Chasing the Ghost by Peter Marren

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Midlife affects all sort of people differently, some buy a motorbike or a swish two-seater sports car. Other have more adventurous plans, travel to exotic or remote places, or decide to throw themselves out of a perfectly serviceable aeroplane and skydive. Peter Marren wanted to do something to mark his 50th, but considerable less onerous and dangerous. He did enjoy spending time rooting about in ditches and hedges, walking through woodlands, and occasional falling over in the search for all the plants of the UK.

So far he had found 1,400 of them, but there were still an elusive 50 that he was yet to clap eyes on, including the almost mythical Ghost Orchid, a plant so rare that it hadn’t been seen in the wild since 2010. This journey would take him backwards and forwards across the British Isles from Sussex to Cornwall, Norfolk to the Inner Hebrides, searching for ultra-rare plants that are wonderfully named, such as the Slender Naiad, Creeping Spearwort, Leafless Hawk’s Beard and the Few-Flowered Fumitory. On a lot of his trips, he is joined by friends and experts to assist in the search or to provide that detailed knowledge of the exact location where these plants are.

His enthusiasm for his small green subjects is compelling. He does mention a couple of personal matters in the book, as seems to be the habit these days. However, this is a very well written book one man’s search for some of our rarest plants, but more importantly, it is also a reminder that all of our natural world is under threat, not just the headline species. Thought it was interesting that the Plantlife, who is the organisation who carries out similar work to the RSPB but for plants, have a fraction of the membership of that organisation. Seems like they need our support as much as the others. It is a timely reminder to look all around you when out and about, not just at the thing that you went to see. If you like this then I’d recommend The Orchid Hunter by Leif Bersweden and Orchid Summer by Jon Dunn.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Ah, the dreaded Personal Matters – why do they force authors to shoehorn these in to what would be a perfectly good book anyway? This does sound good – I’m pretty rubbish at wild flowers, better at birds, so should redress the balance.

    • Paul

      I do kind of get why as these things are all interlinked. That said, it can be a bit wearing having a personal angle shoehorned in as the request of an editor

  2. Anne Harrison

    Does the book describe the habitats and locations (not exact?) of the plants the author finds? This would add to the interest of the book. I, too, am more interested in birds but this book does sound intriguing.

    • Paul

      It does have the locations of where the plants were found, not always exact as some of these are very rare

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