Risking Life and Limb to Catalog the World’s Plants
“Plant collection” may not sound perilous, but while scaling boulders and dodging snakes, I learned just how much these intrepid explorers risk to help understand our world.
Edited by Lynne Peskoe-Yang
It’s our third week in the Guyanese rainforest, and we’ve hiked out to the base of a small but fast-moving waterfall to see what plants we can collect around the wet rock face. Getting to it involves scrambling over a series of large boulders with long drops to one side. It would be a nerve-wracking climb at the best of times, but as we get about a third of the way up, it starts to pour in that abrupt fashion particular to the tropics. The mossy rocks instantly become slippery to the touch, and it isn’t clear whether it’s less dangerous to keep going or try descending back the way we’ve come.
We decide to keep going, and manage to get to the rock face to make some collections, including a few delicate orchids clinging to the stone. But it’s obvious we aren’t going to get back down the way we’ve come. One of the field assistants who has stayed below circles around and cuts a path through the dense forest near the top of the falls. It’s an alternate way out, bu…