Many books have been published on plant hunting and most of them focus on its so-called golden age, which ended with the death of Frank Kingdon Ward in 1958. They also focus on the hunt for ornamental plants and generally ignore orchids, medicinal plants and the work of scientific institutions. One could be forgiven for thinking that plant hunting ended when Kingdon Ward died, but nothing could be further from the truth. As Martin Gardner from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) put it, there have been more new plant introductions in the past thirty years than ever before. So the aim of this book is to tell the stories of the modern-day plant hunters.
My original objective was to focus on modern-day plant hunters of ornamental plants – and there are plenty of them. The first person I interviewed was Ken Cox of Glendoick Gardens in Perthshire, who stressed that I could not ignore the restraining effect on plant hunting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), especially the Nagoya Protocol (see page 50). Then Roy Lancaster stressed the need to emphasize the effects of habitat destruction on plant loss and plant diversity. Habitat destruction has led to botanic gardens worldwide concentrating their scientific activities on conservation and this has increased the plant hunting that they do. Soon it became clear that today plant hunting encompasses a much broader range of activities than it ever did in its golden age. The stories are just as interesting, if not more so, and deserve to be more widely known, particularly by people outside of the immediate plant hunting community, such as horticulturists, gardeners, naturalists and students of botany.
In researching this book, I could easily have been overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people involved in plant hunting today. Early on I took the decision to focus on just a few of them and try to let each chapter cover a different aspect. In talking to various individuals, it became clear that, following the Convention on Biological Diversity, which came into force in 1993, there is great sensitivity around the words ‘plant hunting’ and ‘plant collection’. Although it may not follow current convention, in this book I have used the term ‘plant hunting’ in the strictest sense to refer to the act of going looking for plants without the associated collection of whole plants or plant parts. The term ‘plant collecting’ is restricted to the physical collection of plants or seeds. People who collect plants, usually rare ones, when they should not, I consider to be plant thieves.
6 • MODERN PLANT HUNTERS