The Plant Hunters

True Stories of Their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth
The Plant Hunters: True Stories of Their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth. 88p. illus. photos. reprods. bibliog. chron. index. notes. websites. CIP. Farrar. 2012. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-0-374-30908-4. LC 2011005161.
Gr 5–8—Getting plants at the local garden center for one's home garden seems simple enough. But the incredible array of choices available—daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, geraniums, and begonias to name a few—is the result of centuries of global plant exploration and gathering. Organized by topic, Silvey's narrative flows from the motivation of these plant hunters, the difficulties they faced in transporting their finds across great distances, and the extreme threats to their lives (some didn't survive). The accounts of stealing such valuable plants as Brazilian rubber trees and Chinese teas for economic gain and the Ecuadorian cinchona plant for its antimalarial qualities read more like spy adventures than benign plant collectors' stories. The three-page bibliography will direct curious readers to books and websites for further information. For readers interested in specific plants, topics and/or individuals, the multipage index will lead the way to such specifics as Humboldt's description of banana trees, the discovery of a new gentian in Arkansas in 2001, and various expeditions to the Himalayas. Beautifully illustrated with color reproductions of old botanic drawings and photographs, this is a lovely presentation of amazing adventures.—Frances E. Millhouser, formerly at Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
This is a well-illustrated collection of anecdotes about naturalists, mostly from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who studied and gathered plants on various continents. The stories are entertaining, but Silvey stresses the hazards of their occupation (extreme weather, rough terrain, hostile natives, wild animals, etc.) at the expense of a coherent overview of the developing science of botany. Timeline. Bib., ind.
This thorough and detailed multidisciplinary account will attract readers interested in botany, history, geography, and adventure. Filled with compelling, sympathetic portraits of past explorers, including Alexander von Humboldt and Joseph Dalton Hooker, as well as contemporary scientists Anita Silvey calls “contemporary plant geeks.” Informative and well written throughout. For example, of von Humboldt, Silvey writes: “In the town of Esmeralda, on the Orinoco River, the baron stopped to research one of the most infamous products of the region—nerve poison, or black curare, generated from local plants and used by the Tikuna tribe on the tips of lethal arrows. This poison kills a bird in two or three minutes and a pig in twelve; it is also quite capable of killing a human being.” The book contains many fascinating photographs and illustrations. There are drawings from Carl Lannaeus’s Flora Lapponica and Joseph Hooker’s Himalayan Journals, photographs of Ernest H. Wilson in western China and in the mountains of Formosa, and even reproductions of Ernest and Ellen Wilson’s passports, with stamps from around the globe.

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