Botanists and Botanical Events of Ward's Era

Botanists and Botanical Events of Ward's Era

A consideration of Ward's invention of the terrarium can also deal with the many dozens of important botanists and plant events of Ward's era. Ward's lifetime was a period of tremendous botanical activity as thousands of new plant species were introduced, and there were many advances in plant biology. Most of the key botanists of the time were commemorated by having plants named for them. In 1830, Edwin Beard Budding (1796-1846) patented the lawn mower, which also radically changed people's lives. Before the lawn mower, a closely-mowed lawn required a flock of sheep or laborious use of a scythe. Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) earned fame as a gardener, plant collector, greenhouse architect, and winner of the race to first flower the giant water lily (Victoria amazonica) in Britain. Paxton was inspired by the venation of the waterlilies 1-meter-plus diameter leaf to submit an innovative design for the Crystal Palace, a 7.7-hectare glasshouse built for the Great Exhibition of 1851. By comparison, Biosphere II is only 1.28 hectares. The Crystal Palace was the result of a Royal Commission's goal to build the largest building ever. Paxton's use of prefabricated building parts was a major innovation.

Botanists of Ward's era included Charles Darwin (1809-1882), who published several influential botany books - The Various Contrivances by which Orchids are Fertilized by Insects in 1862, The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants in 1865, Insectivorous Plants in 1875 - as well as his extremely influential On the Origin of Species in 1859. John Lindley (1799-1865) named and described many of the exotic plants pouring into England at the time, wrote several botany textbooks, wrote the first book treating horticulture as a science, The Theory of Horticulture, in 1840, and was consulted on the Irish potato blights of the 1840s. In 1853, Lindley named the California sequoia, Wellingtonia gigantea, for the Duke of Wellington. This angered American botanists who responded with the names Taxodium washingtonianum and Washingtonia californica. A French botanist settled the dispute by proposing the name Sequoia gigantea. Today, the name is Sequoiadendron giganteum. In 1854, the bark of a 98 m tall sequoia was stripped to a height of 35 m and shipped to London for display in the Crystal Palace.

Botanical illustrators of Ward's era include Pierre-Joseph Redoute‚ (1759-1840) of France, the most famous flower illustrator, who produced Les Liliacees and Les Roses, and Walter Hood Fitch (1817-1892), who was the most prolific illustrator with almost 10,000 published plates, most while at Kew Gardens. Marianne North (1830-1890) was a British flower painter who traveled alone into many wild and remote areas, something rarely done by Victorian women. Kew Gardens has 832 of North's oil paintings on display in a special gallery.

In Germany, Julius von Sachs (1832-1897) made many advances in plant physiology including the development of solution culture as a standard plant research technique. German chemist, Justus von Liebig (1803-1873) finally put to rest the humus theory of plant nutrition with his 1840 book, Organic Chemistry in its Applications to Agriculture and Physiology and correctly hypothesized that plants split water in photosynthesis to produce oxygen. Although not appreciated at the time, Austrian monk Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) published his pioneering pea genetics research during Ward's lifetime.

In the United States, Asa Gray (1810-1888) was the most influential botanist and a backer of Darwin's theory of evolution. John Chapman (1774-1845) a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed became a legend as an eccentric pioneer nurseryman in Ohio and Indiana and a hero for warning settlers of Indian attacks. First United States minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett (1779-1851) was also a botanist/horticulturist who gained fame by introducing the poinsettia from Mexico into the United States. Scotsman David Douglas (1798-1834) was one of many important plant collectors in the Americas. He collected numerous plant species for the Horticultural Society of London from the American Pacific coast and died in Hawaii after falling into a cattle trap and being gored by a wild bull. Even ornithologist/artist John James Audubon (1785-1851) dabbled in botany by naming the western dogwood, Cornus nuttallii, in honor of Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859). Nuttall, an Englishman, was a prolific plant explorer throughout the United States.

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©1998 David R. Hershey