11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2006
Botany became an important science during three centuries of European empire-building, from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Ships from England, France, the Netherlands, and Spain sailed to make discoveries in the service of storing up riches. Those riches weren't just precious metals such as New World gold. They were also luxuries whose sales made fortunes for peoples and empires. So Columbus sailed west, to break into successful spice-, silk- and dye-trading China, India and the Moluccas.
Riches were also made from garden and field plants, fruits, forest products, and flowers from Africa, the Americas, and the East and West Indies. So in 1494 Columbus brought sugarcane cuttings into the West Indies. That gave Spain a start on one of the world's most successful cash crops. Great fortunes awaited those who grew and handled non-native luxuries and cash crops such as cinnamon, cloves, coffee, maize, nutmeg, pepper, Peruvian bark, rubber, sugar, tea, and tobacco. Europeans needed to know what plants looked like and where they grew, to make sure they got the correct plants.
So botany grew hand-in-hand with European voyages. For science, settlement, and trade all drove collecting, classifying, and naming plants in the late 17th and 18th centuries. In fact, one reason behind Linnaeus classifying and naming plants was Sweden's standing in the world. His country needed to close their borders against a gold drain. Linnaeus' botanical contributions helped Swedish business and government choose which of the luxuries and cash crops grew in Sweden's climate and soils. What grew wouldn't have to be imported at high prices.
Editors Londa Schiebinger and Claudia Swan, along with their contributing writers, offer readers a beautifully indexed, organized and written book. Their chapters give strong examples, facts, figures, historical illustrations, interpretations, and references. It's history. But what botanists, naturalists, planters, politicians, and traders did then affects us today. Seeds, plants, and cuttings were shipped, to become non-native exotics every which place but home. They were studied, pigeonholed, and named. But their natural settings and controls, such as diseases and pests, weren't. It wasn't naturally matching correct soil, correct plant, correct environment, correct controls. But, fortunately, science and its solutions have jumped way beyond the limits of COLONIAL BOTANY.