I don’t usually comment on pricing information for the books I review. Those books were generally not ones they may have felt they had to purchase; readers were free to decide whether they wanted to buy a copy or not. However, I’m moved to mention the price of the International 7th edition of Plant Physiology and Development by Lincoln Taiz, Ian Max Møller, Angus Murphy and Eduardo Zeiger [hereafter referred to as PP&D7] – which book is here appraised – because it’s a textbook. As such it is intended for use by students for whom PP&D7 might be a recommended text, and which readership might therefore feel compelled to buy a copy. So, first things first, the paperback version of PP&D7 that I reviewed is priced at £199.99 on the publisher’s website.* That’s an awful lot of pennies for what are usually cash-strapped young adults – and particularly so in the midst of a UK-wide cost-of-living crisis (Amelia Hill; Helen Barnard). [Whether one might consider such a high price to be a ‘tax on learning’ is something to be discussed another day.] This is not the way I’d like to have started this book appraisal, but it’s such important information that it needs to be addressed right at the start. Having got that out of the way, on to more encouraging comments…
Coverage and educational ethos
The main text of PP&D7 is contained within 24 Chapters occupying 752 pages. Those chapters are organised in four units “to provide scaffolded learning** as students move through the material” (Preface, p. xi). So, although you might be tempted to dip into particular chapters at whim, readers – especially students – will get the most out of the book by tackling each chapter, in numerical order. However, that ‘whimsical approach’ should still suit casual readers, or those who want to refresh or update their knowledge on particular topics. What do those units cover?
Unit I is a “new four-chapter introductory unit” (Preface, p. xi) on structure and information systems of plant cells, which “has been implemented to ensure all students begin with a common starting point” (Preface, p. xi) [from an instructor’s point of view, I’ve always found it best not to make assumptions about what students should know!]. This section features a very condensed summary of plant structure – cells, tissues and ultrastructure, a chapter devoted to cell walls, a third entitled “Genome structure and gene expression”, and Chapter 4 “Signals and signal transduction” (with important scene-setting in terms of co-ordination of processes by phytohormones, and in which we are told that plant development is regulated by 10 major hormones: auxins, gibberellins, cytokinins, ethylene, abscisic acid, brassinosteroids, jasmonates, salicylic acid, strigolactones, and pipecolates (Hana Návarová et al.; Philip Carella; Fatma Nur Koc & Burcu Seckin Dinler) (the latter compounds were new to me – I’m clearly overdue a refresher on plant hormones)). [In addition to those 10, the text also mentions several peptide hormones.] Just as hormones feature in several subsequent chapters, plant cell structure and anatomy aren’t just left in this unit, they are referred to – and in some detail – elsewhere in PP&D7, e.g. re xylem transport (Chapter 6), and phloem transport (Chapter 12). Additionally, the unit is organised in a way that allows its chapters to be used as reference material as students engage with the topics of subsequent chapters [and not only students, it will also be very helpful to those teaching a course on PP&D who aren’t experts in the subject – believe me, that does happen, and having up-to-date texts like PP&D7 helps hugely(!)]. Importantly, this section enables “modernization of the teaching of traditional physiological topics by introducing genomics, molecular genetics, genome editing, and the basic concepts of signal transduction at the outset of the course” (Preface, p. xi). Which underpinning is essential since so much of what we now know – or have had confirmed – about plant physiology and development has come from work with mutant plants and investigation at the genetic and molecular levels.
