Friday, June 30, 2017

The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya

By Virginia Mills 
Project Officer, the Joseph Hooker Correspondence Project
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 

Joseph Hooker, born 200 years ago this year, may have been the greatest botanist of the nineteenth century, professionalizing practice of the discipline and establishing the system of botanical classification used almost universally until the advent of genetics-based systems. He was certainly one of the most pivotal Directors in the history of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, defending its role as a scientific institution rather than a pleasure park and expanding its infrastructure and collections. However, to horticulturalists, he is perhaps best known for his introduction of new species of Rhododendron to Europe in the mid 19th century.

Rhododendron argenteum one of Hooker's new species published in The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya. Drawing by Joseph Dalton Hooker. Lithographed by Walter Hood Fitch. Digitized by the Missouri Botanical Garden.  

It was whilst on a plant collecting expedition in India and the Himalayas (1847-1851) that Hooker became the first European to be granted permission to explore what was then the autonomous kingdom of Sikkim, now a northern state of India, which had previously been closed to foreign explorers. In this unspoilt mountain kingdom, he gathered over 25 species of Rhododendron that would prove to be unknown to science and to European horticulturalists.

Spectacular illustrations of these Rhododendrons were published in the lavish book The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya. At Kew, we love that these are available to view online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library for ease of access along with many other landmark publications by Hooker. You can also browse the superb illustrations on Flickr.

Illustrations from Hooker's Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya made available through Flickr by our partners at BHL.

Hooker braved the monsoon rains to ensure that he could collect seeds of these new botanical beauties. His letters from the expedition, recently digitized by the archives of Kew Gardens, describe the discomforts of the endeavor: frozen fingers, the shin tearing Rhododendron scrub, prolific leeches, the danger from overflowing rivers, snow blindness, rock falls and the added suffering of altitude sickness to name a few.

"Worst of all is the depressing effect of being often baffled: you go at up a gully, take a probable branch, are turned at the top,: down you go, every step lost & try another, & so on, 4, 5, & 6 times perhaps; till, utterly fagged, you slope at night-fall down to camp, wet bruised & dissatisfied." (Source)

Hooker was sometimes demoralized but not deterred and was determined to collect as much as he could:

"These explorations are very hard work, but I get such lots of plants that they are always abundantly profitable". (Source)

More tales of Hooker's collecting trials in his own words are available online through Kew's Joseph Hooker correspondence project and in his published Journal available on BHL. Some of my personal favorites include imprisonment by the Rajah and a close shave with an avalanche in which his collecting companion, a dog named Kinchin, lost his whiskers.

Victorian photograph of the Rhodoedndron Dell at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Reproduced by the Permission of the Trustees of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The Kew Gardens Annual Report of 1850 records the receipt of '21 baskets of Indian orchids and new species of Rhododendron' from Hooker. The Rhododendrons were planted in Kew's hollow walk, to become known as the Rhododendron dell, and shared with nurseries and gardeners across Europe, starting a craze for the plants and a legacy of their profusion across the gardens of stately homes in particular.

Field sketch of Rhododendron falconeri by Joseph Hooker, c.1850. Reproduced by the Permission of the Trustees of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The additional annotated field sketches, dried plants and descriptions that Hooker sent home allowed the great botanical artist Walter Hood Fitch and Joseph Hooker's father, botanist William Jackson Hooker, to publish The Rhododendrons of Sikkim Himalaya before Joseph had even returned home. To mark the bicentenary of Hooker's birth this year, Kew has reproduced a facsimile edition of the publication from the first edition held in its library collection.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Botanical Art of Redouté

Redouté, Pierre Joseph. Les liliacees. (1802-1815). v. 2. Digitized by Missouri Botanical Garden.

The most celebrated flower painter of quite possibly the entire history of botanical art is Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Nicknamed "the Raphael of flowers," Redouté published over 2,100 plates depicting over 1,800 species - many of which had never before been illustrated for publication - throughout his career (University Libraries 2013). Many of Redouté's publications are available in the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and a selection of these works is examined in this article.

