Jun 092014
 
Portrait of Sir Geroge Watt in the archive of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Portrait of Sir George Watt in the archive of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Born on the 24th of April 1851 in Old Meldrum, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. He was educated at the Grammar School, King’s College and Marischal College, Aberdeen, and later attended both the University of Aberdeen and the University of Glasgow, eventually graduating as a Doctor of Medicine. After graduating he took the teaching role of prodissector to Professor of Anatomy, Dr Allen Thomas, at Glasgow University in 1873.

He was recommended for the post of Professor of Botany at Calcutta University by Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker. He accepted and moved to India in late 1873. Once in India he did not take up the post in Calcutta and instead accepted a botany professorship in Bengal, a post he held until 1884.

As part of the Indian Government service he had a number of other roles.

  • Burma-Manipur Boundary Commission as Medical Officer, 1882
  • Scientific Assistant Secretary, Government of India, 1881
  • in charge of the India Section of the Calcutta International Exhibition, 1884
  • Commissioner, Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London, 1885–86
  • Reporter to Government of India on Economic Products, 1887–1903
  • Governor of Imperial Institute, 1892
  • Editor, The Agricultural Ledger, 1892–1903
  • President, Pharmacological Section of the Indian Medical Congress, 1894
  • in charge of Calcutta Industrial Museum, 1894-03
  • Honorary Secretary, Indigenous Drug Committee of India, 1901
  • Director, Indian Art Exhibition, Delhi, 1903

Probably his magnum opus was A Dictionary of the Economic Products of India. The 9 parts published between 1889-1893 are regarded as the greatest compilation of commercial plants in India and covers both agricultural and non-agricultural plants. An abridged version called The commercial products of India is available online.

Sir George Watt is credited with devising a system of where numbered tags were detached from a field book and could be tied to specimens as they were collected in the field. This made it much simpler to correctly identify the correct specimen with the correct entry in a field book. His system became widely used.

Sir George Watt also published an article Tea and the Tea Plant looking at the commercial varieties of Tea grown in India  in the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society 32 page 64-93 (1907). The specimens used to illustrate the varieties are held at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

For his services to Indian botany and science he was knighted in 1903.

From his time in India he amassed a sizable personal herbarium of around 20,000 collections which were donated to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. It contains over 150 Type specimens of Indian taxa described by Watt and others.

The archive at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh also holds Watt’s glass plate negative collection of images mostly from his time in India. These contain images relating to his work on Economic Botany, his field collection, temples, architecture and scenes from the country.

'Darjeeling Tukvar tea state manager's bungalow. [c. 1880] Sir George Watt's Indian images. Archive Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

‘Darjeeling Tukvar tea state manager’s bungalow. [c. 1880]
Sir George Watt’s Indian images. Archive Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

'Coolies plucking' [c. 1880s] In Sir George Watt's Indian images. Archive Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

‘Coolies plucking’ [c. 1880s]
In Sir George Watt’s Indian images. Archive Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He retired 1906 to Lockerbie in the Dumfries and Galloway but continued to do research and taught aspects of Indian Botany specifically on trees to forestry students at the University of Edinburgh.

In 1907 Watt published a major monograph on the Wild and Cultivated Cotton Plants of the World in which he published many new taxa in the genus Gossypium; he also published new Indian species in the family Primulaceae (Primula, Androsace)

He died in Lockerbie on the 2nd of April 1930.

A number of Indian plant commemorate him including

Rosa giganteum 'Sir George Watt' at Logan Botanic Garden.

Hybrid Rosa ‘Sir George Watt’ growing at Logan Botanic Garden. Photo: Richard Baines Curator at Logan

 Rhododendron wattii Cowan ex G.Watt

Type material at Edinburgh http://data.rbge.org.uk/herb/E00001004

Clematis wattii J.R.Drumm. & Craib

Type Material at Edinburgh http://data.rbge.org.uk/herb/E00346520

Primula wattii King in G.Watt

Type material at Edinburgh http://data.rbge.org.uk/herb/E00024757
Illustration in Curtis Botanical magazine http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/465801

 

Further Reading

Entry in TL-2 http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/33066447

Burkill , I.H. (1930) Obit in Kew Bull. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4107653

Obituary in the Glasgow Herald

 

Sep 242013
 

Clematis_tubulosa_19021013When working through endless spreadsheets of data occasionally something jumps out because it looks odd. Scanning down the list of living Clematis at RBGE the accession number 19021013 set itself apart from the several hundred others. Once you know how to read our accession numbers you’ll understand why.

