The range of plants available to the everyday gardener includes many species from around the world, some of which are now so familiar that we regard them as indigenous.
However, we owe a great debt to the plant hunters who, several hundred years ago, traveled the world seeking out new plants in far-flung habitats, often at great personal risk.
In Europe, the use of plants for medicinal purposes spawned a great study of the habit, nature, and properties of plants, but as the New World and the Hast opened up to travel in the 16th century, so too did reports of fascinating plants from other countries. From Sir Walter Raleigh’s potato onward, the excitement of the new has been a source of fascination. The first serious plant hunters in Europe were the Trade scants: John Tradesman the Elder, gardener to King Charles I of England, brought back plants from Russia and Spain. But it was not until the 19th century and the invention of the Wardian case (which enabled plants to cope with long sea journeys) that major importation of plants began with exotic collections arriving from far-flung corners of the globe.
Much of what will grow is determined by climate and habitat; plants have evolved different characteristics over millions of years to help them cope with their growing conditions, as this world map emphasizes.