The flora of the Indian subcontinent has stirred European curiosity and investigation for over two millennia. From pepper, a coveted commodity of the lucrative spice trade, to rhododendrons, orchids, and alpine flowers, cherished in innumerable British gardens and conservatories, Indian plants have long been highly prized in the West. This book surveys European perceptions of the diversity of the Indian flora, and examines its impact on European commerce and culture including botany, horticulture, and floral art.
Early accounts were based on the often unreliable reports of explorers, soldiers, and missionaries: Herodotus, Pliny the Elder, and Marco Polo were among those who wrote about Indian plants. The Portuguese conquests of the sixteenth century made possible a more critical study of Indian vegetation. The Dutch and British East India Companies developed a profitable trade in spices, fibres, tea, opium, and indigo, and introduced cash crops such as cinchona, coffee, and rubber to India. Botanists, amateur and professional, classified the flora; botanical gardens were created; artists, both Indian and European, illustrated plants for scientists; and plant collectors sent their discoveries to eager clients in Europe.
This book chronicles the growing European awareness of the Indian flora from the first glimmerings of knowledge in the fifth century BC to the demise in the mid-nineteenth century of the British East India Company and of its successor, the India Office. An epilogue briefly surveys the development of botanical studies since the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. The evolution of European-style gardens in India is examined, and the impact of the Indian flora on British gardens is assessed.
`Comprehensive and highly informative, The European Discovery of the Indian Flora is a welcome addition to the growing literature on science in colonial India. . . . the elegance of Desmond's writing and the sumptuous illustrations which grace this book make it highly accessible and a pleasure to read British Journal for the History of Science
This handsomely produced book is a significant addition to Indian botanical literature and should find a place on the shelves of all those interrested in this fascinating subject. Particular mention must be made of the excellent treatment of Indian botanical illustration. The book itself is lavishly and imaginatively illustrated with a wide range of subjects in a variety of media, both in black and white, and in a particularly fine section
of plates with beautiful colour reproduction. Annals of Botany 72: 91-95, 1993
'a vast subject, admirably covered by Ray Desmond ... fine book ... The book is excellently researched as may be expected since the author was the Deputy Keeper of the India Office Library and Records.'
D.O. Wijnands, Archives of Natural History 20 (3) September 1993
'Scholarly, informative, deeply researched, authoritative - all epithets that can be rightly applied to this book ... we may hope that reference libraies will make sure that it is on their shelves for, in its field, this is an important and lasting publication.'
P.S. Green, Kew Bulletin, Vol. 49 (1)
'Beautifully produced and written ... This superb effort is another jewel in the crown of Ray Desmond, Chief Librarian and Archivist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Deputy Keeper at the India Office Library and Records.'
'Scholarly, informative, deeply researched, authoritative - all epithets that can rightly be applied to this book ... Not the least valuable part of this work is the extensive and comprehensive bibliography, while a good index enables one to use the volume as a valuable source-book. Individual chapters will become classic essays on their particular topic ... we may hope that reference libraries will make sure that it is on their shelves for, in its field,
this is an important and lasting publication .'
P.S. Green, Kew Bulletin, Vol. 49 (1)
List of plates; The ancient world; The first European settlements; Arrival of the British; Botanical research begins; Sir William Jones; The Roxburgh era; Francis Buchanan; Calcutta Botanic Garden after Roxburgh; Other botanical gardens; William Griffith and Robert Wight; The Himalayas; Ceylon; Pursuit of the picturesque; A century of change; The search for useful plants; Green medicine; Tea and opium; Rubber, coffee, and forestry; Gardening in India; Indian
flowers in European gardens; Transportation of plants; Epilogue; Bibliography; Index.