Today we celebrate a descriptive rare orchid hunter who changed the way orchids were cared for.
We'll also learn about the man who was held as a prisoner at the Singapore Botanical Garden during WWII.
We’ll hear about the stark funeral instructions left by Carl Linnaeus.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about botanical fraud - it’s a fascinating story.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the long lost story of a man who didn’t support a diet that included fruits and vegetables.
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January 12, 1898
Today is the anniversary of the death of the 19th-century Belgian botanist, explorer, horticulturist, rare orchid hunter, and businessman Jean Jules Linden.
Before he reached 20, Jean began collecting rare orchids in South America. In 1844, Jean discovered the Dendrophylax lindenii or the Ghost orchid in Cuba.
But there was an aspect to Jean’s work that was even more important than the orchids he collected - and that was his incredible notes about how these rare orchids grew in the wild. Jean’s careful observations and detailed notes were a revelation to European collectors who could not wait to acquire the latest specimens from around the world.
The little details Jean included in his notes transformed the way orchids were grown in Europe. Before Jean’s work, Europe was regarded as an orchid graveyard - a place where orchids were sent to die. Initially, collectors and even trained botanists didn’t fully appreciate how to care for orchids. The standard practice of the time was to treat all orchids as other tropicals: just stick them in a hothouse at high temperatures and hope they survive. Jean’s work helped plant experts and orchid lovers appreciate the errors in their understanding of these plants.
Jean’s holistic approach to orchid collection became a benchmark for other botanists. For instance, after Jean’s work, the British botanist John Lindley began including accounts of the native conditions of the plants he collected.
When he returned to Brussels, Jean served as the director of the Brussels Zoo and Botanical Garden. Not surprisingly, Jean’s favorite aspect of the job was horticulture.
As Jean focused on expanding the gardens, he grew thousands of plants. Jean created three different types of glasshouses with his intimate knowledge of orchids - each with its own distinct temperature range - to match the various native climates Jean had noted while searching for orchids. In addition to a traditional hothouse, Jean’s garden had a temperate house and a cool house.
As a result of his specialized care, Jean’s orchids flourished, and Jean soon had a thriving orchid business. At one point, Jean had orchid outlets in Brussels, Ghent, and Paris. And Jean’s orchids won awards at exhibitions across Europe from London to St. Petersburg.
Today, thanks to the BioDiversity Heritage Library, you can see digital scans of Jean Jules Linden’s incredibly gorgeous lithographs from his invaluable books on orchids - Pescatorea and Lindenia. They are truly spectacular.
Jean Jules Linden is remembered in many plant names, including the orchids Phalaenopsis lindenii (Orchidaceae) and Polyrrhiza lindenii (Orchidaceae).
January 12, 1906
Today is the birthday of the brilliant botanist, conservationist, and mycologist Edred John Henry Corner.
As a young boy, John developed a stutter - something he battled all of his life, and it was the main reason he never pursued teaching or lecturing as a career. Sadly, John attributed his stutter to his parents, who he remembered as harsh and cold.
Early in his career, John was mentored by the British botanist, photographer, and botanical illustrator Arthur Harry Church. A devoted archivist, Arthur advised John,
“Note everything! Draw everything! Photograph everything!”
When John was 23, he seized upon an opportunity to become a mycologist and Assistant Director at the Singapore Botanical Garden. John began work in Singapore in 1929.
Thirteen years later, during WWII, Singapore surrendered to the Japanese. Fortunately, John’s wife and son, John Jr., who was nicknamed “Kay,” were evacuated. Although John was conscripted into the Singapore Army, John’s botanical work saved him from serving in the army. John had trained monkeys to collect specimens for him in the jungles when he went out botanizing. However, an unexpected attack by one of his monkeys damaged John’s right arm, and it was this disability that saved John from serving in the Singapore Army.
Now before the Japanese arrived in the city, looting had started. Anticipating the worst, John persuaded the Governor to allow him to bring a note to the Japanese requesting that they spare the Botanical Gardens and the Raffles Museum. John’s courageous foresight helped save both of these scientific treasures.
