Salal: Listening for the Northwest Understory978-1-897126-22-6 | 280 Pages September, 2007 Environment & Ecology
About this book
Salal is a unique book about a commonplace plant. Part travel narrative, part literary memoir, part “ethnography” of a plant that usually goes unnoticed, Laurie Ricou’s book traces the poetry and culture of salal while letting readers in on its secrets. Salal’s high-gloss leaves and delicate salmon-white flowers are compelling, and as a staple of the floral greens industry, its impact is global. Through interviews, commentary, and well-documented research, Ricou tells the stories of salal—how it is used, what it means to writers and artists, how it is gathered, and what the vagaries of the salal industry are all about.
Longtime teacher Ricou records visits to Port Townsend and Pacific Spirit Park, to Courtenay and Victoria, to Calgary and San Antonio, to London and Paris, demonstrating that an uncharismatic plant could become an icon. Salal exposes the artificial divide between nature and culture, ecology and the marketplace.
"This is a thoroughly enjoyable book. ... In this truly remarkable treatment of a plant by one who sought to know it truly, the subtopics span painting, poetry, language, ecology, sociology, economics, and business development. It captures the thoughts and ideas of people who live within an arm’s length of the salal patch, and of urban dwellers who are more attached to the internet than to the mycorrhizal net of salal in the forest floor."
"... a delight for the senses. This book manages to open doors that may have previously been restricted to those of the scientific realm. ... Ricou brings an excitement and a beauty to the world of salal that technical vernacular could never possibly achieve. ... This book was an absolute pleasure; full of visual imagery and personal anecdotes, it reads like a novel, yet manages to educate and inform. It reads easily and would be appropriate for use in the classroom, particularly at the senior high school, college or university level."
“I can think of no other book that draws the sciences and the arts together into such a rich and thoughtful work, all based on one plant. (Laurie Ricou’s) insights will appeal to those with a love of literature, science, ethnobotany or history. He has captured the essence of his human subjects as well as he has his botanical subject.“
“Laurie Ricou has found a way to introduce salal, and the human community surrounding this plant, to the world… in a style that reflects the unpredictable, sympodial and unique nature of the plant itself. He’s provided a glimpse into a wonderful world which is often glanced at, but rarely really seen.”
"Salal becomes the link between science, economics, poetry and history ... a richly layered read and, with its ability to connect a bouquet of flowers in Europe to the story of a Cambodian refugee, consistently surprising. This is not a book to rush through. I revisited it over a span of several months, finding pleasure in meandering along with Ricou as he carried out his study of a single species."
"Great fun, well worth the money, and it fully repays any amount of time you shower on it." full review
"[a]n extraordinary text about a rather ordinary plant thriving around British Columbia ... Ricou offers compelling, self-reflective insights not only on this plant but also on the nature of ecology itself." full review
"Listen after seeing, the Oregon ecologist Kathleen Moore insists; and Laurie Ricou shows us how in Salal: Listening for the Northwest Understory, a book no-one interested in the literatures—and the languages—of the West Coast should be without."