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The Plant Hunters: True Stories of Their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth

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Driven by an all-consuming passion, the plant hunters traveled around the world, facing challenges at every turn: tropical illnesses, extreme terrain, and dangerous animals. They battled piranhas, tigers, and vampire bats. Even the plants themselves could be lethal! But these intrepid eighteenth- and nineteenth-century explorers were determined to find and collect new and unusual specimens, no matter what the cost. Then they tried to transport the plants—and themselves—home alive. Creating an ...

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Driven by an all-consuming passion, the plant hunters traveled around the world, facing challenges at every turn: tropical illnesses, extreme terrain, and dangerous animals. They battled piranhas, tigers, and vampire bats. Even the plants themselves could be lethal! But these intrepid eighteenth- and nineteenth-century explorers were determined to find and collect new and unusual specimens, no matter what the cost. Then they tried to transport the plants—and themselves—home alive. Creating an important legacy in science, medicine, and agriculture, the plant hunters still inspire the scientific and environmental work of contemporary plant enthusiasts.

Working from primary sources—journals, letters, and notes from the field—Anita Silvey introduces us to these daring adventurers and scientists. She takes readers into the heart of their expeditions to then-uncharted places such as the Amazon basin, China, and India. As she brings a colorful cast of characters to life, she shows what motivated these Indiana Jones–type heroes. In The Plant Hunters, science, history, and adventure have been interwoven to tell a largely forgotten—yet fascinating—story.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“…a lovely presentation of amazing adventures.”—School Library Journal

“…successfully infuse[s] the image of plant collection with a measure of excitement many readers will not expect.”—BCCB

"Combining bits of botanical history and exploration with accounts of adventurers, this unusual book introduces European and North American plant hunters..."—Booklist

“…smoothly written, smartly paced and filled with exciting tales of risk taking and derring-do.”—Kirkus Reviews

Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
The subtitle gives a pretty good idea of what is to come in this book by acclaimed author Anita Silvey. We may take plants for granted but without them there would not be life as we know it on earth. One of the fascinating facts is presented right in the opening section where readers learn that Queen Hatshepsut sent out men to bring back frankincense trees. They do grow in the Middle East as I have personally seen them, but we don't learn if the Queen was successful in her mission. The chapters that follow detail the often harrowing exploits of those who searched some of the remotest places on earth to find new species of plants. They were either searching for new plants to further knowledge, acquire a bit of fame themselves or for humanitarian reasons. Many plants have properties to cure diseases such as typhoid fever and leprosy. These plant hunters loved the natural world and being out in it and of course they wanted to travel. For many it was lonely and arduous work, but they never seemed to be deterred. Among the people featured in Silvey's book is Baron Humboldt who explored uncharted areas of Venezuela and Brazil in the 1800s and wrote about the wondrous plants that he had seen. He even visited President Thomas Jefferson and left a copy of one of his maps. Some plant hunters were spies or thieves who were sent to gather plants that were being kept secret by their governments. Among the better know are Henry Alexander Wickham who secreted rubber tree seeds from Brazil which the British then nurtured in Kew Gardens and eventually used in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to establish rubber plantations; and Robert Fortune who secreted Chinese tea plants which were then transplanted in the highlands of India. There were women plant hunters and they included Alice Eastwood and Ynes Mexia. There is so much more information in the book which describes plant preservation, the need to be an artist before photography and computers entered the scene, the relationship between Darwin and Hooker and the current efforts to maintain seed repositories. Silvey has prepared a timeline, extensive notes and bibliography and selected wonderful pictures, photographs and other illustrations to breathe even more life into this fascinating account. While this is a book targeted to middle readers, most adults will also find it fascinating. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
School Library Journal
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
Kirkus Reviews
Greed! Obsession! A passion for nature and travel! All these and more have driven intrepid explorers to search for exotic plants around the globe for centuries. Most of these hunters have been altruistic professionals seeking valuable plants to advance the cause of science and medicine or to improve their nations' economy with potential commercial crops. In their pursuit many experienced serious illness and injury, extremes of harsh weather and terrain in remote locales, not to mention encounters with dangerous animals, insects and fellow humans. Yet the thrill of the chase, the love of adventure and the outdoors and the tantalizing belief that the objects of their desire indeed lay at the end of their arduous journeys spurred these men and women on, despite the challenges. Some didn't survive the trip home. Today searches continue so that scientists may catalog Earth's biodiversity and develop massive seed stockpiles against any future catastrophic destruction of plant life. The slim, engaging narrative paints vivid portraits of these botanic adventurers. It is smoothly written, smartly paced and filled with exciting tales of risk taking and derring-do. Handsome visuals include contemporary maps, photographs, sketches, paintings and excellent botanic illustrations. Who could have imagined that something as seemingly ordinary as a plant could incite such ardor and devotion? (timeline, author's note, notes, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 9-13)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374309084
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/10/2012
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 387,599
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 1170L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Anita Silvey is among today's foremost authorities on children's books. She is the creator of both the online and the forthcoming print editions of the Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac, and teaches courses in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science and the Children’s Literature Program at Simmons College. A frequent contributor to NPR, Ms. Silvey lectures around the country on children’s and young adult books. Her recent books include Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot, I’ll Pass for Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War, and Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book. She lives near Boston, Massachusetts.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 26, 2012

    Step Aside, Indiana Jones!

    Indiana Jones has nothing on these intrepid adventurers as they travel the world in search of the exotic – plant! Anita Silvey draws upon letters, diaries and journals to tell the story of these little known daring-do scientists.

    Passionate about their discoveries, plant hunters “…love being outdoors in the natural world. They enjoyed traveling to places often unseen by others, and they found alien landscapes mysterious and beautiful.” While many went into plant hunting with the hope of becoming rich, most also wanted to make scientific discoveries, inspired by the life of Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778). Considered the father of modern botany, Linnaeus created the system to classify plants. “As he named everything from buffaloes to buttercups, he began to create order out of the natural world, or, as his motto has been translated, ‘God created. Linnaeus organized.”

    Anita opens with the amazing tale of Alexander von Humboldt. In his quest across South America, von Humboldt encountered a jaguar, is “…tormented by insects, threatened by crocodiles, and abandoned by his guides.” At one point, he was poisoned by curare, a nerve poison used by the Tikuna tribe living on the Orinoco River.

    The adventure didn’t end once the hunters found their specimens. Transporting the discoveries back to the museums, arboretums, and royal gardens sometimes proved more difficult. Sometimes it could take weeks or months before the plant was ready to harvest, then it had to be carried by mules then by boats, being carried across land and ocean, exposed to all kinds of weather and environmental changes. Because plant hunters wanted to make sure their specimens survived, they collected sometimes thousands of specimens, and in doing so, created an environmental disaster. Joseph Hooker’s workers cut down ten thousand trees in order to gather four thousand orchids living at the top of them. The irony of destroying so much in order to gain the prize could lend itself to a wonderful discussion about current environmental concerns.

    Anita includes an impressive collection of original drawings, paintings, photographs to illustrate the landscape and characters of her subject. This book is a remarkable blend of history, science and adventure.

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