A FORMER Ardrossan Academy pupil has published a new book telling the real stories of modern plant hunters and their breath-taking adventures.

Doctor Sandy Primrose’s tome details the exploits of ‘mad’ orchid hunters being captured by FARC guerillas and botanists who are more like Royal Marines than academics.

His book, Modern Plant Hunters, details the incredible pursuits of pioneering adventurers in search of extraordinary plants.

Dr Primrose was born and brought up in Largs, and went to school in Ardrossan where his desire to study biology was ‘instilled’ by inspirational teachers.

He told the Herald: “At that time boys weren’t allowed to do botany. So I did physics and chemistry and got my university entrance at the end of fifth year.

“I stayed on and a friend and I taught ourselves botany.

“The botany teacher would give us a bit of help.”

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald:

From school Dr Primrose went on to study and became a micro-biologist working in academia and in business.

Although he has written many books in the past, this is his first for a general audience.

Spurred on by his own research, he found that despite books covering the ‘golden age of plant hunting’ in the 19th and first half of the 20th century, there was a vibrant trade still happening to this day.

There is a rich history of Scottish explorers and this tradition continues to this day with people such as Ken Cox, a third generation plant hunter, who Dr Primrose interviewed.

Dr Primrose has spoken to hunters looking for ornamental plants to feed big nurseries, those who scour hostile territory to rescue seeds for conservation purposes, and those whose mission it is to pursue prized orchids.

“The orchid hunters are all stark raving bonkers.

“They’re wild catters. You would not believe how low they will stoop.

“They steal plants for each other, call the police on each other.

“Some are evil, others mad.”

Those who are hunting for conservation or medicinal purposes, Dr Primrose said, are tough.

“You could really say they are like Indiana Jones of biology.

“It’s not a holiday, some of it is pretty grim.

“Being captured by FARC guerillas for nine months.

“A team searching in Southeast Asia pitched their tent, a big modern sealed unit.

“The leeches were trying to come through the mesh, squeezing themselves through it.

“And the only thing that would repel them was hairspray.

“The plants could be lost in places like Vietnam.

“Stumbling into opium fields, drug gangs.

“It’s not all jolly stuff, it’s damn hard work.”

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald:

Plant hunting is not for the faint-hearted. Doctor Primrose describes British plant hunter John Wood’s many brushes with illness, insects and, in one case, being caught in the crossfire between opposing groups in Yemen.

Another adventurer, Michiel van Slageren, on one of his many plant-hunting trips to the Lebanon, was caught in the war between Israel and Hezbollah and had to be evacuated on a convoy of buses organised by the Italians.

He added: “Martin Gardner from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh is a specialist in South American plants.

“When you read his story you know most of these people could join the Royal Marines in a different life.

“They endure all sorts of hardships and survive.”

Each chapter of book not only covers a different hunter’s story but also another theme with a slant towards conservation.

A major part of this is the hunt for different varieties of commonly used plants, such as coffee, that will be able to cope with climate change.

Modern Plant Hunters is published by Pimpernel Press and is available now.