Ghillean Prance (1937-)
Professor Sir Ghillean Tolmie Prance came to Kew after 25 years
at the New York Botanical Garden, and served as our 11th
Director between 1988 and 1999.
He inspired Kew to focus on serving the needs of the world
community by supporting research and action on conservation
and the sustainable use of plants. Under him, the Jodrell
Laboratory tripled in size, and the Millenium Seed Bank at Wakehurst
Place was planned. Museum No.1 and the Waterlily House were
renovated, and the Mycological Institute acquired by Kew in 1994.
He set up Kew’s Friends and Foundation, and the Board of
Trustees, enabling stronger interactions with our supporters and
He led many botanical expeditions to the forests of the
Brazilian Amazon, and his eight years there inspired a great
range of research publications. The Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa)
is of major economic significance to the Amazon. It illustrates
two of Prance’s main contributions to developments here at
Kew, economic botany and conservation.
The robust and heavy nut capsule is dependent on a delicate
web of ecological interdependencies. Female Euglossine bees
pollinate it, and they hold one of the keys to the riddle
of the Brazil Nut, because they will only mate with males
who successfully gather a complete cocktail of scents from
several orchid species – all
of which grow only in undisturbed forest.
Understanding such interdependencies is vital for aiding
the survival of less economically significant species. Thus
cash crops can teach us important lessons about biodiversity
and the complexity of conservation.
Several species from the Amazon are named prancei in his
Fellow of the Linnean Society 1961
Fellow of the Royal Society 1993
Victoria Medal of Honour 1999
to: Peter Crane