University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science

News Article 

Lesser Known Horticulturists and Botanists

By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Many  persons have had profound impacts on how we garden, what we grow, and our knowledge of horticulture and botany. Some of these individuals deserve to be better known.

Take some of our most prevalent, and often invasive, plants for instance. Did you know that an American physician and plant collector named George Rogers Hall (1820-1899) sent the first plants of Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) back to this country from Japan? This plant has since become an invasive weed in the East and South.

Hall also sent us the Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata), a popular landscape plant that has escaped throughout much of New England. Similarly, the Kudzu Vine (Pueraria lobata) has escaped in the South and is one of our country's most noxious weeds (luckily it is not hardy in the North). This plant was sent back to the U.S. by an American plant collector and American consul to Japan, Thomas Hogg (1820-1892).

More desirable ornamentals were discovered in this country, and particularly the Orient, by such explorers as Bartram, Fraser, Michaux, Thunberg, and Von Siebold. Bartram was an American from Philadelphia, who shipped plants from this country to England. King George III appointed him royal botanist in the American colonies in 1865.

The royal botanist to America for the French, appointed by Louis XVI about the same time as Bartram, was Andre Michaux. He sent many plants back from the eastern U.S. as well as the Far East. These included such prevalent plants as the Yellowwood tree, Sasanqua Camellia, Sweet Olive Osmanthus, Crape Myrtle, and Maidenhair Tree or Ginkgo.

The Scottish collector John Fraser also traveled in the southeastern U.S. He is credited with such plants as Fraser Magnolia, Fraser Fir, and Rosebay Rhododendron.

Carl Pieter Thunberg was a Swedish physician and explorer who sent plants back from Japan. He later sent over 3,000 plants back from South Africa, including more than 1,000 never before known. Some of these were lilies, quince, camellias, and Japanese Maple.

Philipp Von Siebold, a German physician, introduced many plants from Japan to Europe in the early 1800s. Some of our present garden plants, which are originally from him, include Flowering Crabapple, Siebold Forsythia, and Peegee Hydrangea.

What about items for the garden?

Edwin Budding, an Englishman, invented the lawn mower in the 1830s. This dramatically and quickly changed the look of our landscapes by making more expansive lawns possible.

James Jay Maples developed the first artificial fertilizer on his farm in Newark, N.J. in 1859. He received a patent for his superphosphate of lime. The first U.S. plant patent, No. 1, went to Henry Bosenberg in 1931 for his climbing rose New Dawn.

The first botanic garden in America was established in New York City, at the present site of Rockefeller Center. The American physician David Hosack established the Elgin Botanical Garden there in the early 1800s. A century earlier, the first nursery in America was founded nearby in Flushing, N.Y. William Prince founded the Linnaean Botanic Gardens in 1737. And the New York Botanical Garden was founded in the late 1800s by Nathaniel Britton.

Our knowledge of how plants grow (physiology) was first elucidated in the 1700s by the Englishman Stephen Hales, who is known as the father of plant physiology. The structure of plants--plant morphology--originally was credited to the German Johann Goethe in the late 1700s. Making this morphology the basis for the classification of plants was first attributed to the Frenchman Augustin Candolle. He termed this study "taxonomy."

In 1753 the Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus developed a system, based in taxonomy, for plant names. This "binomial" system of genus and species is still in use today. We also need to give credit to German botanist Rudolph Camerarius, who scientifically confirmed observations on the sex life of plants in the early 1700s.

So the next time you mow the grass, fertilize the garden, visit a nursery or garden, puzzle over a plant name, or plant a shrub, remember some of these pioneers of horticulture and botany, and give thanks to them for their contributions to horticulture.

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