Plant Collectors


Horticultural Professions
  Plant Collectors

One of the more adventurous horticultural professions is that of the plant collector. The earliest recorded expedition was by the Egyptian queen Hatusu (Hatshepsut) in approximately 1495 b.c. The sought-after plants in this trip were those that produced frankincense and myrrh, used in Egypt for embalming, incense, cosmetics, and medicine. The live trees were transported from the Land of Punt (coastal Somalia, Eastern Sudan, Eritrea) via the Red Sea, Gulf of Suez, and the Nile River.

Botanical gardens were created for scholarly purposes. The earliest botanical gardens were in European universities established in the 1500s and 1600s in France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany. In the 1700s, the use of a
terrarium made possible the survival of many more of the plants collected on explorations, by transportation under glass on long ship voyages. Seeds or cuttings were taken from rare and endangered plants.

The USDA initiated approximately 45 plant collection expeditions in the twentieth century. The USDA horticulturists traveled around the world to collect specimens. One of the USDA horticulturists was Dr. Edward Corbett, a professor of horticulture at the University of Connecticut. Dr. Corbett, while employed as a research horticulturist for the USDA in 1966, accompanied Dr. Richard W. Lighty, a geneticist, on an expedition to South Korea to collect specimens of woody ornamentals. Together they endured travel over rough terrain, long boat rides, typhoons, dysentery, and sunstroke but managed to collect approximately 500 specimens, some of which still grow in Longwood Gardens, a 1,050-acre horticultural display garden in Pennsylvania. Such a trip would be more difficult today because of increased security and government regulations that seek to limit the entry of nonnative plant species into the United States.