Pursuit of Plants
Experiences of nineteenth & early twentieth century
UWA Press, distributed by Addenda Ltd
ALTHOUGH the pursuit
of taxonomy may seem prosaic, the adventures of the early plant
collectors make a rip-roaring read.
In Surinam, plant hunter
FW Hostman allowed vampire bats to suck blood from his toes, in
West Africa William Grant Milne was forced to sell his clothes and
travel naked for 200 miles and in Fiji, Berthold Seemann discovered
what type of taro cannibals preferred as a side-dish to human flesh.
These sagas and others
are compiled by Australian taxonomist Philip Short and leavened
with first-hand accounts from the collectors' diaries and memoirs.
There's a nod to New
Zealand's botanical history; missionary and plant gatherer William
Colenso's 1845 trek to the North Island hinterland is portrayed,
with Colenso's amusing early encounter with the vicious, thorny
species that now bears his name, Alsophila colensoi.
explorers RW Lawrence, James Drummond, Ludwig Leichhardt, Ferdinand
Mueller and others are given plenty of mileage and deservedly so.
As Leichhardt's demise
shows - he and his party disappeared without trace in 1848 while
attempting an east-west crossing - Australia was anything but the
lucky country for some who charted our botanical heritage.
In Pursuit of Plants includes a balanced mix of historical prints and recent photography
that adds to this riveting read.
Gardener, Issue 139, 2004, Page 28
(reproduced in Horticulture
in New Zealand:
Journal of the Royal NZ Institute of Horticulture 2005, 8(1): 17-18)
Reproduced with permission from the former Weekend Gardener magazine. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the RNZIH