Ecologist Robert Vennell branches out with book

Robert Vennell has converted his interest in New Zealand’s native plants into a beautifully illustrated book.

Robert Vennell portrait photo, smiling.
Robert Vennell graduated with a MSc in 2017.

If ecologist Robert Vennell, who graduated in 2017 with a MSc in biosecurity and conservation, can’t spark your interest in New Zealand’s native plants, it’s unlikely anyone can.

But Robert wasn’t always an expert. The seeds of his book The Meaning of Trees were planted after he’d tried to eat his way through native plants of the forest and realised he didn’t know much about many of them.

“I was following Andrew Crowe’s A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand and thought I’d better find out about the plants if I was going to eat them.”

While at the University of Auckland he started writing a blog Not long after he began work as collections manager for the natural science galleries at Auckland Museum, HarperCollins asked him if he wanted to make his blog into a book.

“I was stoked as I’d had it in the back of my mind. I’m really happy with the design too. The old out-of-copyright artworks from museum collections have given it a real historical feel.”

The book considers how our native plants have been used in traditional medicine, as food, and as powerful symbols in Māori culture.

Robert hopes his 256-page hardback has wide appeal.

“With all the cute fluffy animals about, we have our jobs cut out to make plants interesting, but that’s what I try to do.”

The Meaning of Trees by Robert Vennell, HarperCollins NZ, RRP $55