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.