Unit II is intended to enhance student comprehension of basic physiological principles. Accordingly, its four chapters cover transport and translocation of water and solutes (including transpiration and xylem), and mineral nutrition. Unit III has seven chapters devoted to biochemistry and metabolism – e.g. photosynthesis (and translocation of its products within the phloem), respiration and lipid metabolism, and the assimilation of inorganic nutrients. This section culminates in Chapter 15, which describes responses to abiotic stress that “integrates subjects learned in the preceding chapters to enhance overall comprehension before proceeding to the detailed study of developmental processes” [in the final part of the book] (Preface, p. xii). Unit IV deals with plant growth and development proper (i.e. what the book is supposed to be about, but which can best be appreciated having studied the essential context and background provide by the preceding 15 chapters), and covers such topics as: seed dormancy; primary growth; secondary growth; flowering; sexual reproduction; embryogenesis; and plant senescence and developmental cell death. The unit – and the textbook – ends with “an integrative chapter that describes biotic interaction” (Preface, p. xii).
The structure of each chapter is formulaic [which is not a criticism, merely an observation…]. After a brief introduction, the main content is organised within numbered sections whose titles are emboldened. Although sub-sections are unnumbered, their headings are phrased as statements and also shown in bold type. Pedagogic – and visual – variety amongst the text is provided by Tables, Figures, and Boxes (the latter address climate change and biotechnology topics relevant to plant physiology (Preface, p. xii)). Each chapter concludes with a: bullet-pointed Summary of each numbered section (with appropriate reference to Figures and/or Tables mentioned in the text); listing of Web Material [where present – e.g. none are listed for Chap. 4]– such as the book site’s dedicated Web Topics, and Web Essays; and Suggested Reading. The latter is principally research articles relevant to the chapter’s topics [somewhat unusually – but nice to see! – all authors of items listed here appear to be shown.] An indication of the up-to-dateness of the book is seen in those items for suggested reading – the majority of the research articles included are from the 2000s, and approx. 110 are dated post-2015 [the year of publication of the 6th edition of this textbook].
All of the chapters are well-written, and the text is comprehensible [which is no mean accomplishment in a book dealing with some complex topics, and penned by so many contributors]. Comprehension is greatly assisted by the inclusion of numerous graphics – both tables and figures, which break up the chunks of text. The figures are predominantly in colour, which helps not only to liven-up the book, but also is useful to their interpretation. In that regard, it’s good to read that efforts have been made to ensure that such content is fully accessible to those who have difficulty perceiving colour (Preface, p. xii). In respect of the displays, their sources are detailed in 8, four-columned pages of Illustration Credits. Since many of those items have been drawn from scientific papers, their credits give some idea of where the book’s otherwise-unsourced facts may have come from. PP&D7 is well endowed with excellent pedagogic features that can only enhance the learning opportunities – and experience – of its readers, as well as making the complete book look as professional as one would expect from such a distinguished team of plant scientists.
Glossary and Index
The main text of PP&D7 is supplemented with approx. 24.5, three-columned pages of Glossary, and c. 49, four-columned pages of Index. The Glossary ranges from ‘(1,3:1,4)-β-D-glucan’, to ‘zygotic stage’ and appears to include all of the words and phrases that are shown emboldened in-text. Although – hopefully – all of the entries in this section are also explained in-text, the Glossary is particularly useful for checking on the meanings of initialisms and other technical terms one comes across when reading. However, it may take a bit of perseverance to find some entries though, e.g. CAM is not separately listed, but is instead shown under ‘crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM)’, and HSP is included as ‘heat shock proteins (HSPs)’. Intriguingly, whilst there are entries for ‘secondary phloem’ and ‘secondary xylem’, there aren’t entries for ‘primary phloem’ or ‘primary xylem’. And whilst C4 photosynthesis and CAM have individual entries, there isn’t one for C3 photosynthesis [nor is there a separate entry for photosynthesis more generally]. The Index features entries from ‘AATAAA sequence’ to ‘Zygotene’. Entries include scientific names, e.g. ‘Acacia’, ‘Frankia’, ‘Q. robur’ [it’s always good to see the plants mentioned in this way – after all, without them there’d be no physiology or development to write about]. Sometimes such entries are included along with their common names – e.g. ‘English oak (Quercus robur)’, ‘Digitalis (foxglove)’, but occasionally organisms are just shown as the common name, e.g. ‘Runner beans’, ‘Timothy grass’, ‘Wyoming sagebrush’. People who have advanced our understanding of plant physiology and development feature prominently within the text as indicated by the numerous Index entries, e.g. ‘Bassham, JA’, ‘Benson, A’, and ‘Calvin, M’ (in connection with elucidation of the C3 photosynthetic pathway mentioned by name as the Calvin-Benson Cycle…), Darwin (both Charles and Francis), ‘Priestley, Joseph’, Sachs (Julius von, as opposed to Tsvi), and ‘Yabuta (Teijiro)’ and ‘Sumuki, Yusuke’ (the co-isolators of gibberellins). The text doesn’t go into the biographical details of these individuals, but their contributions are put into context so readers can get a feel for the human dimension of the study of plant physiology and development and of the evolution of ideas with time. All-in-all, this is a pretty impressive index.
