Three plant hunters venture off in search of rare and unusual species
Hiking in ankle-deep mud, shivering in rain-soaked sleeping bags, and enduring bee stings and leech bites while watching for
even more dangerous creatures... a plant explorer's life is anything but glamorous.
Why do they do it? Not for fortune or fame--few outside horticultural circles know who they are. (When's the last time you thought about where the plants you buy originated?) Whether they send their finds to commercial growers or propagate and sell the plants themselves, these three hunters agree: The real payoff is the thrill of discovery.
The elusive prize: For Greg, owner of Starr Nursery (starr-nursery.com), is cactus and succulents, with a particular emphasis on agaves native to the Southwest and Mexico, which he helped popularize.
He scouts south of the border, the best place to find plants tough enough for his challenging desert climate.
Home base: Tucson
Travels to: Mexico, western Texas
Memorable misadventure: Two year ago in Mexico, he was stopped by police three times in one day--and had to pay bribes each time. "High temperatures and occasional intestinal distress you get used to. Dealing with bribes and blockades you don't. But finding a new plant that looks like it has possibilites makes it all worthwhile."
This low, woody perennial from Coahuila, Mexico, has fine light green foliage that sets off large blue flowers.
Its magnificent 30-inch blue blades are the star of this northern Mexico find. But thousands of flowers on a 4-foot stalk are showy too.
A cold-tolerant Mexican native, this late-season bloomer has blue-violet flowers, dark stems, and textured deep green leaves.
Cofounder of Heronswood Nursery, Dan has a penchant for plants from mountainous regions, but also a (rather inconvenient)
fear of heights. You learn to live with it, he says. "I don't freeze anymore when I come to a precipice, but they're never
going to be my favorite spots." His preferred haunt is China: "There's incredible diversity there because its plant palette
wasn't wiped clean by the last ice age, which missed China."
Home base: Indianola, Washington
Travels to: Asia, including Sikkim in northeastern India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and South America.
Memorable misadventure: "In 2002, we were robbed by Maoist rebels and held for ransom twice on a Nepalese expedition, and the hotel next to us in Kathmandu was bombed on the same trip. Rebels and terrorists are the worst danger there."
Aslo known as 'windcliff flurry,' hummingbirds can't resist this sun-loving Chilean flower. The plant grows 6 feet tall and wide; spectacular blooms for months.
Commonly referred to as 'pink-a-boo,' this vigorous vine from China has sweetly scented blush pink flowers, deep plum foliage and grows quickly to 20 feet.
This evergreen groundcover from China, for full or partial shade, sports shiny heart-shaped leaves and spires of white flowers in spring.
Owner of Cistus Design & Nursery (cistus.com), Sean's preferred quarry is West Coast-adapted architectural plants: agaves and other bold-leafed growers that look like
they'd wither in cold weather but are actually quite tough.
Home base: Sauvie Island, Oregon
Travels to: Northern Mexico, South Africa, South America, and the West
Memorable misadventure: While scouting in South Africa, Sean spotted some succulents that blended in with the surrounding rocks. Completely entranced by the plants, he moved in for a closer look, not noticing a deadly four-and-a-half-foot ringhals cobra, coiled to strike. "The snake was as well camouflaged as the plants. I jumped back at the last minute!"
Commonly referred to as 'Takilma Gold,' this variety of the Western native known as Oregon sunshine reaches 18 inches tall and blooms spring through fall.
Also known as 'Pink Pearl,' this seedling popped up at Sean's nursery, and he propagated it for its dense flower clusters and long bloom.