Pirates, Plants and Plunder
Ages 10 and up
Random House UK, 2005, 1-903-91935-5
It isn’t often that we wonder where the plants in our gardens and parks come from. We take the beautiful blooms and shrubs for granted perhaps, imagining that they have always been in our country, waiting in nurseries for someone to buy them. In actual fact many of the plants we are fond of originally came from far-away places and explorer botanists frequently risked life and limb to get them. For example Robert Fortune – whose work helped create the tea plantations in India and Sri Lanka – came face to face with several ship loads of pirates when he was in China collecting plants for the Horticultural Society. Thankfully he was armed and was able to protect himself.
Another botanist and explorer, Frank Kingdon Ward, experienced all manner of minor and not so minor disasters when he went to Burma to collect specimens, and Sir Joseph Hooker very nearly got himself killed when he took a journey into Sikkim, a very wild and isolated region in the Himalayas.
This collection of twelve stories will give readers a fascinating picture of what it might have been like to be traveling at the side of such famous people as Magellan, Meriwether Lewis, and Christopher Columbus. Each account is told in a very unique way, and sometimes from the point of view of a very unexpected personality from history. For example in the section about the famous Chinese explorer Zheng He, our narrator is one of the mistresses of the Chinese Emperor who is friends with He and who hopes he will be able to find her a miracle plant on his journeys which will restore her youth.
With humor, and an obvious appreciation for the vagaries of history, Stewart Ross has written a highly entertaining and intriguing book.
This is one of the titles published by Eden Project Books. Readers interested in environmental matters and botany might like to visit the Eden Project website.
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