January 2023
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The Tragic Death of Redowsky

Carex chamissonis

Carex chamissonis

At the age of 31, Ivan Ivanovitch Redowsky (1774-1807) set out on J.M.F. Adams’ (1780-1838) expedition to the River Lena in Siberia. There, in the Wild East, a scientist must have been a rare sight. Early the year 1807, when he was traveling along the northern coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, close to the river Gizhiga, he was thougth to be a spy from the Russian tsar, and duly killed (by poison, if you wonder). His collections were after his death transferred to the French/German poet and botanist Adelbert von Chamisso (1781-1838); it is after Chamisso this sedge is named. Somehow parst of his herbarium came to Königsberg (today’s Kaliningrad), from where Eric Hultén (1894-1981, former professor at our department) received these fragments.

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The Tragic Death of Herbert Huntingdon Smith

Aphelandra pulcherrima

Aphelandra pulcherrima

Collecting naturalia can even in modern times be dangerous, especially if you are deaf as Herbert H. Smith (1851-1919) was. Collecting snails along the railway in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that tragic day in March 19192, he was hit by the train and killed. In 1880 he had married Amelia Woolwirth, who also was a naturalist and a vivid collector. After their marriage, they collected together, but it is often only Herbert’s name on the labels.

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Kaempferia in an urn

Kaempferia rotunda

Kaempferia rotunda

What a beauty! Folded up the sheet will reveal an urn, with the plant, a species of Kaempferia of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae), mounted as it was growing out of the urn. The genus is named after German botanist Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), the first western botanist to thoroughly describe the Japanese flora, naming and describing the maidenhair tree (Ginkgo, 17C Japanese: ginkyo). Is it Kaempfer who inspired Toshihiko Tsukiji to the name Kämpfer for his light novel series? The plant itself, Kaempferia rotunda, is a cultivated ornamental and medicinal herb. The specimen itself is from the herbarium of Jan Frederik Gronovius (1686-1762), patron of Carl Linnaeus.

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Poisonous, thorny and delicious

Carissa macrocarpa

Carissa macrocarpa

Poisonous and thorny, but delicious. That is, the fruits of the members of genus Carissa are delicious and edible, rich in vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous. Especially Natal plum (C. macrocarpa; Swedish: natalplommon, South Africa: num-num, Zulu: Amatungulu) has large fruits, sold at markets and sometimes made into jelly. It is not widely cultivated, but has good potential as a great crop (Lost Crops of Africa, vol. 3). The spiny branches also makes it a good hedge plant.

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Acanthus ornaments

Acanthus mollis

Acanthus mollis

I don’t know what is true, but some say that the acanthus ornament, the basis for the decoration on capitals of the Corinthian order, is based on Acanthus spinosus, other say that it is based on the plant shown here, Acanthus mollis. It is one of the oldest cultivated garden plants, dating back to ancient times in the mediterranean are. This bee-pollinated plant is still cultivated, and also known as Bear’s Breeches. I’m sure there are much more to say about Acanthus mollis and family Acanthaceae!

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Aliens

Alternanthera philoxeroides

Alternanthera philoxeroides

Water hyacinth is a well known aquatic weed; less well known but almost as bad is alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides of family Amaranthaceae). It originated from South America, but was introduced to North America as an ornamental (and as crayfish fodder), and is now considered an invasive species not only there but also in Australia, China, New Zealand, and Thailand (it is even naturalized in Italy). Succesfull attempts to controll the alligator weed have been made by introduced insects.

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A drawing

Hesperantha cucullata

Hesperantha cucullata

Not everything in our collections are plants. Among other things, we also have some drawings. This is one of them, obviously of a specimen now in Berlin, made by Friedrich Wilhelm Klatt (1825-1897) of a Hesperantha cucullata, one of more than 80 species from this subsaharan genus (family Iridaceae; some Hesperantha are cultivated). Klatt, who (as you can see) was a scilled artist, studied Iridiaceae in such detail that he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Rostock.

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Ferns

Davallia repens

Davallia repens

Today we started to sort our 1200 or so type specimens of ferns as a prepartation for scanning them. A few, like this Davallia, have already been scanned, but most are not. It will be fun; ferns generally makes very nice and tidy collections, thought many are mounted on sheets somewhat larger than the scanners, making the scanning problematic… Davallia is a genus of some 34 epiphytic species with a mostly Old World distribution (but also Australia and Thaiti); some species are cultivated on “fern-balls” (in hanging baskets).

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Hungary or Romania? Or both?

Adonis transsilvanica

Adonis transsilvanica

Beautiful but poisonous. Like many other members of family Ranunculaceae (the butttercup family), plants of genus Adonis are rich in cardiac glycosides (and thus of medical interest). The label of this specimen, collected by the hungarian botanist Aladár Richter (1868-1927) in 1910, say that it is collected in the town Kolozsvár in the Hungarian Transylvania. Today the town is known as Cluj-Napoca and is in Romania. Today some of the hungarian minority in Transilvania want to re-unite at least parts of the territory with Hungary, or at least obtain higher degree of autonomy.

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In an urn

Metalasia pulchella

Metalasia pulchella

Perhaps the most successful of all plant groups, the nearly 25000 members of family Asteraceae (or Compositae) can be found all over the world (except Antarctica). This is a South African species of genus Metalasia, first described as a Gnaphalium and apparantly known for quite some time (the use of urns on the herbarium sheets was abandoned around mid-18C).

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