With a few exceptions, the first 4 digits are the year that a plant entered the collection and the last 4 is the sequential record number for that year. This particular plant, Clematis tubulosa, was the one thousand and thirteenth plant that came into the collection in 1902. So if I did my sums correctly then the plant is 111 years old!

Going back to the database there were some other bits of interesting information. The plant was recorded as being in our collection on the 15th of April 1902; it was called Clematis davidiana when it arrived, this name is now considered a synonym of Clematis tubulosa and finally the plant was sourced from Messrs. Lemoine et fils, Horticulteurs, a French plant nursery.

The RBGE library holds a fantastic collection of old horticultural trade catalogues from the UK and Europe, including a set of catalogues from Messrs. Lemoine. Our 1902 Lemoine et fils. catalogue has many red marks on its pages. As you see below the Clematis pages are heavily marked. The curator at the time, A. D. Richardson, must have been looking to invest in some Clematis for the collection. Clematis davidiana cost us 1.25₣.  How is that for value for money?!

0000145300001459Looking back in to the name Clematis davidiana was well worth the effort. The original description of the name  appears in the Revue Horticole from 1867  and gave the history of how the plant came to be named.

The seeds of Clematis davidiana were sent in 1863 to the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle by Père David (Jean Pierre Armand David), a French Missionary and botanist, from collections made near to Peking (Beijing). Plants were successfully raised and flowered for the first time on the 20th of September 1866 in the Jardin des Plantes, the main botanic garden in France and a department of the Museum. The plant was named in David’s honour by the French botanist Joseph Decaisne and Bernard Verlot.

Our earliest catalogue from Messrs. Lemoine in 1896 lists it as ‘Clematis davidiana (Museum)’. This suggests that the plant they originally offered for sale came from the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle. This does make a good deal of sense as new introductions were passed around and found their way into the horticultural trade. This species is also very easily vegetatively propagated from its spreading rhizomes.

Knowing that this species is so easily propagated vegetatively  explains how we’ve kept the same plant going for over one hundred years. It also raises the possiblity that our 111 year old plant is a propagule from one of those original plants  that flowered in Paris in 1867 from the seed sent by Pére David in 1863 and therefore means our plant is closer closer to 148 years old!

Amazing.

Aug 152013
 

The Sabal Palm (Sabal bermudana) is frequently mentioned as being the oldest plant in our collection at about 200 years old. A couple of years ago while researching George Don I looked into tracking down the exact date that the Sabal Palm entered the collection, hoping that it would coincide with the dates that George was Principal Gardener from 1801 to 1806. Unfortunately this is probably not the case but I did dig out some interesting bits of history relating to the Sabal. A joint article on the history of the Sabal at RBGE and details of the horticulture works carried out to secure the future of the palm, written by Paul Mullany an arboriculturalist in the garden, will be published later this year in Sibbaldia.

History of the Sabal

Image of the Octagonal Palm House taken in 1854. Note the Palm fronds breaking through the roof. Photographer: Dr. Duncan. Image: Archives of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Image of the Octagonal Palm House taken in 1854. Note the Palm fronds breaking through the roof.
Photographer: Dr. Duncan.
Image: Archives of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

As I said the Sabal is oldest known plant in the collection at RBGE, being on site since 1822. The earliest mention of this date is by James McNab in an account of Sabal umbraculifera in the palm stove at Edinburgh read in 1874 to the Botanical Society of Edinburgh. He noted that the Sabal had arrived at Inverleith in 1822 from Leith Walk and then spent the next 13 years in a lean-to glasshouse. The plant had suffered from the lack of space in the lean-to and was moved in 1835 into the Octagonal Palm House, now the Tropical Palm house, which was constructed a year earlier, where McNab writes that it succeeded well.

In 1858 Professor John Hutton Balfour wrote that the Sabal, and other Palms, had been moved into the new Palm House, now the Temperate Palm House, by James McNab and his team. Balfour estimated that the Sabal and rootball weighed 7 or 8 tons. Then in 1874 James McNab and his team moved the Sabal back into the Octagonal palm house. It was also in 1874 that he estimated the plant’s age as being at least 60 years old.

