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Plant prospecting

Today, almost any plant of interest is available at a price.

At the time of the Roman Empire plants from foreign lands – exotic treasures that could enhance all aspects of life – new foods, clothing, tastes, aromas, and exotic beauty. They were plants paraded triumphantly through the streets as trophies of war and exploration. They were plants that could change the lives of every citizen and their capture represented Roman dominion over both nations and nature. as 

Though it is staple foods, mostly grain crops, that have provided sustenance and occupied Earth’s land surface, it is plants whose aroma, beauty, and capacity to enhance food that have been coveted as luxuries, by the rich and influential. These were the plants with religious and spiritual associations that attracted intellectuals, the pious, merchants, and adventurers alike. It was spices, not cereals, that attracted men to the other side of the world.

We live at a time when the plundering of nature for plants of benefit and interest to humanity is drawing to a close. We now spend vast sums of money on space exploration and returning to the moon. Sending parties of botanists and explorers into little-explored jungles, deserts, islands on the off chance that there is money to be made has lost its appeal. Of course there are still a few finds to make and some species remain undescribed. But the glory days of jungles, of countries ‘bright with oranges and loud with lions‘ (Dylan Thomas) are over: the Age of Plants is done.

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