Although many potential readers will benefit from this textbook, its target audience is indicated in this statement in which PP&D7 “Continues to include the most recent and important developments in plant science at a level of complexity that is appropriate for third- and fourth-year undergraduate plant physiology classes” (Preface, p. xii). The depth in which topics are covered certainly supports the notion that this is an advanced level textbook, and overall is a statement that I find hard to disagree with.
Authors’ goals for the book
The authors’ overarching goal has been “to provide students with a thorough grounding in the principles of plant physiology and development” (Preface p. xi), which I think has been achieved. But, since PP&D7 also addresses a temporal element – the future of plant biology (Preface, p. xi) – it is the authors’ hope that students who study plant physiology and development will become key contributors to efforts to use the knowledge of plant growth and function to create new solutions to rescue our planet. How well that aspiration will be achieved, only time will tell.
Scope of the book
In terms of the plants whose physiology and development are covered, it should be noted that PP&D7 is heavily biased – almost exclusively – towards angiosperms, the flowering plants (with some mention of gymnosperms). Although there are Index entries for other groups within the Plant Kingdom, Taiz et al. largely exclude the ferns, fern allies and bryophytes. The book is also largely silent on photosynthetic algae, but, despite their being the evolutionary ancestors of terrestrial plants, they’re not really ‘plants’, so that omission is understandable. I’m sure there are good reasons why the physiology and development of those other plant groups is not covered within PP&D7 – and very good reasons why the focus should be on flowering plants – but it would be helpful if the book’s taxonomic scope was clearly stated, rather than leave it to be done here in this appraisal.
But, botany, plant biology, or plant science – whatever you want to call it – is much bigger than just plant physiology and development. There’s anatomy (touched upon in Chap. 1 and elsewhere within the text), ecology (hinted at in Chap. 24 Biotic interactions), taxonomy, evolution, plant-people interactions, etc. Those topics are little covered in PP&D7, which is reasonable because they’re beyond the book’s declared scope of plant physiology and development. Consequently, those who want a broader understanding of the biology of plants will need to consult books in addition to Taiz et al’s. However, for those seeking an up-to-date coverage of flowering plant physiology and development, PP&D7 will do very nicely.
Is the book error-free?
