Orchid Master Hunter
August 13, 1823
Today is the birthday of Benedict Roezl, who was born on this day in Czechoslovakia.
Benedict was probably the most famous collector of orchids during his lifetime.
Benedict 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, Benedict 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.
Benedict indeed ended up in Mexico. For a time, he owned a restaurant. But he was also trying to make a go of a business growing a nettle called the Boehmeria nivea, which produces a fiber that can be harvested.
Now Benedict was a tinkerer and he had built a machine to extract the fiber from the Boehmeria. One time, Benedict brought his invention to an exhibition. At one point, someone asked if Benedict's machine would be able to extract fiber from an agave. When Benedict 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.
Benedict used an iron hook in place of his amputated hand; it made him popular among the locals who brought the plants to him.
Benedict started collecting for a man named Frederick Sander, who was known as the king of orchids. But it was Benedict behind the scenes that made it all happen. Although, as a collector, he was a bit of a mess. Still, Benedict 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. Benedict collected for Sander for 40 years.
Even though Benedict was 6'2" tall, and had that imposing iron hook for a hand, during his collecting days, Benedict was robbed 17 times and, once, even attacked by a jaguar.
At the end of his life, Benedict returned to Czechoslovakia. His country welcomed him home with open arms, and he was honored by the Russian Czar. After he died at home in his bed, Benedict's funeral was attended by the Austrian emperor.
Today, there is a statue of Roezl in Prague. If you happen to go, It's located on the southern end of Charles Square.