Professor Sir Ghillean Prance

  • 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 advisers.

    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 honour.

    Fellow of the Linnean Society 1961
    
Fellow of the Royal Society 1993

    Knighted 1995

    Victoria Medal of Honour 199