Mark Seal

Random House
Hardcover/232 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6736-7
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". . . a complex story of greed, corruption and rampant crime linked to the rose business."

Did you ever think a bouquet of roses could destroy an entire ecosystem? In January 2006, filmmaker, naturalist and conservationist Joan Root was shot to death in her bedroom by two masked men armed with AK-47s. Although the crime remains a mystery, most believe she was killed because of her efforts to save Kenya’s Lake Naivasha from environmental destruction caused by horticultural farms.

On assignment for Vanity Fair, author Mark Seal knew nothing about Joan Root, but after three years in Kenya he uncovered a complex story of greed, corruption and rampant crime linked to the rose business.

In his book, Wildflower, Seal chronicles Root’s life. She was born in Nairobi, where her British parents were coffee farmers. Extremely shy, she spent most of her young life with animals, especially treating various wounded species. She married a small-time filmmaker, Alan Root. Together they became pioneers in wildlife films, winning awards. Castle of Clay, about termites, was even nominated for an Oscar. Their successful partnership ended when Alan divorced Joan and remarried. The break-up was tragic for Joan. She returned to Lake Naivasha where she found peace among the animals that roamed around the area.

But as she piloted her small plane around the lake, she watched the explosion of plastic hot houses for roses. From 1970 to 1998, Kenya’s flower export expanded from tenfold from about 3,300 metric tons to more than 30,000 metric tons. Similar to a gold rush, 100,000 people moved to the area for work. “There was a migration as wild and savage as the wildebeest migration Joan and Alan had filmed,” Seal writes. During the off season, “hungry, desperate, and out-of-work men” took to poaching wildlife, over-fishing and polluting the lake.

Distressed in her failed attempts to save the lake, Root helped finance a vigilante group to arrest poachers which may have been the reason she was murdered. Joan’s ex-husband, anxious to have Root’s story told, presented Seal with her diaries, letters, notes, and arranged interviews with friends and acquaintances. Seal, in his matter-of-fact journalist style, writes an intimate and informative story about Joan’s successes in wildlife preservation, her films, and the environmental consequences that come from those lovely roses we get on Valentine’s Day.


Reviewer: Kate Padilla