The Plant Thieves: Secrets of the herbarium

Prudence Gibson

The Plant Thieves reveals remarkable stories from the National Herbarium of New South Wales — its people, its archives and its most guarded specimens.The Plant Thieves, Prudence Gibson explores the secrets of the National Herbarium of New South Wales and unearths remarkable stories of plant naming wars, rediscovered lost species, First Nations agriculture, illegal drug labs and psychoactive plant knowledge.

Gibson reveals the tale of the anti-inflammatory plant that saved a herbarium manager when she was collecting in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, stories about the secret wollemi pine plantation (from one of its botanical guardians) and the truth about a beach daisy that has changed so much in 100 years that it needs to be completely reclassified. She also follows the story of the black bean Songline, a recent collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers, to find the route of this important agriculture plant.

The Plant Thieves is both a lament for lost and disappearing species and a celebration of being human, of wanting to collect things and of learning more about plant life and ourselves.

A real treat. I found myself intrigued, amused, surprised, occasionally infuriated, but always engaged and provoked. A must read for anyone interested in plants and plant collecting (or is it thieving…).

- Tim Entwisle

This reads like a Michael Pollan book with a feminine touch! Prue tells the hidden and too-often silenced stories of our past and present relationships with plants, inspiring hope for the future. Highly recommended.

- Monica Gagliano

This book will take you on an adventurous read through the lives of plants and their people … personal and surprising, reflecting the writer’s deep curiosity and love for plants.

- Janet Laurence

Paperback & ebook

Prudence Gibson

Prudence Gibson is an author and research academic in plant studies at Art and Design, University of NSW. She is lead investigator of an Australian Research Council project on the herbarium.

NewSouth Publishing

NewSouth Publishing is the publishing division of UNSW Press Ltd, a leading Australian university press.