed over millennia. Found in almost all habitats, from the driest deserts and tallest mountains to grasslands and urban wastelands, the sunflower family includes more than 32,000 species. It produces hugely popular and economically valuable ornamental flowers, as well as familiar flavorings such as tarragon and artemesia, and its members are also used in the production of antimalarial drugs, artificial sweeteners, insecticide, and fish poisons. Illustrated with many rarely seen images of the sunflower family, this beautiful volume sheds surprising new light on these familiar, sunniest of flowers.

256 pages | 80 color plates, 20 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2018


Biological Sciences: Botany

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"Asteraceae encompasses marigolds, chrysanthemums, daisies, lettuce, thistles, and dozens of other familiar plants. The book is a fascinating exploration of the family’s biology, ecology, and cultural significance. . . . Open the book at any page and you will discover something new, and often surprising, about the sunflower family."

Garden Answers

"With approximately 32,000 species it’s one of the biggest assemblages of flowering plants on the planet, and is therefore a family worthy of celebration. And celebrate that amazing family is what Harris does in this remarkable book. . . . A fine read, and an enjoyable one. . . . Sunflowers is certainly informative and educational."

Botany One

“A fascinating exploration of biology, ecology, and cultural significance. Harris describes the importance of thistles for the Scots, edelweiss for Austrians, and chrysanthemums for the Japanese, often with amusing anecdotes. Open the book at any page and you will discover something fascinating.”

Gardens Illustrated, "Best Gardening Books of the Year"

"[Harris] has a lovely writing style that blends an authoritative understanding of his subject matter with a charming and accessible sense of prose. . . . Anyone interested in plants, in general, or one of the most specious families of flowering plants, in particular, will find this volume to be both entertaining and informative. After reading this book, you will never look at a head of lettuce again with the same attitude as you once had."

Quarterly Review of Biology

"After an extensive biological background of the Asteraceae, the author complements the biology with much fascinating historical and cultural information on this plant group . . . Part of Reaktion Books’ ambitious Botanical series, which presents various plants from a natural and cultural history perspective, this fascinating and exhaustively researched volume is appropriate for college or advanced high school readers. It would be a valuable addition to a classroom library . . . Profusely illustrated with captivating photographs."

American Biology Teacher

"An entertaining, thoughtful, well-researched book based on Harris's extensive study of Asteraceae that can delight botanists, gardeners, and history buffs."

Economic Botany

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