Tropical Plant Collections provides a review of the ideas behind tropical plant collections, from the renaissance to the 21st century, and it presents new vistas into their scientific and practical uses.
Why tropical plant collections? Are they not dusty relics from a colonial past in the 19th and early parts of the 20th centuries? Something colonial powers in Europe and North America have gathered in their greed? Something which we now had better forget about? Well, it is true that the oldest tropical plant collections were assembled by Europeans in Asia and South America the 17th and 18th century and now are kept in museums in Europe. Later, however, collections were built in the topical countries themselves, the first ones in the beginning of the 19th century in Kolkata, India, and in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Now there are many collections throughout the tropics, both living and preserved. New institutions are established in the tropics and older ones keep growing so that, for example, there are now more collections of African plants in Africa than in the rest of the world. These scientific collections are being built up by collaboration between scientists in the tropics and their colleagues in the temperate countries.
But what are the uses of this world-wide activity, striving to build and preserve ever more complete plant collections? Traditionally, tropical plant collections allowed scientists to write manuals of the world's plants, secure that the rare species are known and as far as possible can be preserved and serve science as a huge library of information about plants. Tropical Plant Collections demonstrates that both old and new collections are also valuable tools for future research, as an archive of 'big data' about distribution, flowering time, temperature relations, as an archive of natural components of potential use to man and as an archive of DNA, which may bring us hitherto unimagined information.
Unfortunately, the past decade has seen dramatic changes in the conditions of and care for collections of tropical plants kept in herbaria and botanical gardens. The collections require staff, housing and maintenance, and now some collections are relegated to warehouses, detached from scientific activities, and sometimes under conditions where they can only be consulted with difficulty. Tropical Plant Collections shows why this should not be so.