Image of the Sabal taken in 1874 after its move and 'retubbing' by James McNab and his team. Photographer: ? Image: Archive of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Image of the Sabal taken in 1874 after its move and ‘retubbing’ by James McNab and his team.
Photographer: ?
Image: Archive of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

One piece of missing information from the Sabal story is when it was finally planted out of a tub and into the ground. Leonie, RBGE’s Archivist, recently pointed out that  Harold Fletcher had written that Harrow, who was curator here from 1902-1931, planted the Sabal in a special circular bed in the middle of the tropical palm house. This is a fairly long period but we do have an image of the Sabal in the middle of the house taken by D. S. Fish. He left that garden in 1906 so it is possible that the planting into the ground took place near the beginning of Harrow’s curatorship.

As well as the celebrated living specimen there are also two historical herbarium specimens of cultivated origin. Both with University of Edinburgh Herbarium stamps and filed under Sabal umbraculifera, a synonym of S. bermundana. One is annotated ‘Corypha Hort. Edin.’ and one annotated ‘Corypha umbraculifera cult. Dr. [Daniel] Rutherford. The Rutherford specimen is an exciting find as there are very few herbarium specimens directly attributable to Rutherford or his time as Regius Keeper, 1786 to 1819.

 

Origins of the Sabal at Edinburgh

Image of the Sabal umbraculifera probably taken between 1902-1906. When it was finally planted into the ground. Photographer: D.S.FIsh Image: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Image of the Sabal umbraculifera probably taken between 1902-1906. When it was finally planted in its final position.
Photographer: D.S.FIsh
Image: Archives of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

McNab’s estimated age of 60 years old puts the Sabal in the collection around 1814, near the end of Rutherford’s time and when RBGE was still at Leith Walk, eight years before the 1822 move. However, this does not necessarily mean that the plant was seed raised at RBGE. It could well have been acquired as a young plant by Rutherford. Regardless of this, McNab’s estimated age, the Edinburgh University herbarium specimen annotated with Dr. Rutherford pushes the date of the Sabal back to 1819, the final year of Rutherford’s life or potentially earlier.

The RBGE archive holds donation books, the forerunner to our accession records in our database, started by William McNab, principal gardener at the time and father to James. These handwritten books started in 1810, record seed and plant acquisitions. Each entry details the donor, the botanical name, where the material originated and when it was received. A survey of the donation books did not yield an entry for either a Corypha or a Sabal entering collection.  As the Sabal is not recorded in McNab’s accession books which starts in 1810 it may well mean that the Sabal has been in the collection at RBGE since before 1810.

Professor Rutherford’s handwritten teaching notebooks (1778 & 1790) also held in the archive at RBGE were checked for mention of Sabal or Corypha. These notebooks list the plant species from the collection that Rutherford used on particular days in his botany classes. However, there is only a single reference to Palmae being used in the classes and it specifically cites multi-stemmed varieties.

There is very little information on this Sabal’s accession record in RBGE’s collections database, Bg-Base. The only useful piece of information recorded in the Accession record is that the plant was recorded as “Sabal blackburniana” in 1969 when it was part of the mass accessioning.

When the name Sabal bermundana was originally published in 1935 the author Bailey believed that the names Sabal blackburniana and Corypha umbraculifera were misapplied names from the horticultural trade, in Britain and Germany respectively, for this species. Interestingly the second misapplied, “German name”, Corypha umbraculifera, is the same name found on the Edinburgh University Herbarium specimen attributed to Rutherford. This opens the possibility that the source of the plant was a German botanic garden or nursery. McNab’s seed and plant donation books (1810-1820) record multiple accessions of living plants and seed entering the collection from sources in Germany between these dates. A German source for the Sabal Palm is entirely feasible with Leith’s position in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries as major trading port with northern Europe and the Baltic.

Unfortunately we might never know exactly when the Sabal palm entered the collection or where it came from, but it is still here at RBGE that after 191 years and that is testament to the skill of successive generations of horticulturalists. I’m sure the Sabal palm will be alive and well in 2022 for the 200th anniversary of its move.

