It is in his writing of exploring the plants and their indigenous uses in Amazonia that Prof. Sir Ghillean Prance now offers us an insight into how botanists gather and prepare material and the importance of recording the habitat and plant data along with the great attention to detail so essential when adding new entries to the botanical records.
Prof. Sir Ghillean Prance [left] with Editor Chris Allen at the book launch. April 2015
It is written not only as a good read but also an insight into the logistics and shear hard work and determination needed to succeed on an expedition. Sir Ghillean tells the reader of the diverse activities required of botanists while out in the field and he pulls no punches when recalling incidents such as an aircraft that crashes on landing leaving them stranded and short of food for several days, or the time when a poisonous spider, a snake and a scorpion fell out from a collected Bromeliad plant into their canoe, plus the numerous boat trips into unchartered waters when boat engines fail to work or rivers are chocked with water hyacinth. The discomfort to himself and the teams, and at times his wife and young children cannot be underestimated. The images in the book were taken by him and add great clarity to each chapter.
Once collected the plant specimens required urgent drying in order to prevent them from rotting and becoming unusable. The wooded drying presses they took on their expeditions were in constant use and required careful monitoring to prevent them catching fire and the loss of their specimens, a couple of occasions of fires occurring are recorded.
Throughout this book the names of people referred to reads like a who’s who of the botanical world, these are not included to try to impress but as facts, the author has, and continues to work closely with colleagues and associates who are possibly the most knowledgeable, and respected botanists, researchers and scientists on the planet. Being closely associated with educational institutions these people are committed to sharing their knowledge, there are also many references to botanical courses and students that Sir Ghillean is actively involved with.
The story of Sir Ghillean’s fifty years of travelling will be of interest to botanists, students and everyone with an interest in how, why and what is required to get a specimen of a plant into a herbarium collection; the number of specimens and new plants species collected during his expeditions described in this book are listed at the end of each chapter, they alone make impressive reading when you consider the effort required. . With modern science facilities and processes collected herbarium specimens now contribute to pioneering developments in pharmaceutical and nutritional research programs. Gardeners will know that many of our garden plants and indoor house plant species are the result of plant hunters endeavours bringing back living plants during past centuries.
The thousands of specimens collected during these many trips are now stored in the major herbariums around the world and will play their part in the important work being carried out in conservation and scientific research programs. This book will sow the seeds in the imagination and stir the curiosity of many people, some may enter the fascinating profession of botany and become team members of expeditions to discovery more plants from around the world.
This is a fascinating record that shows botany as an international language and highlights the need for the joined-up thinking that is essential for future research and scientific studies, the conservation of habitat and the respect that must be given to indigenous peoples. As Sir Ghillean comments in the final sentence of his book ‘I urge us all to strive further to preserve the Amazon forest and its wonderful people who depend on the forest for their future’
Title: That Glorious Forest
Author: Professor Sir Ghillean Prance
Publisher: The New York Botanical Press
UK sales: Serendip book shop, Lyme Regis, Dorset. www.serendiplyme.co.uk