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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: 19th and 20th Century Plant Explorers

Authors
item Stoner, Allan
item HUMMER, KIM

Submitted to: HortScience
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: August 3, 2006
Publication Date: January 20, 2007
Citation: Stoner, A.K., Hummer, K.E. 2007. 19th and 20th century plant explorers. HortScience. 42:197-199.

Interpretive Summary: The latter part of the 19th and the first several decades of the 20th century can be described as a “golden age” for plant exploration and collecting. During this period agricultural scientists from the United States and elsewhere, devoted considerable resources to collecting potential new crops for farmers, as well as superior plants or cultivars of the species that farmers were already growing. Over time there was a shift toward collecting wild germplasm, or raw material that possessed traits that plant breeders and other scientists could use for cultivar improvement and other types of research. Although many institutions and individuals were involved in plant collecting during this period, the creation of the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Seed and Plant Introduction in 1898, resulted in the largest single program devoted to plant exploration. This office employed many individuals including; David Fairchild, P. H. Dorsett, Frank Meyer, Walter Swingle, and Wilson Popenoe. These, and many other individuals collected, and introduced into the United States, seeds and plants of thousands of fruits, vegetables, nuts, ornamentals, cereals, forages, oilseeds, and other types of crops. Although the mission of most of the plant explorations during this period was to collect any plants that appeared interesting or potentially useful, others focused on collecting targeted species. Much of the material collected during this era is still maintained by the United States National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) and much more of it shows up in the pedigrees of cultivars grown by farmers and gardeners today. In addition to collecting plants for immediate and future use, scientists of this era, such as Nicolai I. Vavilov and Jack Harlan, contributed greatly to the understanding of the evolution of plants and plant genetic diversity, and the interdependence of plants and civilization.

Technical Abstract: The latter part of the 19th and the first several decades of the 20th century can be described as a “golden age” for plant exploration and collecting. During this period agricultural scientists from the United States and elsewhere, devoted considerable resources to collecting potential new crops for farmers, as well as superior plants or cultivars of the species that farmers were already growing. Over time there was a shift toward collecting wild germplasm, or raw material that possessed traits that plant breeders and other scientists could use for cultivar improvement and other types of research. Although many institutions and individuals were involved in plant collecting during this period, the creation of the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Seed and Plant Introduction in 1898, resulted in the largest single program devoted to plant exploration. This office employed many individuals including; David Fairchild, P. H. Dorsett, Frank Meyer, Walter Swingle, and Wilson Popenoe. These, and many other individuals collected, and introduced into the United States, seeds and plants of thousands of fruits, vegetables, nuts, ornamentals, cereals, forages, oilseeds, and other types of crops. Although the mission of most of the plant explorations during this period was to collect any plants that appeared interesting or potentially useful, others focused on collecting targeted species. Much of the material collected during this era is still maintained by the United States National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) and much more of it shows up in the pedigrees of cultivars grown by farmers and gardeners today. In addition to collecting plants for immediate and future use, scientists of this era, such as Nicolai I. Vavilov and Jack Harlan, contributed greatly to the understanding of the evolution of plants and plant genetic diversity, and the interdependence of plants and civilization.

Last Modified: 9/10/2014
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