A distinguished Curator and Research Scientist at the Smithsonian Institution, W. John Kress, recounts his natural history exploration over the course of nine years in the wild lands of Myanmar in search of rare, beautiful, and scientifically unknown plants.
In the great tradition of Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, this book is a first-person narrative of daunting travel and scientific discovery in the little-known country of Myanmar. Dr. Kress explored many areas in this enigmatic country, surveying its teak forests, bamboo thickets, timber plantations, rivers, and mangroves to document its incredible botanical diversity. Myanmar is one of the great biodiversity “hot spots” in Asia, but because of its social isolation and reputation for political repression it has been closed to—or avoided by—many scientists. Nevertheless, Dr. Kress was determined to search for and record plants that had not been studied since they were first discovered by Western botanists over a century ago. Among the rarities he came upon was a new species of plant called “the weeping goldsmith,” a ginger flower whose Burmese name was derived from the legend that the local goldsmiths were reduced to tears because none of their own creations could rival its exquisiteness.
Dr. Kress also relates how he came to appreciate the people and culture of Myanmar through an understanding of their flora, natural habitats, and human-dominated environments. Included are fascinating excerpts from his field journals that serve as counterpoints to the accounts of earlier plant explorers. Illustrating the text are some 200 of Dr. Kress’s own color photographs of the incredible plants, people, landscapes, and temples he witnessed in his travels as well as 30 archival images of Burma taken by past explorers. The back matter features an illustrated portfolio of representative native plants.
This lively armchair exploration should appeal to a general readership as well as to botanists, conservationists, and environmentalists.
A Booklist Top 10 Science & Technology Book of 2009
"A fascinating memoir... engagingly written and beautifully illustrated. Highly Recommended" -- Choice