Chapter 1: Why Do They Do It?

Botanists take to the field to bring home new varieties of flowering and non-flowering plants for study and to further expand their knowledge of plants. Many of these plants provide new food sources or medicines. All provide insight into the complexity of the living world. As Thomas Jefferson noted: "The greatest service which can be rendered to any country is to add a useful plant to its culture..." [The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, 1900]

Besides the possible agricultural or medicinal value that these finds bring, there is also an element of excitement in being the first to find and identify a new species of plant. Roland Thaxter (1858-1932), Professor of Cryptogamic Botany and Curator of the Farlow Herbarium at Harvard, stated in a diary entry from his 1905 collecting trip to South America, "The heart of Smith, poor man, could not beat in unison with the sensation of a botanist at the moment of his first contact with a wholly strange flora."

1950s. Geneva Sayre. Courtesy of The Archives of the Farlow Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany, Harvard University