Born in 1759 at St. Hubert in the present-day Belgian province of Luxembourg, Redouté and his two brothers - who also became artists - were descended from a family of Belgian painters. After receiving training in his father's studio, Redouté set out at just thirteen years of age to earn a living as an artist. Eventually, in 1782 at the age of twenty-three, Pierre-Joseph joined his elder brother, Antoine-Ferdinand, designing stage scenery for the Théâtre-Italien in the rue de Louvois (Blunt 1967).

Redouté, Pierre Joseph. Les liliacees. (1802-1815). v.  6. Digitized by Missouri Botanical Garden.

During this period, Pierre-Joseph's leisure time was spent painting flowers, and it was this passion that eventually led him to the Jardin du Roi, which today is known as Jardin des Plantes and is part of the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle. It was here that Redouté met and befriended Dutch painter Gerard van Spaendonck, Professeur de peinture de fleurs at the Jardin. van Spaendonck had a profound influence on Redouté, instructing him on engraving and water coloring techniques. In fact, Wilfrid Blunt, author of The Art of Botanical Illustration, asserts that Redouté owes much of his success to the technical discoveries that he learned from van Spaendonck (Blunt 1967).

Redouté's technique, modeled upon that of van Spaendonck, involved "pure water colour, gradated with infinite subtlety and very occasionally touched with body-colour to suggest sheen" (Blunt 1967, 179). Redouté eventually perfected the reproduction of his paintings for publication using stipple engraving, which used dots, rather than lines, to engrave plates, with varying dot density being used to convey tone and shading (Blunt 1967).

L'Héritier de Brutelle, Charles Louis. Stirpes novae :aut minus cognitae, quas descriptionibus et iconibus. (1784-85). Art by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Digitized by Missouri Botanical Garden.

During his time creating botanical drawings for the Jardin du Roi, Redouté came to the attention of wealthy botanist Charles Louis L’Héritier de Brutelle, who instructed him on plant anatomy and the characteristics necessary for detailed botanical study. As a result of this relationship, L’Héritier enlisted Redouté to illustrate more than fifty plates for his Stirpes novae (1784–1785), which has been digitized in BHL by the Missouri Botanical Garden (Blunt 1967). With this work, L’Héritier intended to describe, illustrate, and classify according to the Linnaean system plants new or largely unknown to science at the time. This included specimens collected during the Dombey-Ruiz-Pavón expedition to Chile and Peru and plants found at Kew Gardens, Jardin du Roi, and other European gardens (Dumbarton Oaks 2016). Several years later, Redouté also produced plates for L’Héritier's Sertum Anglicum (1788), also digitized by the Missouri Botanical Garden, which included studies of rare plants growing at Kew Gardens (Blunt 1967). James Sowerby, another renowned English illustrator, also produced illustrations for this work (Mathew 1981).

L'Héritier de Brutelle, Charles Louis. Sertum Anglicum, seu, Plantae rariores quae in hortis juxta Londinum. (1788). Art by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Digitized by Missouri Botanical Garden.

In the late 1780s, likely at the recommendation of L’Héritier, Redouté was appointed Draughtsman to the Cabinet of Marie-Antoinette. During this time, L’Héritier proposed the production of Plantarum historia succulentarum (Histoire des plantes grasses), a work on cacti and succulent plants that would be illustrated by Redouté. While the French Revolution undermined L’Héritier's ability to sponsor the project, an enterprising publisher, Garnéry, was enlisted to undertake the publication (Mathew 1981) and Swiss botanist Augustin Pyramus de Candolle was selected as the contributor of the descriptive text. The first section of Plantarum historia succulentarum was published in 1799, and publication continued intermittently until 1837 (Missouri Botanical Garden 2003). This was the first botanical publication for which Redouté was the sole artist and the first to utilize his color-printing method of stipple-engraved plates (Mathew 1981). It has been digitized by Missouri Botanical Garden.

Candolle, Augustin Pyramus de. Plantarum historia succulentarum =Histoire des plantes grasses. (1799-1837). v. 2. Art by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Digitized by Missouri Botanical Garden.

Following the French Revolution, Redouté continued painting for the Jardin du Roi, and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte resulted in increased fame for Redouté as Joséphine Bonaparte's court artist (Dumbarton Oaks 2016). Bonaparte married Joséphine de Beauharnais in 1796, and a few years later, Joséphine purchased Chateau de Malmaison near the western bank of the Seine. Joséphine set out to create magnificent gardens filled with rare and exotic plants from the Old and New Worlds, and in this venture she committed massive sums towards the procurement and cultivation of "choice flowers" and the production of extravagant publications about her gardens, for which Redouté contributed some of the most celebrated art in the history of botanical illustration (Blunt 1967).

