CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

The Secret of Plants in the Environment

By Rishikesh Upadhyay
2020, Notion Press, Chennai, India
204 pages; paper
ISBN-10: 1648509207;
ISBN-13: 978-1648509209
$14 at online book sellers

We get quite a few books for review arriving in the FUNGI mailbox. Although some titles are not strictly about mushrooms or other fungi, they may merit a review if they are written on related topics e.g., habitats, other microbes, pathogens, etc. A recent arrival, The Secret of Plants in the Environment, seemed promising as the publisher’s notes indicated that the book mostly dealt with plant stresses including pathogens. (Having done my master’s research on fungal-plant stress interrelationships and plant hormones, and my doctoral degree in plant pathology, I’m always keen on publications dealing with these topics.)

The author is on the faculty of Haflong Government College India. His vitae states that he has published numerous scientific articles and books in the fields of plant environmental physiology and environmental stressors response in plants. From the publisher’s summary: “This book seeks to discuss the impact of environmental changes or stress on plant life, environmental stress physiology, and adaptation mechanisms. It highlights the impact of environmental stresses on plants and crops under changing environments and gives a comprehensive overview of how plants respond to such environments … [this book] serves as a helpful guide to the students of BSc, MSc and to all professionals engaged in teaching and research on environmental-related subjects … [this book] dwells on some important aspects of environmental change or stress as the main issue affecting the survival of plants at the early stages of their life cycle. Hence, the author hopes that both early-career scientists and research scholars interested in pursuing environmental science to an advanced stage would also benefit from the important information discussed in this book.”

I feel this book falls well short of its stated goals. I’m not sure who the audience for this book would be. The layperson or BSc student would not have enough understanding to know what much of the jargon means (as examples, systemic acquired response is mentioned when discussing, briefly, plant immune response, but no explanation what that is; genetics systems were mentioned occasionally but not really explained; and this was the same for many of the topics covered). Furthermore, the book is far too brief to be a comprehensive review useful to professionals teaching or doing research. Topics include, mostly, plant stresses such as heat, drought, flood, electricity, “radiation,” etc. but hardly a mention of microbes or plant pathogens (or other biotic stresses). These are arguably the most important stresses to commercial plant growers (based on cost of production, anyway). And although the publisher’s notes state that the book is 204 pages, realistically the book comes in at around 100 pages (5 inches x 8 inches); that is after you discount the many blank pages, the totally unnecessary quote that opens each chapter (most such quotes had little if anything to do with the topic of the chapter, but take up one half to three quarters of the page, on average), author name index, subject index, scientific name index, common name index, explanation of abbreviations, prologue, epilogue, author’s notes, acknowledgments, and list of illustrations. Speaking of illustrations, there are several useful tables but the photographs are absolutely useless (black and white, and very low resolution). As an example, figure 9 on page 68: “Image shows burns and yellowing of leaves of…” There is no way to see this in the photo. On page 79: “Image shows morphological changes of…” is of tiny plantlets on a petri plate from far away and there is no way to know at all what is on the petri plate.

This book would have benefitted greatly from copyediting. There were ambiguous or contradictory passages that left me scratching my head. In the chapter on electrical stresses to plants: “…In fact, plants detect electrical signals with the help of glutamate-like receptors that also functionally mediate neural communication. Additionally, tree planting can reduce electricity use and increase carbon sequestration. The impact of electricity on plant growth, development and accumulation of metabolites is not well understood to date. The effects of electricity…” Italics are mine but what does that mean? In chapter 13 we see: “While pathogens and pests find ways to invade and communicate with their hosts, plants have evolved sophisticated immune systems to fight infections.” But eight lines later: “Their [plants’] static nature and lack of an active circulatory and immune system pose added disadvantages when dealing with such stresses.” And the references cited at the end, while extensive (39 pages!) is incomplete as some references that I searched were missing. And strangely, the references are listed in no particular order, neither alphabetically nor in order of appearance in the text. At 39 pages, it makes it more than a little frustrating to take the author’s suggestions on “further reading.”

As stated, I’m not sure who would benefit from this book. Any of several well-known plant pathology textbooks on the market would likely be preferential to most wishing for a brief overview or more comprehensive review of the topic.

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi