1860-1922 Western China
War broke out again between China against England, France, Russia, and America in 1857, concluding in 1860 and opening yet more ports to trade. Access to inland regions launched a new phase of horticultural exploration that moved from northern into Western China.
Armand David (1826-1900) French naturalist who went to Pekin as a missionary in 1862. Interest in his specimens, mostly zoological, sent to the Paris Museum of Natural History prompted his three scientific expeditions into Mongolia – 1866, 1868-69, 1872-74. Returning to France he found more than 80 species grown from seed collected by him and growing in the Paris Museum gardens. His collections included many species of rhododendron, gentian, and primula. He is commemorated in the genus Davidia. Director Franchet hadreceived1577 specimens from him, about 250 new to science and published in Plantae Davidianae (1884)
Jean Delavay (1838-1895) a French missionary who collected plants for Henry Hance of the British consular service in Canton and Hong Kong. Returning to Paris in 1881 and meeting David and the Director of the Paris Museum René Franchet, Delavay was persuaded to send future collections to Paris. This initiated a flood of specimens as Delavay sent 200,000 specimens of more than 4000 species, about 150 new augmented by those of other missionaries Farges (c. 4000; 1892-1903) and Soulié (c. 7000; 1890-1905). On a second visit Delavay was stationed in near Tali-fu in Yunnan. It is likely that more garden plants were introduced to the West by Delavay than by any other botanist.
Paul Farges (1844-1912) French missionary on the NE border of Szechuan from 1892-1903 sent specimens to the Paris Museum and, like Delavay and Soulié, sent seed to nurseryman Maurice de Vilmorin (whose nursery was in a Paris suburb and estate that was a former hunting lodge of Louis XIV of France) .
Jean Soulié (1858-1905) a medical missionary who collected on the border of Tibet.
In the period 1860 to 1900 Russia undertook several scientific expeditions: Przewalski and Komarof in Turkestan, Tibet and Manchuria and Potanin to Mongolia. Potanin made two horticulturally important expeditions to Western China in 1884 and 1893.
Grigori Potanin (1835-1920) student political rebel he redeemed himself to be financed by the Imperial Russian Geographical Society to Western China from 1884 to 1886, taking his botanist wife who helped prepare the haul of 12,000 specimens representing about 4000 species. A second expedition was mounted in 1893 with about 10,000 specimens collected as well as seed and drug plants.
Augustine Henry (1857-1930) was an Irish medical student from Belfast who became a Medical Officer and Assistant Inspector of Customs in 1881, first in Shanghai and then Ichang in 1882. His official recording of medicinal plants generated an interest in botany, correspondence with Kew, and the collection of specimens. In the first year he sent 1000 specimens including 10 new genera to Director Thistleton-Dyer who found funds to support a couple of expeditions which produced a rich harvest for later Western gardens. He also gained the assistance of Chinese collectors.
Ernest Wilson (1876-1930) was a gardener trained at Hewitt’s Nursery Solihull and Birmingham Botanic Gardens then in 1897 to Kew The Harry Veitch nursery in Coombe Wood employed him for 6 months and on the advice of Thistleton-Dyer sent him out to China in 1899 via America’s Arnold Arboretum where he was to learn about plant transportation and meet the famous Professor Sargent. Though instructed to concentrate on obtaining seed of Davidia he collected many more horticultural gems mostly in the steps of Henry. In a second season of collecting (1901) he sent back 35 cases of bulbs and roots, and over 900 herbarium specimens, returning to Coombe Wood in 1902. A second trip to the West followed but when he returned in 1905 the Veitch nursery was in decline, winding up in 1914. In the meantime a third expedition was sponsored by Harvard University and Sargent, emigrating to America to eventually become Keeper of the Arnold Arboretum. A fourth expedition followed in 1910. His novel introductions number over a thousand. His travelogue appeared in 1913 A Naturalist in Western China.
Private patron Arthur Bulley (1861-1942) a wealthy cotton broker had followed the exploits of Henry who stimulated his interest in garden plants. In 1904 he approached Isaac Balfour, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh to suggest a collector – that man being:
George Forrest (1873-1932) a Scotsman trained as a chemist who roved in Australia before joining the herbarium staff at Edinburgh where he worked for two years before setting off on his Chinese assignment in 1904. Forrest managed to employ teams of people during his exploration, which enabled him to send back 200 pounds of seed of 400-600 species and about 3000 herbarium specimens. He was able to exploit the craze for rhododendrons that was sweeping Western horticulture at this time, the English Rhododendron Society founded in 1915. His Chinese journeys spanned 28 years specializing in rock garden and alpine plants, especially primulas and rhododendrons but he also introduced camellias, magnolias, lilies, gentians and Himalayan poppies. His impact was vast across Western horticulture. He died on the last of his journeys in 1932, this expedition alone amassing at least 300 lb of seed representing 400-500 species.
Arthur Bulley now required another collector and this time Balfour recommended:
Frank Kingdon-Ward (1885-1958) an Englishman who had taught in Shanghai and had experience on expeditions. His life of botanizing for 50 years included around 25 expeditions through Tibet, North Western China, Myanmar and Assam (NE India) He began work on the North-West border with Assam in 1911 at Atuntse trying not to encroach on Forrest’s territory and always prone to attack from rebels collecting 200 samples, 22 of these new to science, along with 76 different species of seed. He returned in 1913 mapping as he went, exploring the upper Yangtze and moving into Tibet later exploring parts of Burma. In 1921 he returned to China for a third time, returning eventually to England in 1923. He and Forrest had collected mostly the plants of Yunnan and Szechuan. To the north William Purdom, following in the steps of Wilson, had collected in 1909-12 for the Veitch nursery business and Arnold Arboretum, making asecond journey in 1913-14 with Reginald Farrer.