Ventenat, É. P. Jardin de la Malmaison. (1803-1804). Art by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. v. 1. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

The first of these publications was Jardin de la Malmaison, for which Redouté produced several hundred plant portraits exemplifying scientific precision and artistic mastery. These portraits, painted on parchment, were reproduced for publication using copperplate stipple engraving. Joséphine hired botanist Étienne Pierre Ventenat to identify and describe the plants at Malmaison. The resulting work was published in twenty installments of about 150 copies between 1803-1804 (Lack 2001). It has been digitized in BHL by Smithsonian Libraries.

Ventenat, É. P. Jardin de la Malmaison. (1803-1804). Art by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. v. 2. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

A description of the plants at Malmaison was continued in Description des plantes rares cultivees a Malmaison et a Navarre. Following his divorce from Joséphine, Napoleon presented her with the country estate of Navarre near Évreux in Normandy. Here, Joséphine again set out to create a magnificent garden of rare plants. With Étienne Pierre Ventenat deceased, she engaged botanist Aime Bonpland to continue the description of her plants. Redouté and Pancrace Bessa, also a student of van Spaendonck's, produced watercolor paintings to illustrate Description des plantes rares cultivees a Malmaison et a Navarre, which was published in a print run of 325 copies between 1812-1817 (Lack 2001). It has been digitized by Missouri Botanical Garden.

Bonpland, Aimé. Description des plantes rares cultivees a Malmaison et a Navarre. (1812-1817). Art by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Digitized by Missouri Botanical Garden.

During this period, the renowned Les liliacees was also published. This eight-volume work (digitized by Missouri Botanical Garden), published between 1802-1815, presents a collection of over 450 watercolors by Redouté. Botanical descriptions for the work were provided by Augustin Pyramus de Candolle (volumes 1-4), François de Laroche (volumes 5-7), and Alire Raffeneau-Delile (volume 8). The watercolors were reproduced using stipple plate engraving finished by hand. While the title may be Les liliacees, the work actually covers many other petaloid monocotyledons found in French gardens at this time, including Iridaceae, Commelinaceae, and Amaryllidaceae (Mathew 1981). Redouté pays homage to Joséphine, a major patron of the work, by renaming an amaryllis Amaryllis Josephinae, which is depicted in the only folding plate in the publication (Christie's 1997).

Amaryllis JosephinaeRedouté, Pierre Joseph. Les liliacees. (1802-1815). v. 7. Digitized by Missouri Botanical Garden.

Publication of Redouté's arguably most-popular work, Les roses, began in 1817. This work, published in three volumes between 1817-1824, describes and depicts roses found in the Malmaison gardens, the collections of botanist Claude Antoine Thory (who provided the text for this work), and other gardens around Paris. It not only describes many flowers that are the forerunners of today's roses, but it also includes species and cultivars that are no longer in existence (Christie's 2008). This work was reprinted twice over the course of a few short years, and the third edition, published between 1828-1835, has been digitized by Biblioteca Digital del Real Jardin Botanico de Madrid and can be accessed through BHL.

Redouté, Pierre Joseph. Les Roses. 3rd Ed. v. 2 (1835). Digitized by Biblioteca Digital del Real Jardin Botanico de Madrid.

While Redouté continued to enjoy fame throughout his career, producing not only sought-after paintings but also tutoring many distinguished pupils, his extravagant spending habits led him to financial embarrassment, requiring him to sell furniture, silver, and paintings in an attempt to satisfy his debts. At eighty years of age, he began planning the production of a magnificent flower picture that would command an astonishing sum. Sadly, he was never able to realize this ambition. On June 19, 1840, he suffered a stroke and died the following day (Blunt 1967).

Redouté, Pierre Joseph. Les liliacees. (1802-1815). v. 5. Digitized by Missouri Botanical Garden.