 

George Don sr. (1764-1814)

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Jul 122013
 

George Don spent much of his life exploring the corries and glens of Angus and further afield to Arran, Ben Nevis and Skye.  His plant collections in the early 19th C. from these remote places uncovered many species that had never been seen in Britain before and at times has led to a certain amount of controversy over their authenticity. Continue reading »

Rhomoo Lepcha

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Jul 122013
 
"Rhoomoo Lepcha holding a yellow flowered Meconopsis paniculata photographed in the Sikkim forests below Changu Lake" June 1913. Photograph and text R.E. Cooper. RBGE Library Archive

“Rhoomoo Lepcha holding a yellow flowered Meconopsis paniculata photographed in the Sikkim forests below Changu Lake” June 1913. Photograph and text R.E. Cooper. RBGE Library Archive

Lepchas are indigenous peoples to Sikkim, renowned for their knowledge of and respect for nature. Several Lepcha were employed as collectors by the Calcutta Botanic Garden.

Rhomoo Lepcha first enrolled in the Botanical Survey of India then moved to the Lloyd Botanical Garden, Darjeeling, before finally working for G. Ghose and Company.

Rhomoo and another Lepcha collector, Ribu, headed up a team of collectors who followed William Wright Smith and George H. Cave’s botanical exploration of Sikkim during 1909–191 collecting seed. Rhomoo then became chief collector during Roland Edgar Cooper’s trips to Sikkim (1913), Bhutan (1914 & 1915) finally in Pubjab (1916), in an area now part of Himachal Pradesh.

A number of Rhomoo’s collection have been used as Type material.

R.E. Cooper recalled from his Sikkim trip in 1913 that his own pass did not allow him into the Chumbi Valley but Rhomoo was able to enter and [re]collect a primula that what would become known  Primula chumbiensis described by William Wright Smith based on material Rhomoo had collected in Chumbi during 1912.

Rhomoo was botanically commorated by Henry Noltie during the writing of the Flora of Bhutan with Poa rohmooana Noltie.

Roland Edgar Cooper (1890-1967)

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Jul 122013
 
Roland Edgar Cooper. Staff Photograph. RBGE Library Archive

Roland Edgar Cooper. RBGE Library Archive

Roland Edgar Cooper was born in 1890 and orphaned at an early age. Once he turned sixteen he came under the guardianship of his aunt Emma Smith, his mother’s half-sister, and her husband, the botanist and future Regius Keeper at RBGE, William Wright Smith.

In 1907 Cooper went to India with his uncle when Smith became Keeper of the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Garden Calcutta. While in Calcutta, and then later in Lloyd Botanic Garden Darjeeling, Cooper studied botany and horticulture under the tutelage of George Thomas Lane, the then Curator of the Royal Botanic Garden Calcutta. While in India he accompanied his uncle on collecting trips to Sikkim and the borders of Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet, gaining early experience of the diversity of the Himalaya. Continue reading »

Venerable trees

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Jun 122013
 
Wych Elms, Renfrewshire. Plate from Sylva Britannica; or, portraits of forest trees written and illustrated by Jacob George Strutt (1790-1864) published in folio format, 1822. Copy held by the library at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Photographed by Lynsey Wilson.

Wych Elms, Renfrewshire. Plate from
Sylva Britannica; or, portraits of forest trees written and illustrated by Jacob George Strutt (1790-1864) published in folio format, 1822.
Copy held by the Library at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Photographed by Lynsey Wilson.

I’m always glad of an excuse to take a nosey at some of the content of our Library and Archive collection at the Botanics. Our librarians have such a wealth of knowledge, and I’m very grateful to be able to tap into that.

I recently installed a small display in the John Hope Gateway about ash trees (on show until 14 July), showing items from our Library, Archive and Herbarium, to coincide with our Moving Forward from Ash Dieback project. One of the things I finally got to see ‘in the flesh’ for the first time was Jacob George Strutt’s Sylva Britannica; or, portraits of forest trees, published in folio format in 1822. The large engraving plates are beautiful, so I thought I’d share images of a couple here (though the photographs in no way do them justice).

The health and resilience of trees has been at the forefront of our minds working on the Ash Dieback Project, but other species come to mind when considering how pests and diseases have impacted on trees. For me the one that I think of is the wych elm, ravaged by dutch elm disease in the late twentieth century. This is partly due to my love of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End in which a wych elm with pig’s teeth in it plays a central role, but also because the Wych Elm Project exhibition was the first exhibition in the John Hope Gateway and one that is remembered by many.

If you’d like to know more about wych elm, and thoughts on what we have learnt when considering new tree health issues such as ash dieback, Max Coleman will be talking on the subject at this weekend’s Book Festival at the Botanics (Saturday, 11am – click here for more details). Continue reading »