Hung Hsin-chieh (洪信介) has made a name for himself as a plant hunter by collecting endangered plant specimens from jungles and cliffs around the world, even though he is a junior-high school graduate with no formal education in botany.
Now a research assistant at the Dr Cecilia Koo Botanic Conservation Center in Pingtung County, the 46-year-old said he had held many odd jobs before, such as plumber, farmer and construction worker.
Skilled in climbing trees, Hung made a living by collecting plants for orchid dealers when he was 17.
He developed a penchant for plants and bought an illustrated English-language book to study the specimens he collected in his small garden, Hung said.
Hung described himself as poor and miserable when in a city, but said that he feels blessed when working in a jungle.
He has collected Vanda lamellate — an orchid species indigenous to Taiwan — from a cliff, as well as red-flowered Phalaenopsis on Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼), Hung said, adding that over the past 20 years he has received requests from local and foreign academics to help them collect plants.
Photo: CNA, courtesy of Hung Hsin-chieh
On the Solomon Islands, he collected Arachnis beccarii var.imthurnii with the world’s longest leaves, he said.
He works in the mountains for about 100 days a year and is often chased by hornets, Hung said, adding that he has been bitten by snakes six times and was once hospitalized for 15 days due to chigger bites.
Last year, he was bitten by a bamboo viper on Orchid Island and his hand swelled “like a steamed bun,” but he returned to work after receiving treatment, Hung said.
Two years ago, he got his first full-time job working as a research assistant at the center, which is the world’s largest for collecting and studying tropical plants, he said.
Having collected more than 20,000 specimens, Hung in his free time draws illustrations of the plants, he said.
Li Chia-wei (李家維), a professor at National Tsing Hua University’s Department of Life Science, said there is hardly a better botanist than Hung.
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