Today, Redouté is remembered as one of the greatest botanical illustrators in history. His original watercolors and related publications can fetch incredible prices at auction. For example, 468 of his original watercolors for Les liliacees sold at auction in 1985 for 5.5 million USD (Reif 1985). Thanks to the contributions of our incredible partners, you can access many of Redouté's works for free in BHL and even download and print your own copies of his masterpieces. What was once available only to the rich is now freely available to the world.

Bonpland, Aimé. Description des plantes rares cultivees a Malmaison et a Navarre. (1812-1817). Art by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Digitized by Missouri Botanical Garden.

By: Grace Costantino
Outreach and Communication Manager
Biodiversity Heritage Library


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker’s Antarctic Journal

By Cam Sharp Jones 
Project Officer, the Joseph Hooker Correspondence Project
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

2017 marks the bicentenary of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker’s birth in the town of Halesworth in Suffolk, UK. During the course of his life (1817-1911), Hooker would become one of the most distinguished and lauded scientists of his day and would hold the position of Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew for 20 years (1865-1885).

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker as a young man. Chalk portrait by George Richmond, 1855.

As part of Kew’s celebration of this important event, the Joseph Hooker Correspondence Project is pleased to announce that Hooker’s Antarctic Journal, the unpublished manuscript documenting his first major expedition, is now available online through our partner Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Hand written, the Journal is over 200 pages long and provides a detailed account of Hooker’s time as Assistant Surgeon on the HMS Erebus as part of Ross’s expedition to the Antarctic (1839-1843). The Journal also contains numerous pencil and watercolor sketches of the sights Joseph Hooker encountered during his 4 year adventure and provides important evidence for Hooker’s earlier interest in botanical science.

The voyage to the Antarctic was Hooker's first botanical expedition and he was aged just 22 on departure. The expedition lasted for four years, spending the winter months in New Zealand and Tasmania and then voyaging around the Antarctic continent during the summer months. The observations Hooker recorded in this journal and numerous other notebooks formed the basis of a flora of Antarctica and also of the wider regions visited.

Watercolour sketches of Mount Erebus and Mount Terror, names for the two ships that were part of the Ross expedition. The volcanos were first sighted on the 28th January 1841.

The Journal records much of the detail of Hooker’s time during the voyage and provides valuable insight into his scientific practices on board but also the day to day routine of the journey from the mundane to the hazardous. It also records Joseph’s feeling about the unique land and seascape of the region and the botanical discoveries he was making, which often left him awestruck. On a more whimsical note he also records the necessity for acquiring a taste for penguin soup, as the animals were the only source of fresh meat and were kept live on ship.

As part of the project to digitize the Journal, we have also assessed its conservation needs and undertaken necessary repairs and rehousing to ensure the long-time safety of this invaluable item. Prior to digitization, it was agreed that the early 20th century binding that housed the journal was not suitable and should be removed.

The Antarctic Journal during its assessment of what conservation it would need.

Once the binding was removed, it was discovered that the Journal was actually made up of a number of ‘volumes’ and certain pages had become loose.

The Journal unbound showing the different ‘volumes’ or ‘parts’ contained within the 20th century binding.

A number of the pages were also treated to stabilize the ink in a ‘bath’ to allow for more extensive repair work to be undertaken.

Pages from the Journal being treated to stabilize the ink.

Following this initial stage of the conservation, the Journal was digitized in preparation for its inclusion in the BHL online catalogue. It is hoped that by making the Journal freely available, a wider audience will be able to appreciate the important and valuable information contained in this unique item. This also speaks directly to the aims of the Joseph Hooker Correspondence Project, which is working to make Joseph Hooker’s correspondence freely available through the Project’s online portal.

We are now organizing for the Journal to be rebound sympathetically to its needs and in light of it being one of our most referenced Archival items here at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

We would like to thank Frederik Paulsen for supporting the conservation and digitization of Joseph Hooker’s Antarctic Journal and for helping to make it publicly available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Related Links 

Joseph Hooker’s Antarctic Journal
View Joseph Hooker’s correspondence online
Kew Library, Art and Archives department
Joseph Hooker Correspondence Project

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Pot of Basil in Every Household

By: Julia Blakely 
Special Collections Cataloger 
Smithsonian Libraries

In Johann Prüss’ late 15th-century herbal, Ortus Sanitatis (Garden of Health), a bushy basil plant is portrayed growing in a decorative container. The book, a popular pharmacopoeia of various remedies drawn from ancient and medieval authors, was intended to be practical. The woodcuts are somewhat stylized and simple, meant to be easily identifiable to readers such as a doctor, apothecary, spice merchant, monk, or household member.

