Plant collection continues today, but not always for conservation or taxonomy purposes (Nature 484, 436–438; 2012). The importation of ornamental plants has become a multibillion-dollar industry.

Unfortunately, some of the introduced plants destined for horticultural development can be a source of invasive alien weeds that affect human health, the economy and biodiversity. This risk can be offset by greater representation of native species in living collections and in horticulture.

We should be building national botanical knowledge and institutions to support a new generation of home-grown plant collectors in floristically rich regions. This will help to secure threatened flora and encourage botanic gardens to concentrate on the value and beauty of native species, rather than on showy introductions.

Little of the profit from the ornamental plant trade returns to the regions where the species were collected. Many countries now restrict the unregulated movement beyond their borders of native genetic resources such as seeds.

The institutions and industries that have benefited from the great foreign plant hunters of the past should not view these restrictions as an impediment, but as a reminder that they have an obligation to invest in the resident plant collectors of the future.