This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue as "The Natural."
Terence and Vicki (right) Conran hosting a lunch at their home in Berkshire, England.
Matt Ritter is a botany professor at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, director of university's plant conservatory, and author of a new field guide, A California's Guide to the Trees Among Us (Heydey Books, 2011). I recently visited Dr. Ritter at his Southern California home, and he gave me a tour of his favorite local plants, his eucalyptus-decorated office, and Cal Poly's wonderful herbarium.
On the language of botany, I imagine many plants would gladly elaborate if they could. Though they lack a traditional (or human) grammatical structure, plants do have a language. They exchange nouns and verbs for colors and shapes, a visual code by which they variously attract, repel, and generally speak to an audience that includes pollinators, each other, and us.