Published April 14, 2020. - After traveling across Central America (2009, 201 6) and the Caribbean (2016), the history of orchids in the American continent now arrives at the shores of South America. This is undoubtedly the most ambitious part of the trilogy, given the area under consideration (almost twice as large as the United States) and the enormous number of botanists, travelers, and adventurers of all sorts who have made their way there over the past five centuries.
For the same reason, the work had to be subdivided into several volumes, of which the first is here presented. Each volume, however, can be read independently.
The book follows a similar pattern to that of its forerunners: a narrative of the story of botanical exploration related to the plant family Orchidaceae, in the context of the social, political and economic development of the region. In this respect, three parallel lines of historical events are distinguished. The first two of these concern the areas of Spanish and Portuguese imperial domination, after the division of the continent between those empires under the treaty of Tordesillas (1494); the third concerns an important part of the northern South-American coast which fell into hands of the French, British and Dutch: the Guyanas.
In broad terms, the botanical exploration of South America in the second half of the 17th and the first half of the 18th centuries was concentrated in those northern colonies, since the Spaniards and Portuguese jealously closed their frontiers to all foreigners. Only with the advent of the Enlightenment in the second half of the18th century were the first attempts made to promote the direct observation of nature in the Spanish and Portuguese possessions. In 1774, moved by the necessity of reviving the Spanish economy and reducing unemployment, the Count of Campomanes, in his famous Discourse on the Furtherance of Popular Industry, mentioned the importance of studying natural history. Soon, the Spanish Crown financed the first scientific expeditions to its American colonies, of which those of Ruiz and Pavón to Peru and Chile (1777-1815) and José Celestino Mutis to Colombia and Ecuador (1783-1808) are of utmost relevance. Portugal would follow suit in 1783. sending José Mariano da ConceigSo Vellozo to explore the province of Rio de Janeiro - a six-year expedition - and Alexandre Rodrigues Ferreira, from 1 783 to 1792, to the Amazon basin.
Portugal opened its ports to foreigners in 1808, immediately prompting a stream of avid European naturalists to make their way to its coasts. In the meantime, the Spanish colonies remained under strict imperial control until their independence some fifteen years later.
With the independence of Brazil and the Spanish colonies in the third decade of the 19th century, the first volume of this story comes to an end. Eighty main players and dozens of supporting actors lead us through a fascinating period of botanical history. This was a time of true pioneers who risked their lives and fortunes for the sake of science and knowledge. Many never came back, giving truth to what an unknown author wrote over a century and a half ago: A tribute to botanical explorers is, we must say, we/learned. Of all the deadly occupations, this is surely the most fatal. (Anonymous, Gardener's Chronicle, 1858).
Volume 2 is scheduled for late 2021