the Near and Far East and South America. A new trend was the desire of the wealthy to outdo their friends and neighbours and be the first to cultivate new plants. A good example is the partnership of John Bartram (1699–1777) and Peter Collinson (1694–1768). Bartram from Philadelphia was a farmer and selftaught botanist while Collinson was a cloth merchant and passionate plantsman. Both were Quakers. They cashed in on the popularity of American exotics. Bartram collected plants from Ontario to Florida and sent a standard selection box containing over one hundred species to England for a cost of five guineas (around £500 today). Collinson then sold these to his various gardening contacts.
By the start of the nineteenth century the vast majority of plant hunting was aimed at the collection of new ornamental plants. The Royal Horticultural Society sent out ten collectors between 1821 and 1864, of which the best known are Robert Fortune and David Douglas. Interestingly, both also brought back plants of economic interest. Fortune, by 1848 working for the British East India Company, smuggled tea plants out of China for cultivation in India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Douglas introduced conifers that now are valuable for timber. Another driver of plant hunting, and a subject in its own right, was the mania for new orchids. This followed the (possibly accidental) introduction of the orchid Cattleya labiata that was found in Brazil by William Swainson in 1818. Specimens had been received by William Cattley and the Glasgow Botanic Gardens and successfully coaxed to flower. However, a few years later they had died out in cultivation – a recurring problem with many introduced exotic ornamental plants. Despite many people searching for it in the wilds of Brazil, it was 1889 before it was found again and reintroduced to cultivation.
The period from 1843, when Robert Fortune first went to the Orient, until the 1950s was the golden age of the plant hunter and saw the introduction of many of the plants that we grow in our gardens today. During this period, much of plant hunting had become very commercially driven by the great nurseries such as James Veitch and Sons, Bees Seeds (founded by cotton magnate Arthur Bulley) and Sander's (orchid specialists). They were responsible for funding many of the trips of such famous collectors as Benedikt Roezl, William Lobb, George Forrest, Ernest Wilson and Frank Kingdon Ward. Other sponsors were wealthy landowners such as J. C. Williams of Caerhays Castle (forerunner of Burncoose Nurseries) and Lord Aberconway of Bodnant. New plants commanded premium prices and plant hunting was so important that the best collectors were headhunted by competing organizations. George Forrest had been employed by Arthur Bulley, but when Forrest was poached by J. C. Williams, he was replaced by Frank Kingdon Ward. The scale of plant hunting at this time is illustrated by James Veitch and Sons, who had more than a dozen collectors when Ernest Wilson was hired.
12 • MODERN PLANT HUNTERS