Some time ago, I read the beautifully illustrated The Naming of Names by Anna Pavord. This book tells the story of botany, beginning with the pioneering work by Theophrastus, the Vienna Dioscurides, and other works. The Naming of Names is gloriously adorned with botanical illustrations such as this:
Blackberry plant, from the Vienna Dioscurides (text is in Greek)
I also found Pavord’s book to be an enjoyable read, with interesting historical snippets (though, I think, a misunderstanding of Augustine), and quotations from ancient writers such as Theophrastus: “Other [plants] are found in fewer forms, as strykhnos which is a general name covering plants that are quite distinct; one is edible and like a cultivated plant, having a berry-like fruit, and there are two others, of which the one is said to induce sleep, the other to cause madness, or, if it is administered in a larger dose, death.” – Enquiry into Plants, Vol II, Book VII, Ch XV.
English Protestant preacher and botanist William Turner had this to say about the poisonous Oleander plant: “I have sene thys tre in diverse places of Italy but I care not if it never com into England, seying it in all poyntes is lyke a Pharesey, that is beuteus without, and within, a ravenus wolf and murderer.”
Pavord takes her history up to Linnaeus, and his binomial naming system which finally gave standardised names to plants: Glycyrrhiza glabra, Allium sativum, and so forth.
Plants as they truly appear: “Das große Rasenstück” by Albrecht Dürer (1503)
Overall, an enjoyable book, although the illustrations are its greatest strength. It would be worth buying just for those. See also this review by Ursula Le Guin.