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Who are the plant hunters?

Rich Victorian landowners like Robert Holford provided the economic impetus for commercial nurseries to send out plant hunters in search of new and exciting plants.

Westonbirt Arboretum is linked to various plant hunters and prominent plant nurseries from this time.


One of the most famous Victorian plant hunters was David Douglas, commemorated by one of his best-known introductions, the magnificent Douglas fir.

Douglas introduced more than 200 plants to this country, but it was the large conifers, including sitka spruce and grand fir that had the most dramatic effect on our garden and commercial forestry landscapes.

Among his collections at Westonbirt Arboretum was the Monterey pine. His gruesome death (he was reportedly found in a pit used to trap wild bullocks at Kaluakauka, Hawaii) illustrates just how dangerous plant hunting life was.

Ernest Wilson

Gloucestershire-born Ernest Wilson was often referred to as ‘China’ Wilson after his highly successful expeditions to that country between 1899 and 1905.

Much of his collecting was carried out while employed by the famous Veitch Nurseries. 'China' Wilson is credited with the introduction of over 1000 significant plant species.

A fine example of one of his collections, the dove tree, can be seen on Main Drive.

William and Thomas Lobb

William and Thomas Lobb also collected for the Veitch nurseries.

William introduced many species from North and South America, including trees such as the monkey puzzle and wellingtonia, while Thomas travelled East and collected plants from Indonesia, India and the Philippines.

Modern plant hunting

Even today, plant collecting is carried out in various parts of the world and Westonbirt Arboretum still receives and collects seed from expeditions.

Unlike the plant hunters of the past, today's collectors are particularly sensitive to the need for conservation, ensuring that nothing they do will harm the forests from which they collect. Westonbirt Arboretum's team have in recent years travelled to Chile, Japan and Mexico. You can find out more about a 2011 trip to Japan on the blog.

Last updated: 10th July 2017

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.