Ernest H. Wilson: Plant Hunter

By Edward I. Farrington
[Stratford Company, $2.50]
SELDOM indeed is so much of human interest and achievement, of botany and horticulture, packed into a little volume of two hundred pages. Here are a memoir and an estimate of one of the greatest of ‘plant hunters,’and with them a terse introduction to his popular and scientific writing.
At first glance this book might seem a compilation, for some of the thirty-four photographs have been in print before, and there are definite quotations from his books on China. But the material is largely new. Eight pictures present the man, at home or in strange places, and twenty of his plants are shown, cultivated or in their wild home. The text follows the life of Wilson from his first interest in gardening to his notable services as Keeper of the Arnold Arboretum. A chronology gives the sequence of his activities as hunter and writer. There is a long appendix of the chief plants that he introduced into gardens, with description and notes of 250 out of the more than 1500 new species which he gathered.
This little book is unusual in several respects. It is a successful attempt to present in miniature the many sides of the man, his conquests and his writings. Whatever the interest of the reader, from savage ways in unexplored lands to quiet hours with rare plants in a garden, he is caught in the spell of the story and longs to know more of the Wilson plants and their history. In life, Mr. Wilson had little to say by spoken word or in print to the public on his adventures and his personal reactions. Perhaps this was to be left to later writings when he should have the perspective (denied by fate) to look back on his achievements. Under the circumstances, it is fortunate indeed that Mr. Farrington, from years of association in hours of work and private life, and with access to diaries and other unpublished material, has succeeded in presenting to us, however briefly, the real Wilson and his ambitions — a human personality linked with a great work.