As fate would have it, the Japanese man in charge of Singapore was an avid amateur botanist who was determined to maintain the Botanical Garden. For the remaining three years of WWII, John was kept on as a civil prisoner at the Botanical Garden, where he was allowed to work with careful supervision. Unfortunately, this unlikely scenario caused some folks to falsely label John, a traitor. Nevertheless, John continued his work.
During his time in Singapore during the Great War, John botanized, worked on his own theories regarding plants and evolution, and wrote a great deal about his discoveries and life in Singapore. John also studied palm trees, developed his theory of forest evolution, and began to study the microscopic structure of seeds. John even managed to produce a flora of Singapore. In hindsight, John’s work during this trying time was foundational to his professional development.
Two decades later, John’s popular textbook The Life of Plants was released in 1964. As a best-seller, The Life of Plants featured John’s brilliant writing in addition to his own drawings and photography (he had followed his mentor, Arthur Church’s advice). John’s book was translated into French, German, Italian, and (ironically) Japanese.
After the war, John did not stay in Singapore. Instead, John found himself in South America, studying the rain forest on behalf of UNESCO. A pioneer of conservation, John helped ensure that large areas of tropical forest were protected. In 1949, John returned to Cambridge. A year later, it was clear: John’s marriage was over.
As Kay turned 19, John rejected his son, and as a result, John never saw Kay again. However, in a final touching gesture, John left a suitcase that was clearly labeled “For Kay, wherever he might be.”
After John died, the suitcase was delivered to Kay. As it turns out, the suitcase contained letters, photos, and other artifacts that Kay eventually pieced together to create a captivating memoir of his father’s life and their relationship. Kay’s book, My Father in his Suitcase: In search of E.J.H. Corner, the relentless botanist, was released in 2013. Copies are difficult to find - but there are still a few on Amazon and through private sellers.
Linnaeus was a modest man and stipulated rules for his funeral arrangements:
“Entertain nobody ...and accept no condolences.”
But when he died in January 1778, his instructions were ignored. Even the King of Sweden came to pay his respects at the funeral of the man who gave a name to the onion and to every other plant in the world.
— Bill Laws, Fifty Plants That Changed the World, Onion (Allium)
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2016, and the subtitle is A True Story of Botanical Fraud.
In this book, Karl tells the story of the eminent British botanist John Heslop Harrison who always went by Jack.
“Jack proposed a controversial theory: that vegetation on the islands off the west coast of Scotland had survived the last Ice Age.
Jack’s premise flew in the face of what most botanists believed - that no plants had survived the 10,000-year period of extreme cold.
But Jack had proof - the plants and grasses found on the isle of Rum.
What Jack didn't anticipate, however, was an amateur botanist called John Raven, who boldly questioned Jack’s theory.
This is the story of what happened when a tenacious amateur set out to find out the truth and how he uncovered a most extraordinary fraud.”
This book is 288 pages of an informative and amusing true story of botanical intrigue.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
January 12, 1823
Today is the birthday of the 19th-century American physician and the inventor of the Salisbury steak James Henry Salisbury.
James began thinking critically about diet after serving as a doctor in the Civil War. He started to believe that diarrhea and dysentery could be solved by consuming only coffee and beefsteak.
After the war, James refined his thinking around food. Believing that vegetables and starchy foods became toxic inside the body and that the structure of teeth proved humans were designed to be mostly carnivorous, James became even more zealous about advising people to eat mostly meat. And so, James recommended limiting vegetables, fruit, starches, and fats to only one-third of the diet.
In 1888, James introduced his Salisbury Steak - deep-fried or boiled ground beef with onion, flavored with seasoning and covered with gravy or brown sauce. Along with drinking hot water as a cleanse, James advised eating his Salisbury Steak three times a day and his diet became known as the Salisbury diet.
Today, with his anti-vegetable views, James is probably rolling over in his grave to see more people than ever trying their hand at gardening. So this spring, as you’re eagerly sowing that row of radish, carrots, or peas, remember to raise a trowel to ol’ James Salisbury - and keep on planting.
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