This was a manual for ready reference at a time when literacy was not common and earlier written descriptions alone were found to be inadequate. For instance, the all-important roots of the peony, used for infantile epileptic seizure, jaundice, stomach-aches, and kidney and bladder problems, are emphasized rather than its beautiful, fragrant blossoms.

At the time, basil was applied to a number of ailments, including convulsion, deafness, diarrhea and constipation, gout, impotency, colic, and nausea. So is it significant that basil was illustrated in a pot? Medieval and Renaissance art is full of plant symbolism. Or is this portrayal simply a charmingly unexpected domestic detail?     

Ortus Sanitatis. 1497. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Medieval herbals ascribed healing or poisonous ‘virtues,’ the natural properties of plants. Basil is one plant of the garden full of associations, both good and bad, sometimes contradictory. And a pot of basil has a long and colorful history.

Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is an herb of the mint family Lamiaceae. It is native to parts of Asia and Africa. The name may be derived from the Greek βασιλικόν φυτόν (basilikón phutón)—royal or kingly plant. While many culinary authors and cooks consider basil the “king of herbs” for its versatility and dominance in the kitchen (particularly in Italian, Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian cuisines), it long has had royal and religious associations. Ocimum sanctum (holy basil or tulasi) is sacred in the Hindu religion, though not used much in Indian dishes. In Christianity, the herb came to be associated with the Feast of the Cross, celebrating the finding by St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, of the True Cross in a patch of basil.

Ancient Greeks believed basil must be sowed with words of abuse in order to thrive. In both Eastern and Western societies the herb has been associated with death. In ancient Egypt it was applied in embalming rituals. It is also an herb much connected with love and fertility rites, and has been seen as a source of erotic powers. Or, conversely, a sprig of basil would whither in the hands of the impure.

In late Medieval and Renaissance Italy, basil in a pot was a sexy thing: on a windowsill alerts a lover that the lady of the house is available to be entertained. Or, in some accounts, such as in the early 15th-century risqué tales of Sienese Gentile Sermini, its sudden removal was the signal it was safe to come on in. Apparently in some parts of present-day Southern Italy, a family notes the presence of an eligible, virginal daughter by a basil pot in the window.  

Scorpions. Woodcut from Conrad Gessner, Historia animalium. Liber 2, 1586 (BHL link here)
Plants and a Scorpion, in "Herbal" Manuscript folio 3v (Lombardy, Italy, around 1440). British Library Sloane 4016. This illustration indicates that a sting from a scorpion may be soothed by plants.
The Latin basilisk means dragon, mythical deadly reptile or serpent, sprouting legends of basil with scorpions. The arachnid with the venomous stinger was said to be bred out of mishandling the cultivated species of Ocimum. Scorpions were believed to favor hiding under a pot of basil, or that a spring of basil under a pot would turn into a scorpion. The Smithsonian's Floyd W. Shockley, Collections Manager (and scorpion expert) in the Department of Entomology of the National Museum of Natural History, points out that the cool dark underside of the pot is a natural place for scorpions to rest, accounting for their presence and not a particular attraction to the basil.  

In the pharmacopoeia on herbal medicine from the surviving writings of the ancient Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, basil is prescribed for application to bites of the sea dragon or stings of the scorpion. Dr. Shockley notes there is some evidence that basil is effective in soothing scorpion stings and that the essential oil in the plant is anti-inflammatory and has pain-relieving enzymes. The plant would work to soothe the bites and stings of many arthropods, but ancient medicinal practitioners really focused on the scorpion relief aspect. Dioscorides observed that Africans would ingest the herb as a preventive measure against the pain of a sting. John Gerard in his famous 16th-century herbal repeated this belief but reported that, as did the 2nd-century physician Galen, basil should not be eaten.

Gerard in the Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes of 1597, declared “The smell of Basil is good for the heart … it taketh away sorrowfulnesse which commeth of melancholy and maketh a man merry and glad.” Nicholas Culpeper in the 17th century wrote: "And away to Dr. Reason went I, who told me it was an herb of Mars, and under the scorpion, and, perhaps therefore called basilican, and it is no marvel if it carry a kind of virulent quality with it.” And, noting the differing portrayals of the plant: “This is the herb which all authors are together by the ears about and rail at one another (like lawyers).”

