A Famous Collector of Orchids
Today is the birthday of Benedict Roezl, who was born on this day in 1823 in Czechoslovakia.
Roezl was probably the most famous collector of orchids during his lifetime.
Roezl had an interesting life. As a gardener, he traveled all over Europe. He was also the founder of a Czech botanical magazine called Flora.
Eventually, Roezl made his way to the United States. He was making his way south to Mexico, so after first landing in New York, he went to Denver. There, he collected the Yucca Angustifolia.
Roezl indeed ended up in Mexico. For a time, he owned a restaurant. But he was also trying to do business out of growing a nettle that is called the Boehmeria nivea,which produces a fiber that can be harvested.
Roezl was a tinkerer. He had built a machine to extract the fiber from the Boehmeria, and he had brought it to an exhibition. Someone asked if his machine would be able to extract fiber from an agave. When Roezl attempted to try it, his hand got entangled in the machine and was crushed. The accident changed his life, and he began collecting plants full-time.
Roezl used an iron hook in place of his amputated hand; it made him popular among the locals who brought him plants.
Roezl started collecting for Frederick Sander, who was known as the king of orchids. But it was really Roezl that made it all happen. Although, as a collector, he was a bit of a mess. Still, Roezl collected over 800 orchids from Mexico and South America, along with thousands of other plants like agaves and cacti. In Columbia, he discovered the Zambia Roezlii; the tallest and oldest orchid of all.
Even though Roezl was 6‘2“ tall, and had that imposing iron hook for a hand, during his collecting days, Roezl was robbed 17 times and, once, even attacked by a jaguar. Roezl collected for Sander for 40 years.
At the end of his life, Roezl returned to Czechoslovakia. His country welcomed him home with open arms, and he was honored by the Russian czar. When he died at home in his bed, his funeral was attended by the Austrian emperor.
Today, there is a statue of Roezl in Prague. It’s located on the southern end of Charles Square - if you happen to go.