Not being an expert on all of the topics covered by PP&D7 I can’t comment comprehensively on that side of things. But, from what I have seen and checked in my perusal of the text [I’ve not read the book in its entirety], I’d be happy to use it for teaching plant physiology and development. However, some items I found and which are worth highlighting are the following. Table 7.1 (p. 191), headed “Tissue concentrations of essential elements required by most plants”, includes silicon. Whereas, on p. 192 we are told that silicon “is a beneficial nutrient for most plants but is an essential nutrient only in Equisetaceae”. This is a bit of textual inconsistency that needs to be resolved. Table 12.1 (p. 350) states that sieve tube elements are present in both gymnosperms and angiosperms. That is incorrect, angiosperm phloem contains sieve tube elements (also known as sieve tube members, and aggregated as the functional units called sieve tubes), gymnosperms have sieve cells (Peter Sengbusch). However, the text that immediately precedes the display states that “Table 12.1 lists characteristics of sieve tube elements and sieve cells” (p. 350). The authors therefore appear to be aware of the taxonomic distinction concerning the identity of phloem-transporting cells; the table should be appropriately amended for consistency with the text. [Interestingly, the display is shown correctly in the corresponding Table 11.1, on p. 288 of the non-international version of the book’s 6th edition.] On a related matter, albuminous cells are mentioned on p. 15, and Strasburger cells on pages 350 and 357. Although both are stated to be gymnosperm equivalents of the companion cells of angiosperms, nowhere does the connection appear to have been made explicit in the text that albuminous cells are an alternative name for Strasburger cells (Jörg Sauter). The year of publication is incomplete re the Wang et al. article on p. 149, and omitted for Shao et al’s on p. 540. And, the specific epithet for the Index entry ‘Teucrium scorondonia (wood sage)’ (p. I-46) should be scorodonia. Somewhat inconsistently, it is correctly shown on p. 714. None of those matters are major, but it would be nice to think they could be tidied up.
Extra content: Digital Resources
The text is supplemented by much material that is only available on the internet, for Students, and for Instructors. These items are password-protected and presumably only accessible by confirmed purchasers of the tome or approved Instructors. Usefully, amongst those digital resources one should find chapter-specific references [which, presumably, are different to the Suggested Reading items listed at the end of each chapter in the book], and the Web Topics mentioned at the end of the book’s chapters. However, not having had access to that site I’m unable to comment knowledgeably on the usefulness of those digital resources.
All things considered, this international 7th edition of Plant Physiology and Development by Lincoln Taiz, Ian Max Møller, Angus Murphy and Eduardo Zeiger is a most impressive textbook – for the subjects it covers. However, because of its high price, students of plant biology might want to consider a textbook that covers a broader range of topics before they part with their hard-earned cash. But, for those readers – especially students – who’d like to acquire PP&D7, please do check with your course instructor to see what locally-negotiated price you may be able to get it for.
* Once you’ve recovered from that revelation, you’ll be interested to know that there is also a hardback version of the textbook. I couldn’t find this on the publisher’s site, but note that it is offered for sale by Blackwell’s at a jaw-dropping £235.75(!). For completeness, it is worth noting that the publisher does advise, “If you are a lecturer interested in adopting this title for your course, please contact your local campus representative to arrange a local price”. I don’t know what ‘local price’ might be negotiated, but it’s something that should be investigated before any of your students stump up nearly £200 for this book – although they might be interested in the Ebook version of the title at £34.99 for a year’s access.
** This is a term I’d not heard of before, but, according to Grand Canyon University (in Phoenix, Arizona, USA), scaffolding in education is a technique that “establishes a firm framework of foundational knowledge before gradually building upon that framework”. Having had it explained, it seems to be an eminently sensible approach to teaching, and certainly appears to fit in with the Unit-by-Unit approach embedded within PP&D7. For those who are curious about this pedagogic practice, more on scaffolding in education can be found here, here, here, here, and in the article by Rebecca Alber.
Návarová, H., Bernsdorff, F., Döring, A.-C. and Zeier, J. (2013) “Pipecolic acid, an endogenous mediator of defense amplification and priming, is a critical regulator of inducible plant immunity,” The Plant Cell, 24(12), pp. 5123–5141. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1105/tpc.112.103564.
Nur Koc, F. and Seckin Dinler, B. (2022) “Pipecolic acid in plants: biosynthesis, signalling, and role under stress,” Botanica, pp. 4–14. Available at: https://doi.org/10.35513/botlit.2022.1.2.
Sauter, J.J. (1974) “Structure and physiology of Strasburger cells,” Berichte der Deutschen Botanischen Gesellschaft, 87(2), pp. 327–336. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1438-8677.1974.tb03193.x.