books for
burning it all down
planting seeds in the ashes
becoming rooted
breaking the attention economy
reenchanting the earth
books for hoping
beyond the end of the world

The Encyclopedia of Rootical Folklore

Plant Tales from Africa and the Diaspora

This A–Z treasury of story and verse follows plants across Africa and the diaspora as they help humans heal, create, and celebrate. A baobab tree misses his old friend Birago Diop, a poet of the Négritude movement. Basil comes to the rescue for a woman who’s had a rough day. On moonlit evenings in a square in Kingston, kids gather round a Rasta elder to hear tales of dates, guava, and the orishas—Yoruba divinities—linked to each plant.

The 88 entries, each accompanied by botanical information, blend age-old lore and modern sensibility to bring the plants of Africa and the Caribbean to life. Includes a glossary, multilingual species index, and references. With collage illustrations by Nancey B. Price.

May 8, 2024
Hardcover (case laminate)
336 pages


In stock

Outside the US? Order through our distributor, Microcosm!

About the Author

Natty Mark Samuels, dubbed “Oxford’s botanical folklorist” by OX Magazine, travels to community projects, carnivals, and botanical gardens throughout the U.K. telling the stories and singing the songs of African and Caribbean flora. In 2009, seeing that none of Oxford’s universities offered undergraduate tuition in African Studies, Samuels founded the African School, where he teaches classes on African folklore, history, and art.

Praise for The Encyclopedia of Rootical Folklore

In The Encyclopedia of Rootical Folklore: Plant Tales from Africa and the Diaspora, Natty Mark Samuels embodies ecological humility and kincentric interdependence by transmitting both the science and story of our culturally significant plants. Hibiscus is uplifted for its cranberry calyx, and also for its prominence in Juneteenth and the Anansi stories. Watermelon is traced from Pharaoh’s tombs to the shores of Brazil during Yemoja’s festival. The Encyclopedia holds over 80 plant stories that are reverently told in poetic, prayerful prose. Samuels is a modern griot, reconnecting the Black diaspora to our botanical legacy.

–Leah Penniman, Co-Founder of Soul Fire Farm, Author of Farming While Black and Black
Earth Wisdom

… A unique and long-overdue resource. The book will bring much awareness of the rich oral traditions, knowledge of plants and nature, and wisdom that are buried in folklore from Africa and the Americas. Its stories come from very important works of Black folklore that are little known by the public…. Indispensable.

–Babacar M’Baye, Professor and Chair of English, Kent State University

Unlike the people who speak passionately for them, the charismatic, humble and dependable characters in this book keep stoic silence while navigating their homelands, wherever they may be scattered today. Often taken for granted, these quiet companions have provided nourishment, protection and stability to their more boisterous human contemporaries. Rootical Folklore is not just one love letter or thank-you note to plants for their role in the natural world, it is a substantial collection of spiritual and practical reflections on the original energy-harvesting colonizers of our world. Those organisms that sensed a breeze before humans ever did, felt sunlight before people woke at dawn, created the oxygenated air we breathe. As a route into cultural botany, this collection of words is a wonderfully colorful guide to the individuals and collective dreams within the plant kingdom… Natty Mark Samuels reminds the reader of the dynamic balance between science and ideas, of myth and logic, and how to remember across time and geography.

–Dane Comerford, Director, Oxford Science & Ideas Festival

A beautiful compendium of tales that interweave wisdom, lives, spirituality and folklore. This Encyclopedia has helped me comprehend the richness of knowledge around these plants and provided fresh eyes to see (and listen to) them through.

–Laura Alston, Education and Engagement Coordinator, Sheffield Botanical Gardens

Natty Mark’s prose wraps around you like a comforting summer morning on the porch, where butterflies twirl in the overgrown garden. His book warmly welcomes you into tales and insights about plants and African culture, instilling a fresh perspective on perceiving the world.

–Ina Vandebroek, Senior Lecturer, Dept. of Life Sciences, University of the West Indies


Acacia: The Acacia Guide • Ackee: One Little Ackee • African Lettuce: I Shall Bring You African Lettuce • Alfalfa: Alfalfa Soliloquy • Alligator Pepper: The Alligator Pepper Duet • Aloe: Aloe Vera Chant • Arrowroot: Mama Maranta • Avocado: Anthem of Avocado • Balsam Apple: Balsamina Chant • Bamboo: Ulanzi • Banana: Kinyamkela • Baobab: The Baobab Monologue • Basil: The Companionship of Basil • Blue Lotus: Black Lotus • Bougainvillea: Bougainvillea Prayer • Breadfruit: Breadfruit and Marbles • Calabash: Calabash Man • Cassava: The Manioc Mantra • Chamomile: Tale of Chamomile • Chaney Root: Chaney Root Chant • Cherry: Cherry Temptation • Chili Pepper: Tale of Chili Pepper • Cloves: Cloves Energizer • Coconut: Chant of the Coconut • Cucumber: Tale of Chi Wara • Cypress: The Cypress Philosophers • Dates: Tale of Dates • Eggplant: Chant of the Eggplant • Eucalyptus: Gebre Hanna Haiku • Fig: Tale of a Fig Grove • Flame Tree: Flame Tree Monologue • Flame Vine: Flame Vine Haiku • Geranium: Geranium Meditation • Gesho: The Gesho Amulet • Grapefruit: Grapefruit Genesis • Guava: Tale of Guava • Heliconia: Heliconia Serenade • Hibiscus: Tale of Sorrel • Ibhulu: Ibhulu • Iroko: Iroko Man • Jackalberry: Tribute to Nelbi • Jatoba: Tale of Stinking Toe • Kapok: Tale of Silk Cotton • Lemon: Interlude of Lemons • Lemongrass: Tale of Lemongrass • Liana: The Liana Declaration • Mallow: The Mallow Grave • Mango: The Mango Juggler • Millet: Let Us Dance • Natal Cycad: Umguza • Nutmeg: The Nutmeg Princess • Okra: The Okra Man • Onion: Tale of Little Onion • Orange: Orange Tree Fly Whisk • Palm: Babalawo Chant • Papaya: Lady Papaya • Pea: Tale of a Pea Harvest • Peanut: Tale of Peanuts • Pear: Pear Tree Blues • Pine: Pine Tree Man • Pineapple: Little Pineapple Child • Plantain: Song of Plantain and Cocoa • Pumpkin: The Pumpkin Chant • Raspberry: Redemption Raspberries • Rose Apple: Tale of Rose Apple • Rose: Tale of a Rose • Rosemary: Rosemary and Cinnamon Chant • Rubber Tree: Rubber Tree Curiosity • Rue: Arruda Necessity • Safu: Tale of Safu • Sarsaparilla: Like Sly and Robbie • Shea: The Shea Chant • Sorghum: Sorghum Pancake • Soursop: Discourse of Soursop and Sage • Star Apple: Star Apple Chant • Strawberry: Strawberries for Papa Legba • Sugarcane: Canboulay • Sweet Potato: Soul of Ipomoea • Tamarind: Tale of Tamarind • Taro: Day of Dasheen • Tobacco: Hebu • Trumpet Tree: Trumpet Tree Ensemble • Umabophe: Ukuchila • Vanilla: The Vanilla Legacy • Water Cabbage: Chant Oju Oro • Watermelon: Watermelon Gift • Yam: Oduduwa Haiku • Yerba Mate: The Sacred Bush

The cover of The Encyclopedia of Rootical Folklore is a very dark green color. In the center is a painting of a plant with a spike of yellow flowers and a prominent reddish root. The words appear in gold and the painting is surrounded by gold decorations.
The Encyclopedia of Rootical Folklore