The Flora of Asia
Today is the birthday of the Danish surgeon and botanist Nathaniel Wallich.
Nathaniel served as the Superintendent of East India Company's Botanical Garden in Calcutta, India. Wallich's early work involved writing a Flora of Asia. The palm Wallichia disticha (“wall-IK-ee-uh DIS-tik-uh”) was named in Wallich’s honor. The name of the species - disticha - comes from the Greek “distichos” (“dis” means two and “stichos” means line). Distichos refers to the leaves of this palm, which emerge in two rows on opposite sides of the stem.
The Wallinchia disticha is a very special palm, and it is native to the base of the Himalayas. The trunk is quite beautiful because it is covered in a trellis of fiber mat - simply gorgeous. This palm can grow to 30 feet tall, but it is a short-lived palm with a life span of just 15 years.
In 1824, Wallich was the first to describe the giant Himalayan Lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum) - the largest species of Lily. It is hardy in USDA Zones 7-9. The giant Himalayan Lily can grow up to 12 feet tall. Once it is finished blooming, the mother Lily bulb dies, but luckily, numerous offsets develop from the parent bulb. This dying off is common among plants that push a bloom many feet into the air. It takes enormous energy to create a towering and flowering stalk.
If you decide you’d like to grow giant Himalayan Lilies, (and who wouldn’t?) expect blooms anytime after year four.
Today, the Nathaniel Wallich Memorial Lecture takes place every year at the Indian Museum in Kolkata on Foundation Day. Wallich founded the museum in 1814.
Wallich is buried in Kensal Green cemetery in London alongside many prominent botanists - like James Edward Smith (a founder of the Linnean Society London), John Claudius Loudon (Scottish writer), Sir James McGrigor (Scottish botanist), Archibald Menzies (surgeon), Robert Brown (discoverer of Brownian motion), and David Don (the Linnaean Society Librarian and 1st Professor of Botany Kings College London).