Synopses & Reviews
Here is a fascinating account of eleven remarkable, eccentric, dedicated, and sometimes obsessive individuals who scoured the world for plants and helped established the science of botany.
Mary and John Gribbin bring to life these extraordinary adventurers, and draw out the scientific and cultural value of their work and its legacy. Beginning with John Ray--the Newton of botany--the authors span two centuries and take us around the world to illuminate the lives and discoveries of these fascinating figures. The reader meets Joseph Banks, the father of plant explorers and one of the most influential scientists of his time, who was the botanist on Cook's first voyage around the world. We follow Richard Spruce to South America, where he survived vampire bats, scorpions, armies of viciously stinging ants, disease, and even a plot to kill him. Likewise, Robert Fortune was attacked by pirates, suffered from tropical fevers, and wandered far-flung areas of China no European had ever seen--often in disguise, including a fake Pigtail--ultimately to smuggle nearly 25,000 young tea plants, more than 15,000 seedlings, and 8 Chinese growers into India, launching the black tea industry in the West. And finally Joseph Hooker, who trekked from the foothills of the Himalayas to the high passes, which led to his discovery of spectacular rhododendron trees and exquisite magnolias.
These first botanists and collectors not only established a new science, but transformed our landscapes and gardens forever. Indeed, gardeners will be intrigued to learn how everyday plants such as azaleas, chrysanthemums, and forsythias were brought back from the far corners of the earth. And everyone who loves a good adventure story will find this book riveting.
The flower hunters were intrepid explorers - remarkable, eccentric men and women who scoured the world in search of extraordinary plants from the middle of the seventeenth to the end of the nineteenth century, and helped establish the new science of botany. For these adventurers, the search for new, undiscovered plant specimens was something worth risking - and losing - their lives for.
From the Douglas-fir and the monkey puzzle tree, to exotic orchids and azaleas, many of the plants that are now so familiar to us were found in distant regions of the globe, often in wild and unexplored country, in impenetrable jungle, and in the face of hunger, disease, and hostile locals. It was specimens like these, smuggled home by the flower hunters, that helped build the great botanical collections, and lay the foundations for the revolution in our understanding of the natural world that was to follow. Here, the adventures of eleven such explorers are brought to life, describing not only their extraordinary daring and dedication, but alos the lasting impact of their discoveries both on science, and on the landscapes and gardens that we see today.
About the Author
John and Mary Gribbin
are popular science writers who have collaborated on many books, including Richard Feynman: A Life in Science, Annus Mirabilis: 1905, Albert Einstein, and the Theory of Relativity
, and Big Numbers: A Mind Expanding Trip to Infinity and Back
. They live in East Sussex, in the UK.
Books by the same authors:
Fitzroy: The Remarkable Story of Darwin's Captain and the Invention of the Weather Forecast, 2004
Table of Contents
Prologue John Ray (1627-1705)
1. Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778)
2. Joseph Banks (1743-1820)
3. Francis Masson (1741-1805) and Carl Peter Thunberg (1742-1828)
4. David Douglas (1799-1834)
5. William Lobb (1809-1864) and Thomas Lobb (1817-1894)
6. Robert Fortune (1812-1880)
7. Marianne North (1830-1890)
8. Richard Spruce (1817-1893)
9. Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911)