Remembering The Shadow: Lady Charlotte Wheeler-Cuffe – Botanical Artist, Plant Collector, Animal Lover, and Gardener


March 8, 1963

Today is the anniversary of the death of the little-known, multi-talented, and dauntless plant explorer, plant collector, gardener, and botanical artist Charlotte Wheeler-Cuffe.

Born in Wimbledon in 1867, Charlotte was the youngest daughter in her family.

Charlotte became very ill at some point in her childhood, and her sickliness caused her family to give her a nickname that would follow her for the rest of her life: “Shadow.”

Today, one of the plants named in Charlotte’s honor is a blue Anemone, Anemone obtosiloba, affectionately called the Shadow's Buttercup.


At 30, Charlotte married a man she had known since childhood, Otway Wheeler-Cuffe.

Otway was a civil engineer who had secured a posting in Burma, and after the wedding, Otway and Charlotte immediately left for Maymyo (“MAY-me-oh”).


Charlotte’s life with Otway blossomed in Burma as she discovered a world with natural wonders and beauty she could have never imagined.

A lifelong gardener, one of Charlotte’s first letters from Burma tells of meeting a fellow plant lover- Mr. Carter - who was,

...going to start me with plants for our little compound, which I think I shall be able to make very pretty in time.


For over two decades, between 1897 and 1921, Charlotte painted brilliant watercolors of the beautiful flora of colonial Burma. She focused primarily on the region’s bountiful orchids.

Charlotte’s love of gardening and horticulture attracted the attention of Burmese locals. While many foreigners tried and failed to grow the native plants, Charlotte managed a successful garden filled with beautiful tropical plants of Burma.

In no time, Burmese government officials asked Charlotte to create the garden that would become her legacy: Burma’s Botanical Garden. Charlotte spent her final five years in Burma working on the garden's design and planting, planting, planting.


Charlotte's work delighted the folks back at Kew Gardens in England, as well as other botanic gardens around the world.

As a result, plant explorers like Reginald Farrar, George Forrest, and Frank Kingdon Ward learned of Charlotte, and they would stop by Burma on their travels and view the areas Charlotte had explored and painted.

Charlotte, herself, was an intrepid explorer. She liked to saddle up a small pony and "go juggling" - Charlotte's term for botanizing in Burma’s jungles and mountains.

Charlotte’s adventures, maps, paintings, and notes were vividly described and preserved in the prolific letters she sent home to her mother and other relatives. Today, Charlotte’s notes are housed at Glasnevin Botanic Garden.


In 2020, the author and former director of the botanic gardens at Glasnevin, E. Charles Nelson wrote a beautiful book about Charlotte called "Shadow Amoung Splendours." Nelson’s book follows Charlotte’s experiences in Burma and shares many of her charming personal letters and writings.


As for Charlotte, her dear Otway died in 1934. She carried on without him at their home back in Kilkenny for 33 years until she died on this day in 1967, just a few months shy of her 100th birthday. 

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Charlotte Wheeler-Cuffe with dog
Charlotte Wheeler-Cuffe with dog
A young Charlotte Wheeler-Cuffe with her cat
A young Charlotte Wheeler-Cuffe with her cat
Anemone obtosiloba, Blue Anemone, Shadow's buttercup
Anemone obtosiloba, Blue Anemone, Shadow's buttercup
Pyinoolwin -- Burma Botanical Gardens center
Pyinoolwin -- Burma Botanical Gardens center

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