The Seed Detective seeks out rare, unusual, and endangered varieties

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Leeks were revered by the Roman emperor Nero as well as Shakespeare in his play, "Henry IV." Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

In the late 1980s while in Donetsk (in eastern Ukraine) on a film project, Adam Alexander discovered a pepper that was sweet with a fruity heat. It ignited his interest in rare and unusual vegetables. An avid gardener, Alexander took its seeds back to Wales where the pepper grew happily. "It was unusual to take some back with me from a journey that was not only a memory but a link to a culture that I had discovered," he says.

He keeps a mixture of 500 seeds, either from his travels and sent to him from around the world, including Welsh leeks. "This is a vegetable that has been appropriated by various civilizations," Alexander says. Roman emperor Nero believed leeks would improve his oratory skills. They didn't, however, help his popularity. The public insulted him with the moniker "Leek Breath." When the Romans invaded Britain, they introduced the vegetable to the populace there and its believed benefits lived on. 

Alexander heralds the genetic diversity and adaptability of plants in his book, "The Seed Detective: Uncovering the Secret Histories of Remarkable Vegetables."

While on location in Ukraine, former filmmaker Adam Alexander began his research of the history of vegetables and their seeds. Photo by Jesse Alexander.

"The Seed Detective: Uncovering the Secret Histories of Remarkable Vegetables" documents one man's journey as he explores globalization, political intrigue, and serendipity. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Green.