The riches of the tropical natural history have attracted European plant collectors, and their sponsors, for centuries. Today these collections are preserved in the world’s great scientific collections and have become essential for understanding the evolution of tropical plant diversity. The value of these collections emerges through the quality of the specimens collected and the associated data collected. The present paper investigates the field techniques and the problems faced when foreigners collected plant specimens in pre-twentieth-century Brazil. It focuses on the activities of two men: the seventeenth-century privateer and navigator William Dampier, one of the first people to collect plants in Brazil, and the nineteenth-century professional Scottish plant collector George Gardner.