Anita Silvey
My Works
The Plant Hunters
Driven by an all-consuming passion, the plant hunters traveled around the world, facing challenges at every turn: tropical illnesses, extreme terrain, and dangerous animals. They battled piranhas, tigers, and vampire bats. Even the plants themselves could be lethal! But these intrepid eighteenth- and nineteenth-century explorers were determined to find and collect new and unusual specimens, no matter what the cost. Then they tried to transport the plants—and themselves—home alive. Creating an important legacy in science, medicine, and agriculture, the plant hunters still inspire the scientific and environmental work of contemporary plant enthusiasts.

Working from primary sources—journals, letters, and notes from the field—Anita Silvey introduces us to these daring adventurers and scientists. She takes readers into the heart of their expeditions to then-uncharted places such as the Amazon basin, China, and India. As she brings a colorful cast of characters to life, she shows what motivated these Indiana Jones–type heroes. In The Plant Hunters, science, history, and adventure have been interwoven to tell a largely forgotten—yet fascinating—story.

Greed! Obsession! A passion for nature and travel! All these and more have driven intrepid explorers to search for exotic plants around the globe for centuries.

Most of these hunters have been altruistic professionals seeking valuable plants to advance the cause of science and medicine or to improve their nations’ economy with potential commercial crops. In their pursuit many experienced serious illness and injury, extremes of harsh weather and terrain in remote locales, not to mention encounters with dangerous animals, insects and fellow humans. Yet the thrill of the chase, the love of adventure and the outdoors and the tantalizing belief that the objects of their desire indeed lay at the end of their arduous journeys spurred these men and women on, despite the challenges. Some didn’t survive the trip home. Today searches continue so that scientists may catalog Earth’s biodiversity and develop massive seed stockpiles against any future catastrophic destruction of plant life. The slim, engaging narrative paints vivid portraits of these botanic adventurers. It is smoothly written, smartly paced and filled with exciting tales of risk taking and derring-do. Handsome visuals include contemporary maps, photographs, sketches, paintings and excellent botanic illustrations.

Who could have imagined that something as seemingly ordinary as a plant could incite such ardor and devotion?

The Plant Hunters by Anita Silvey is a highly worthwhile read filled with the compelling stories of plant hunters, past and present, moved by the excitement of travel, love of the natural world, a desire to make a profit or the need to devote themselves to the study of plants. (Read more.)

Each story will hold fascination for budding botanists, and those interested in adventure and history.

These scientists made invaluable contributions to scientific research. It moves from the long-ago past to the present, ending with Richard Ree, a modern-day plant hunter preparing specimens in Tibet. I found it consistently fascinating to read these well-researched tales of travel, passion for nature, and danger. (Read more.)

Henry Knox
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 2012,
ISBN 978-0-3743-0908-4
The Plant Hunters
teaching guide
AR 8.3 / worksheet available; Lexile 1170, Follett 7.1; Middle and High School Resource Common Core Standards 6-8; Reading Standards for Informational Text; CCSS for English Arts and Literacy in History/ Social Studies/ Science and Technical Subjects.
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