From The Plant Hunters by Charles Lyte:
“When a garden is ablaze with flowers it is, with some justification, the gardener who receives the praise. But few of us give much, if any, thought to how those wonderful shrubs and trees, annuals and climbers, have come to be flourishing in cultivation, and still less to the people who discovered the parents of the species and hybrids which give us so much pleasure….
“However, if it had not been for the daring and endurance of a small band of dedicated men, these plants would probably be unknown to gardeners today, still a secret from the world in the fastnesses of mountain or jungle….
“[Francis Masson’s] contribution to gardens and botany was enormous. Nearly half of all known pelargoniums were introduced by him, and of the 786 plates in the first twenty volumes of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, almost a third are devoted to Cape plants, the majority of which were collected for Kew by Masson. His skilful drawings and watercolours of South African plants are now in the British Museum. The weird stapelias, or carrion flowers, the popular greenhouse ericas, scores of bulbous plants, and many annuals which are now familiar bedding plants can all be credited to Britain’s first official plant collector. Even though they are familiar today, it is not hard to imagine the sensation caused by such discoveries as Zantedeschia acthiopica (the arum lily), Amaryllis belladonna (the pale-pink belladonna lily) and Strelitzia reginae (the bird of paradise flower), which headed the list of exotic plants sent from Kew in 1795 as a gift to the Empress Catherine of Russia.”
As I did with a previous series of amaryllis photos (see Amaryllis, Mostly Magenta, in Black-and-White (1 of 2) and Amaryllis, Mostly Magenta, in Black-and-White (2 of 2)), I decided to convert all the photos from the last three posts…
… to black and white. Each of the 33 photos in this color series got (approximately) the same treatment: conversion to flat black and white, adjustments to the red and green color channels to create additional contrast, and a bit of blue color added to the highlights, midtones, and shadows to create some silvery-looking tints.
At the top of this post is a quotation from The Plant Hunters by Charles Lyte, published in 1983. Lyte’s book contains biographical and historical sketches of about a dozen plant-hunting explorers from the seventeenth through early twentieth centuries. After reading about the book in one of my others (Flower Hunters by Mary and John Gribbin), I tried to find Lyte’s work in e-book form. There was no Amazon Kindle version and the usual place where I often find older texts — Google Books — didn’t have it either. But I did find it on the Internet Archive — specifically, among their Books to Borrow catalog — which got me learning more about this surprising resource of several million e-books that anyone can borrow, for free, by simply creating an account.
I had used the Internet Archive before, for a couple of days several years ago when I moved my blog from one hosting service to another and lost some images. Their Wayback Machine had a record of all the old pages, and had all the small- to medium-sized images I was missing, enabling me to download them and fill in the gaps in some broken blog posts. Yet I’d never explored their lending library before, but now know it holds about 3.7 million books published since the early 1900s (and through the 2000s) as well as several million older books I was usually accessing with Google. If you are a reader and love books (omg, who doesn’t LOVE BOOKS?!?), you might enjoy a little book-hunting there. Books to Borrow would be a good place to start, with a search by title or author name.
Admittedly, the user experience isn’t exactly whiz-bang, since most of the books are scanned copies of their original tree-based counterparts and the amount of available content makes searching a minor exercise of your patience. There is no app like you might be accustomed to with devices such as a Kindle or iPad: the site uses its own reader for viewing book pages. So you’ll be reading with a browser on a computer or mobile device, but both work quite well. The site’s reader has an option for viewing a book as a continuous, scrollable page — called “One-page view” on the toolbar at the bottom of the viewer — where you can read and navigate the book with your keyboard or touch-screen the same way you would a PDF file. See Books and Texts – A Basic Guide for an overview of the reader.
Most of the books can be borrowed for 14 days, and those 14-day loans come with additional options (which vary by book) for downloading a copy, as described on Borrow a Book from the Lending Library. As far as I can tell, there are no limits to extending your borrowing period (though it looks like some books may have a waiting list, which might inhibit your extension). When you find books of interest that you may want to return to later, you can mark them as favorites, then access your favorites any time from your account page. I was thrilled to find Robert Hirsch’s excellent history of photography — Seizing the Light — available to borrow, since the Kindle version is very expensive and the paperback book is so large it takes two hands and one foot to handle. And as Halloween approaches, here’s a link to one of the scariest (though not for the squeamish) books I’ve read by Joyce Carol Oates: Zombie — an “autobiography” of Quentin P., an especially spooky serial killer.
Thanks for reading and taking a look!