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The Plant Hunters

Renowned plant explorer David Fairchild received the Meyer medal for distinguished services in plant introduction from Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace (1939). Also pictured are Mrs. Fairchild and P.H. Dorsett, retired plant explorer.

Renowned plant explorer David Fairchild received the Meyer medal for distinguished services in plant introduction from Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace (1939). Also pictured are Mrs. Fairchild and P.H. Dorsett, retired plant explorer.

Today’s post is authored by Constance Carter, head of the science reference section. Connie has written for Inside Adams before- see her posts on Presidential Food, Presidential Wheels, Civil War Thanksgiving Foods,  Food Thrift, the Chocolate Chip Cookie, LC Science Tracer Bullets, and her mentor Ruth S. Freitag.

Plant hunters were adventurous, passionate, and innovative. They were also stoic, strong, and quick- witted. They handled life-threatening challenges–raging storms and extremes in temperature, wild animals and hostile natives, and often went without food or water. They endured fevers and dysentery, encountered floods and rock slides, and while they sometimes feared for their lives, they soldiered on with courage and fortitude. These plant hunters were a determined lot; their mission, to search and introduce to the world new plants with economic, ornamental, or disease fighting potential.

The Library has created a video about the intrepid “Plant Hunters” who explored regions and countries at corresponding latitudes with similar temperature and soil conditions, as well as comparable sun, rain, and wind exposure, that would give the seedlings the best chance to thrive and propagate. Plant hunters from the United States traveled to Asia and Russia to find an alfalfa species that could withstand the drought and freezing temperatures of the high, dry lands of the Dakotas and to China to find tea, fruits and flowering plants.

 

 

Diaries, journals, magazine articles, and books found in the Library of Congress collections are great resources for discovering some of the challenges plant hunters faced as they collected seeds and seedlings for introduction into the United States. This curated video highlights items from the Library’s collections that tell the story of plant exploration and introductions such The History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark to the Sources of the Missouri (1814), the Journal Kept by David Douglas during his Travels in North America (London, 1914)  and Robert Fortune’s A Journey to the Tea Countries of China (London, 1852) . An extensive resource guide will point you to primary and secondary sources, complementary websites, and a list of periodicals useful in chronicling the adventures, as well as the trials and tribulations of the plant hunter.

Plant Hunters is part of the Library’s Journeys and Crossing series of videos curated videos by the Library’s experts using resources in the Library’s collection.

The President and the Parsnip: Thomas Jefferson’s Vegetable Market Chart (1801-1808)

Today’s post is guest authored by Julie Miller, historian of early America in the Library’s Manuscript Division During most of his two terms as president of the United States, (1801-1809) Thomas Jefferson carefully compiled a chart recording the seasonal appearances of fruits and vegetables in Washington’s market. This seems like a funny way for a president […]

Self-help, Motivation, & Success: From the Beginning

You may think that motivational speakers, self-help guides, and career counseling are products of the late 20th century, but their history actually goes back further. Some of the history of the motivational and self-help “industry” can trace it roots back to those who looked to religious principles for guidance. Many of them were concerned with […]