William Purdom (1880-1921) was an English gardener trained in Brathay Hill Gardens Westmorland and the London nurseries of Low & Sons and H.J. Veitch and Co. then for six years at Kew from 1902-8 as sub-foreman of the arboretum nursery. Records of him come largely from Farrer, the reports mostly on collections made in the year 1911.[13
Reginald Farrer (1880-1920) an Oxford University educated Englishman from London who had explored the European alps with gardener friends including E.A. Bowles. Farrer met Purdom in London in 1913 asking to be included on his expeditions into Tibet seeking alpine plants in the high country to the north of the region being explored by Forrest and Kingdon-Ward. They took the new Trans-Siberian railway to Pekin before heading north. Farrer was working on his 2-volume The English Rock Garden (1938). They returned to Pekin in 1915, Farrer returning to the Ministry of Information in the war and Purdom joining the Chinese forestry service. Farrer collected live plants as well as seed, some overwintered in the grounds of the British embassy. Early on the pair heard of another collector, the American Frank Meyer.
Frank Meyer (1875-1918) had trained in Amsterdam at the Botanic Gardens before moving to the Missouri Botanic Garden under David Fairchild of the Office of Seed and Plant Introduction. Meyer was thus searching out economic plants for the American Department of Agriculture, mostly in cultivated regions of the north He completed three expeditions, the first in 1905, and died on the fourth in 1921. He possibly introduced as many as 2000 species and varieties of plants including cereals, fruits, timber trees and, in smaller numbers, ornamental plants.
In 1923 American David Fairchild sent another collector to the Orient:
Joseph Rock (1884-1962) an Austrian who had held professorships in both Botany an Chinese at the University of Hawai again an economic botanist for the American Department of Agriculture he explored in Indo-China, Siam, and Burma, moving on to China in 1922 remaining there for 27 years collecting mostly around Likiang in the periods 1922-4, 1925-7, 1928-30 and 1930-3. He returned to America vast numbers of seeds that included close to 500 species of rhododendron returned to the Arnold Arboretum. Seed was distributed to other institutions by Sargent.
This flurry of late 19th and early twentieth century collecting was halted by the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), Chinese Civil War (1946-1950) and effective closure to foreigners through most of the communist years. Many plants were collected at once and did not survive so Western horticulturists still regard China as a potential source of ornamental plant novelties.
Archibald Menzies (1754-1842), William Paterson (1755-1810), George Caley (1770-1829), George Bass (1771-1803), Allan Cunningham (1791-1839), Charles Fraser (?-1831), William Baxter (fl.1823-1829), Ronald Gunn (1808-1881), James Backhouse (1794-1869, James Drummond (1784-1863), William Swainson (1789-1855).
The modern era scientific description of plants, to all intents and purposes, began with Linnaeus’s Species Plantarum of 1753. This is taken as the starting point for plant names by the international code of botanical nomenclature. Plants were, of course, described before that time but as ‘phrase names’ which were simply short descriptions of the plant. The great strength of Linnaeus’s work was its systematic approach: it provided a standardised method of presenting plant names in extended lists. One of his accepted conventions was the use of a ‘binomial’, a two-word unique identifier for any plant. Linnaeus had not invented the binomial but he universalised its use.
The application of a communally accepted name to an object is very powerful and there is a degree of arrogance in scientific nomenclature because it implies that nothing was known about plants before they were given scientific names. Giving a scientific name to a plant seems to, so-to-say, bring it into existence. On the other hand it is intended as an international, not local, means of communicating about plants and it makes a deliberate attempt to avoid confusion by being accurate and precise and provide an accepted means of amendment over time.
Describing a plant involves two parties – the plant collector and the plant describer. Today these parties are often the same person but in the early days of Australia this was rarely the case. Collectors came from all walks of life. Sometimes they were a botanist but they may have been botanical bounty hunters, say, or perhaps gardeners or Aboriginals assisting explorers on land or sea.
A full formal botanical name today consists of the Latin binomial (generally in italics) followed by a standardized abbreviation of the person who first described it and a reference to the place where they published the description. Latin was the universal (western) language of scholarship at this time so it provided an effective means of communication between scientists.
The plant often known as Old Man Banksia, Banksia serrata, was first collected at Botany Bay on 29 April 1770, by Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, naturalists on the British vessel HMS Endeavour during Lieutenant (later Captain) James Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific Ocean. A species description was not published until April 1782, when Carolus Linnaeus the Younger (Linnaeus’s son) described the first four Banksia species in his Supplementum Plantarum. So we have:
Banksia serrata L.f. Supplementum Plantarum 1782
L.f. is the standardised abbreviation for Linnaeus fils – son of Linnaeus.
The early days of botanical collecting in Australia have been described many times. Here I shall simply provide a check list of early collectors and a check list of publications where the first descriptions appeared. Many of the early collections were held at Banks’s house in Sloane Square London where they were catalogued by two of Linnaeus’s students Daniel Solander and George Dryander. But most of these were formally described by other botanists, sometimes based on plants in this herbarium but also from subsequent collections.
Major publications including botanical descriptions of Australian plants, in chronological order:
1810 – Prodromus Robert Brown
1826 – Sweet Hortus botanicus
The language associated with acquiring plants from unfamiliar geographic regions gives us an insight into attitudes and motivations. We find the plants themselves called loot, booty, botanical bounty, or plant treasures. The collectors themselves (who were missionaries, civil servants, nurserymen, botanists and gardeners, and explorers) were almost exclusively men described as plant hunters, adventurers, intrepid explorers, even bounty hunters. The plants were collected for their beauty, rarity, curiosity, and botanico-scientific interest to be protected in museums, botanic gardens , private gardens, dried in herbaria (other motivations).