Hiking the Cederberg in South Africa, in the trail of Francis Mason, Kew Gardens' first Plant Hunter

Francis Masson, Kew Gardens' first plant hunter, was despatched by Joseph Banks to look for new plants in South Africa in 1772. He travelled on HMS Resolution under Captain Cook, who was on his way to the South Pacific to witness the transit of Venus (Banks himself had travelled to Australia on Captain Cook's first journey). In four years in what are now the Cape Districts of South Africa, Masson found some 400 plants, including proteas, ericas, amaryillis and the bird of paradise. Masson certainly led a life of Adventure. He later travelled to Madeira, the Caribbean and North America, where he died in 1806. His fifteen foot cycad encephalartos altensteinii, on display in the greenhouse at Kew, is thought to be the oldest pot plant in the world (see below). James Henderson of A Life of Adventure followed Francis Masson's footsteps through the Cederberg Mountains in the Western Cape. You can read his article, A Trial of Trails here.

 Francis Masson's cycad, planted in the 1770s, in the green house at Kew Botanical Gardens

Francis Masson's cycad, planted in the 1770s, in the green house at Kew Botanical Gardens