Plant introductions (PIs) into the United States have come from thousands of sources: immigrants, tourists, government officials. The first official PI activities by the United States government were conducted in the late 1700s and early 1800s when naval officers and diplomats sent germplasm back to the United States. The latter part of the 19th and the first several decades of the 20th century can be described as a “golden age” for plant exploration and collecting. During the initial years of this period, agricultural scientists from the United States and elsewhere devoted considerable resources to collecting potential new crops for farmers, as well as superior plants or cultivars of species that farmers were already growing. This paper will discuss the earliest USDA explorers through those of the middle of the 20th century.
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