Botanist explores fascinating world of plant resins and amber in comprehensive new book

SANTA CRUZ, CA--From the Stone Age to the present day, people have found a wide range of uses for plant resins and have been fascinated by amber, which is fossilized resin. Plant resins--sticky plant secretions that harden when exposed to air--have been used as medicines, fuels, varnishes, adhesives, and perfume ingredients, to mention just a few examples.

Jean Langenheim, professor emerita and research professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has been studying amber and resins for more than 40 years. Her investigations have covered every aspect of the subject, including the chemistry of resins, their geologic history, their roles in the ecology of the plants that produce them, and their many uses throughout human history.

Langenheim has now written a comprehensive book on plant resins that reflects the depth and breadth of her knowledge as well as her enthusiasm for these fascinating plant products. Plant Resins: Chemistry, Evolution, Ecology, and Ethnobotany, published in May by Timber Press, is the only up-to-date scientific reference book on the subject. It is richly illustrated with maps, color and black-and-white photos, and exquisite line drawings by UCSC alumnus Jesse Markman.

Langenheim first became interested in plant resins through her research on amber. In the early 1960s, as a research fellow at Harvard University, she conducted the first chemical analyses to determine the biological sources of amber. Although people had assumed that most amber came from the resins of pines and other conifers, Langenheim found that Mexican amber came from a tropical flowering tree. This discovery led her to conduct a comprehensive investigation of amber through geologic time, identifying the different kinds of trees that could have produced amber throughout the geologic record.

Langenheim's 1969 paper on amber in the journal Science became a classic and established her as the world's lea

Contact: Tim Stephens
University of California - Santa Cruz

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