Flower Hunters

Overview


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 often losing - their lives for.

From the Douglas-fir and the monkey puzzle tree, to exotic orchids and azaleas, many ...

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Oxford, England 2008 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. With dust jacket. 332 p. Contains: Illustrations, black & white, Illustrations, color. ... Audience: General/trade. Read more Show Less

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Overview


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 often 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 also the lasting impact of their discoveries both on science, and on the landscapes and gardens that we see today.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Veteran science writers, the Gribbins (Richard Feynman: A Life in Science) tell the stories of 11 18th- and 19th-century botanical explorers. Two were Swedes, including the renowned taxonomist Carl Linnaeus, who botanized in Lapland. The others came from Great Britain, including Joseph Banks, who sailed with Captain Cook, and Francis Masson, sent to South Africa by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. With David Douglas, sent to North America by the Horticultural Society of London to obtain plants to sell to affluent gardeners, came the age of plant exploration for profit. Robert Fortune was sent to China to collect tea plants for the East India Company. Richard Spruce obtained seeds of the South American tree that produces quinine, the drug used to treat malaria. Joseph Hooker brought rhododendrons from India to Victorian Britain. Marianne North searched several continents for material for her flower paintings. The adventures of these botanists, who often risked their lives in search of exotic species, should make for exciting reading, but the Gribbins' dry biographical sketches fail to capture the drama. 30 color and b&w illus not seen by PW. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Popular science writers Mary and John Gribbin (Richard Feynman: A Life in Science) tell the stories of 11 intrepid botanical travelers, beginning with John Ray, the "Newton of botany," and ending with Joseph Dalton Hooker, friend of Darwin and "discoverer" of many spectacular rhododendrons. Most of their subjects are plantsmen belonging to the golden age of Victorian gardening, like David Douglas, best known for his conifer introductions, and Robert Fortune, who established the tea industries in India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka); one noteworthy exception is Marianne North, who traveled the world not to dig or pick flora but to paint it. Each chapter closes with a list of the explorer's plant discoveries that brings the fabulous exploits of distant times and places back to the here and now. While this book often gives the reader a sense of the unimaginable hardships endured to find and bring back plant treasures, it fails to evoke the excitement of seeing them for the first time. There are too many infelicities of style, sloppy repetitions, and trite expressions to make this book more than an optional purchase. Better choices for your botanical history collection are Tyler Whittle's time-proven Plant Hunters or Philip Short's In Pursuit of Plants.
—Robert Eagan

Kirkus Reviews
Sharp, vest-pocket sketches of a dozen intrepid plant collectors by the veteran popular-science team (Annus Mirabilis: 1905, Albert Einstein, and the Theory of Relativity, 2005, etc.). From the mid-17th century through the end of the 19th, pioneering botanists passionately strove to understand the natural world. At first blush, plant collecting seems an innocuous activity, but the Gribbins make it clear that the great collectors were a special breed: They traveled to distant places and combined extraordinary fortitude with the talents of polymaths, diplomats and logicians. Though the authors' prose can be prim and obvious ("it seems appropriate to look at the work which made his reputation"), for the most part they invest their subjects with a well-deserved air of adventure. These individuals battled government interference with the free pursuit of knowledge and grappled with evidence that the world was much older than biblical chronology allowed. To puzzle out obfuscations and gather their quarry, they spent years in remote climes, where they were frequently regarded with dangerous suspicion and almost as frequently became direly ill. Among these swashbucklers were Richard Spruce, who obtained the seeds of the quinine tree; Robert Fortune, chiefly responsible for developing the black tea industry in India; Joseph Hooker, who brought home the rhododendrons of Sikkim; and Francis Masson, whom we have to thank for the Red Hot Pokers. Awarded the Star of India for his work, Hooker wrote happily that he felt this was recognition "of hard work under difficulties, of obstacles overcome, and of brilliant deeds." This description applies equally well to Marianne North's astonishing travels toalmost every continent and countless remote islands in search of the exotic plants she captured in botanical paintings now exhibited at Kew Gardens: "a beautiful, and scientifically valuable record." The Gribbins also spend time on the plant hunters' incidental activities, such as observing the transit of Venus and identifying the magnetic pole. Occasionally staid but erudite portraits of heroic botanists.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780192807182
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/15/2008
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Gribbin and John Gribbin are among the best-known current popular science writers. Together, they have written many acclaimed books, including Ice Age, FitzRoy, Stardust, and Big Numbers.
Mary is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Sussex, and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society with a special interest in plants and exploration. John is also a Visiting Fellow at the University of Sussex, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and the author of books including The Universe: A Biography, In Search of Schrodinger's Cat, and Science: A History.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations     viii
Introduction     1
Prologue: John Ray (1627-1705)     7
Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778)     29
Joseph Banks (1743-1820)     67
Francis Masson (1741-1805) and Carl Peter Thunberg (1742-1828)     104
David Douglas (1799-1834)     128
William Lobb (1809-1864) and Thomas Lobb (1817-1894)     163
Robert Fortune (1812-1880)     189
Marianne North (1830-1890)     215
Richard Spruce (1817-1893)     238
Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911)     269
Notes     300
Sources and Further Reading     312
Index     317

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