Intrepid scientific explorer recounts lifetime of work and adventure in Amazon

November 20, 2014

Drawing on nearly five decades of experience, Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, one of the seminal scientific explorers of the Amazon rain forest in modern times, chronicles some of his most significant and fascinating expeditions in That Glorious Forest: Exploring the Plants and Their Indigenous Uses in Amazonia, now available from The New York Botanical Garden Press.

In a lifetime devoted to the study and conservation of tropical plants, Prof. Prance has participated in 39 expeditions to the Amazon, beginning with a 1963 trip to Suriname as a young researcher for The New York Botanical Garden, described in That Glorious Forest.

"This was my first experience in the undisturbed rainforest and I was fascinated and overwhelmed by the diversity and magnificent sizes and shapes of the trees," he writes, referring to that first expedition. "Each day brought a new treat for me, a novice in the forest."

As he notes, his initial one-year research position turned into a 25-year career at the Botanical Garden, during which he ran Projeto Flora Amazônica, a joint Brazilian-American exploration program to survey the flora of the Amazon region, and directed the Garden's scientific research program as Senior Vice President for Science from 1981 to 1988.

From 1988 to 1999, he was Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in his native England. He is currently Scientific Director of the Eden Project, a horticultural showplace and educational charity, and Visiting Professor at Reading University, both in England.

That Glorious Forest, whose title comes from the description of the Amazon rain forest by 19th-century British naturalist Henry Walter Bates, provides a first-hand account of what it is like to explore some of the remotest regions of the world while conducting rigorous scientific research. From his vivid descriptions and compelling stories, readers gain a clear understanding of the hard physical work and determination necessary to do the vital work of plant discovery.

On perhaps his most ambitious field trip, he and his team trekked more than 170 miles through undisturbed forest in 1971, sleeping in hammocks, encountering anacondas and documenting how indigenous peoples used the local plants for food, hallucinogens, and arrow poisons. The trip yielded nearly 700 plant and fungi specimen collections, including five new species. On another expedition that year, Prof. Prance and several members of his team fell dangerously ill with a virulent strain of malaria, proving that fieldwork can be not only arduous but also life threatening.

In addition to these tales of adventure, Prof. Prance reflects on a lifetime of work surveying the Amazon flora and how his view of that work changed.

"Over the years, my own understanding of my role as a botanist has evolved from simply discovering and classifying the world's flora to preserving habitats, understanding local uses, and educating the next generation in conservation," he writes in the foreword.

The author or editor of 37 books, Prof. Prance is a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was knighted in July 1995 and received the Victoria Medal of Honour from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1999. In recognition of his ongoing dedication to the mission of The New York Botanical Garden and to botany and horticulture internationally, Sir Ghillean was presented in 2008 with the Gold Medal of The New York Botanical Garden, the highest honor that the Garden confers.
That Glorious Forest, with 83 color photos and 90 black-and-white photos, is available in hardcover (224 pages) and as an electronic book.

Advance Praise for "That Glorious Forest"

"A splendid revelation of the incredible and intrepid efforts from expeditions to herbaria that have enlarged our knowledge of the Amazon and its botany... a serious but spellbinding account... the age of scientific adventures is still very much with us."
--Thomas E. Lovejoy, Ph.D., University Professor, Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University

"No one has contributed more to our understanding of and appreciation for tropical plants than Sir Ghillean Prance.... This book will be enjoyed by anyone with interest in 'that glorious forest,' in how botanists work in the field, and in the adventure and wonder that [Sir Ghillean] felt in exploring these forests in their pristine state."
--Peter H. Raven, Ph.D., President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden

"This extraordinary book gives us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the ups and downs of [Sir Ghillean's] relentless botanical exploration of the Amazon between 1963 and 1988.... What comes through is the gentle tenacity of a dedicated field botanist with an enduring passion for plants."
--Sir Peter Crane, Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. Dean of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Yale University

About The New York Botanical Garden Press

Since 1896 The New York Botanical Garden Press ( has been publishing books and journals based on original research by plant scientists from around the world. Its mission is to put information in the hands of those engaged in exploring, understanding, and conserving plants and fungi. Areas of focus include floristics, systematics, economic botany, ecology, evolution, and ethnobotany. A growing list of books for general readers includes field guides and botanical history.

Ordering Information: That Glorious Forest: Exploring the Plants and Their Indigenous Uses in Amazonia ($69 hardcover; $49 e-book) is available through NYBG Press. To order, call 718.817.8721 or go to Also available through online retailers and in bookstores.

The New York Botanical Garden

Related Plants Articles from Brightsurf:

When plants attack: parasitic plants use ethylene as a host invasion signal
Researchers from Nara Institute of Science and Technology have found that parasitic plants use the plant hormone ethylene as a signal to invade host plants.

210 scientists highlight state of plants and fungi in Plants, People, Planet special issue
The Special Issue, 'Protecting and sustainably using the world's plants and fungi', brings together the research - from 210 scientists across 42 countries - behind the 2020 State of the World's Plants and Fungi report, also released today by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

New light for plants
Scientists from ITMO in collaboration with their colleagues from Tomsk Polytechnic University came up with an idea to create light sources from ceramics with the addition of chrome: the light from such lamps offers not just red but also infrared (IR) light, which is expected to have a positive effect on plants' growth.

How do plants forget?
The study now published in Nature Cell Biology reveals more information on the capacity of plants, identified as 'epigenetic memory,' which allows recording important information to, for example, remember prolonged cold in the winter to ensure they flower at the right time during the spring.

The revolt of the plants: The arctic melts when plants stop breathing
A joint research team from POSTECH and the University of Zurich identifies a physiologic mechanism in vegetation as cause for Artic warming.

How plants forget
New work published in Nature Cell Biology from an international team led by Dr.

Ordering in? Plants are way ahead of you
Dissolved carbon in soil can quench plants' ability to communicate with soil microbes, allowing plants to fine-tune their relationships with symbionts.

When good plants go bad
Conventional wisdom suggests that only introduced species can be considered invasive and that indigenous plant life cannot be classified as such because they belong within their native range.

How plants handle stress
Plants get stressed too. Drought or too much salt disrupt their physiology.

Can plants tell us something about longevity?
The oldest living organism on Earth is a plant, Methuselah a bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) (pictured below) that is over 5,000 years old.

Read More: Plants News and Plants Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to