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Before there was Indiana Jones, there was Robert Fortune - plant hunter. Fortune was the young superintendent of the Royal Horticultural Society's hothouses in Chiswick, England, when the interior of China was opened to foreigners in 1842. Fortune was given garden tools, a life preserver, a shotgun, a Chinese-English dictionary, and lots of instructions. He succeeded wildly on this and subsequent trips, despite war, illness, river pirates, and other hardships. He introduced the Japanese anemone, bleeding heart, forsythia, tree peonies, many varieties of plums, and more. But his most James Bondian moment involved industrial espionage: In the late 1840s, disguised as a Chinese peasant, he smuggled tea plants to India.

Sources: 'The Plant Hunters,' by Tyler Whittle (Lyons & Burford, 1997); gardenweb.com

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