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In Pursuit of PlantsBOOK REVIEWS

In Pursuit of Plants
Experiences of nineteenth & early twentieth century plant collectors

Philip Short
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.

Australia's plant-probing 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.

Weekend 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

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