New Bedford, Massachuetts is located on the Acushnet River in what is known as the…
Plant Hunter Humboldt Became Early Environmentalist
In reading garden history books, both old and new, I often came across the name Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859).
He was a nineteenth century German plant hunter, explorer, and scientist.
Humboldt became an early environmentalist. He saw plants, animals, rock, soil, and water as all connected. We, as he often wrote, are one with the world around us.
When I found out one of my favorite garden authors Andrea Wulf had written a book about Von Humboldt, I searched the local library and found it.
The title of her book is The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World.
Humboldt gave us a new meaning for nature.
He journeyed to Latin America from 1799 to 1804 with French botanist Aime Bonpland. Together they climbed, walked, and just observed nature wherever they could.
In commenting on his travel, Wulf writes “as he describes how humankind was changing the climate, he unwittingly became the father of the environmental movement.”
As he was climbing Chimborgo Mountain in the Andes Humboldt “saw the whole of nature laid out before him.”
He had created a new vision of nature from his travels in Latin America.
As Wulf so clearly spells out in her book, Humboldt was not so much interested in finding isolated facts but in connecting them. As he said it, individual phenomena were only important ‘in their relation to the whole.’
Since I am interested in gardening and plants, whenever Andrea Wulf mentioned either of the two words I paid particular attention
She writes, “Instead of placing plants in their taxonomic categories, he saw vegetation through the lens of climate and location: a radically new idea that still shapes our understanding of ecosystems today.”
Today when we face so many issues about what to do about the state of the environment, Humboldt provides much insight for the direction we need to take.
We need to use our imagination, he wrote, to begin to address any solution.