JANE GOODALL may be the world's most famous primatologist — 50 years ago, she became the first to prove that nonhuman animals make tools — but lately she's been spending more time focusing on a life form less intelligent than the chimpanzees she studied in Tanzania. In fact, one that has no brains at all: plants.
Her newest book, Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder From the World of Plants, cowritten with Gayle Hudson, chronicles her lifelong love of all things leafy. In it, she writes: "There would be no chimpanzees without plants — nor human beings either" and confesses that she might never have started studying apes had she not, as a child, been obsessed with Africa's forests.
Goodall, now 79, runs the Jane Goodall Institute to protect chimpanzees' habitat, and Roots and Shoots to encourage children to become conservationists. She's also a U.N. Messenger of Peace and a Dame of the British Empire. We spoke to her to find out what compelled her to spend years writing a book about the botanical world.
You’re known for your work with primates. Why the newer focus on plants?
The last book I did, Hope for Animals and their World, was about saving animals from extinction. I had a long section on plants but it got too long, so almost all of that was left out. I felt bad because I'd talked to so many botanists and they were so excited that Jane was going to put plants in her book. So I thought, OK, I’ll add to what I’ve done and it’ll be a booklet that perhaps we could sell in botanical gardens. That was the original idea.