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Obsession: A Chase Story

Written by Josh McCullough

This is the second in a series of posts by Joshua McCullough, the creator of PhytoPhoto, a specialist collection of expertly identified botanical, horticultural and environmental photos; images supplied to a wide variety of print mediums. 

Josh has been a judge for Picture This Photo Contest on multiple occasions. His work is outstanding: we value his contributions to GGW. Check out Josh’ first article in this series, On The Hunt….Fran Sorin

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I sometimes sense there is an expectation for garden media- be it a glossy mag, a garden blog or from the book shelf, not to mix ones personal sensibilities up in the subject at hand. As if you should check your character at the proverbial garden gate and stick to the subject at hand- dirt and diseases and new varieties. Sure, there are some notable exceptions, but as a whole it is difficult to find garden media that could be described as revolutionary. It is a pretty, and pretty safe, sport.

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Obsession

One of the most basic dichotomies in life may be between those things that we understand why we engage in and those that we do not. Further dissolution of this distinction leads to things we may understand but that many others do not. This is called obsession.

My most obvious obsession has always been plants. At 15 I knew all the signs of various micronutrient deficiencies. At 19 I was soaking in the thousands of plant species at one of the largest nurseries and plant collections in the country; at 26, managing another. By the time I was looking back at three decades of learning numerous dichotomies (from dichotomy key to divorce) it began to dawn on me that this one was not going away. I tested myself: climb the highest mountain in North Vietnam during a 50 year cold snap, collect and clean the seeds in various SE Asian hotels and navigate the USDA to import the resulting new introductions to the US. Check. Regularly drive for 18 hours a weekend exploring the most botanically rich areas of Western North America. Check. Attempt dating conversations about Trillium nomenclature. Check. This was no green thumb, this was green up to the elbows. But what to do with it? What use, this obsession? Starting a specialty nursery seemed too dicey; taxonomists are a dying breed. I needed a conduit.

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On the Hunt

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[Note from Nan: We here at GGW were honored to have plantsman and photographer Joshua McCullough of PhytoPhoto judge our Picture This photo contest in November, and we’re equally delighted to have him join us as a Guest Contributor with this exciting account of plant hunting in Central America.]

Every step on this mountain is either up or down. A string of iconic, cone shaped volcanoes runs picture perfect through the Guatemalan Highlands separating the second largest city, know as Xela, from the majestic Lake Atitlàn. It is over one of these 11,600 ft verdant, steam puffing apices, Volcàn Zunil, that our path of exploration leads. Dave Demers and I have chosen this area of the Western Highlands because of the unique intersection of North and South American flora as well as the mix of tropical and freezing montane environments. And as the day breaks and the altimeter rises with each step, the results of this rarified combination are rendered all around us in the intricate detail of plant life. Continue Reading →

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