Illustration of one type of basil in the Smithsonian Libraries' 1565 edition of Mattioli (BHL scan here)
Much of ancient plant folklore was dismissed by Pier Andrea Mattioli (1501-1577) in his commentaries on Dioscorides, Di Pedacio Dioscoride Anazarbeo Libri cinque Della historia, et materia medicinale. The work first appeared in 1544, with illustrations in the 1554 edition, and became the most influential Italian herbal of the 16th century.

A medical doctor and botanist, born in Siena, the perennially grumpy Mattioli provides the delightful contemporary observation that basil was found to be growing in every Italian household, often in a pot placed by a window or in the garden. However, the finely cut illustrations in his herbal are without any whimsy such as a container. Likewise, Leonhart Fuchs’ splendid De Historia Stirpium (1542) notes this domestic element and illustrates different types of basil, including the roots, leaves, stems, and flowers. These publications are products of the Renaissance, knowledge drawn from direct observation and not legend, although much of the texts still rely on Dioscorides.

Fuchs: “Women everywhere raise Ocimun in clay pots on windowsills of their homes, also in gardens.” Smithsonian Libraries' copy scanned by BHL (link here)
Fuchs wrote that ozimum is Greek for fragrant. Basil has highly aromatic leaves and placed in a pot would serve to sweeten the air. Royal apothecary and botanist John Parkinson in Paradisi is Sole Paradisus Terrestris (1629) wrote that basil was sometimes used in nosegays and made “sweet or washing waters.” (Boston Public Library copy). In the home, the herb acted to keep flies out. Basil is, of course, sensitive to cold temperatures and planted (in Northern Europe) in a container would allow for easy moving to a warm shelter.

There are surviving examples of actual 15th-century basil pots, known as alfabeguer (derived from the Arabic word for sweet basil). These decorative containers were imported from Valencia, supplying a demand for this luxury item throughout Europe. In the Rothschild collection at Waddesdon Manor is a beautiful one, decorated in lustre and blue, dating from 1440 to 1470.  

The Rothschild Alfabeguer (this and other illustrations of basil pots here).
Detail of Antonello da Messina's "St. Jerome in his Study," of alfabeguers (and kitten) approximately 1475 (National Gallery, London)
There is an earlier recording of basil pots used as decoration or furnishing in a home, and readers of Prüss’ herbals may have picked up on the allusion. In Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron (Day IV, Novella 5) of approximately 1353, is the story of Lisabetta and Lorenzo. The lady’s three brothers murdered the lowly born Lorenzo to thwart the forbidden love between the servant and their sister. They buried the corpse in a location that came to her in a dream. Lisabetta dug up the grave, decapitated the head, and, returning home:

There she shut herself up in her room with the head, and kissed it a thousand times in every part, and wept long and bitterly over it, till she had bathed it in her tears. She then wrapped it in a piece of fine cloth, and set it in a large and beautiful pot of the sort in which marjoram or basil is planted, and covered it with earth, and therein planted some roots of the goodliest basil of Salerno, and drenched them only with her tears, or water perfumed with roses or orange-blossoms. And ‘twas her wont ever to sit beside this pot, and, all her soul one yearning, to pore upon it, as that which enshrined her Lorenzo, and when long time she had so done, she would bend over it, and weep a great while, until the basil was quite bathed in her tears.”

The basil thrived with this fertilization and watering, but the distraught Lisabetta did not: the evil brothers discovered poor Lorenzo’s head in the flowerpot and stole it away. She died from further grief.  
A more typical illustration of basil from an earlier period, showing the plant truncated. The Smithsonian Libraries' Gart der Gesundheit [Ulm?: Konrad Dinckmut?, 1487?], often attributed to Johannes von Cuba. The Missouri Botanical Garden's copy has been scanned by BHL (link here).
A version of Peter Schöffer’s Ortus ([H]ortus) Sanitatis (1485) was published in 1491 by Jacob Meydenbach of Mainz. Some of the more than a thousand small illustrations were copied rather crudely from Der Gart der Gesundheit (also of 1485), which itself was based on the Latin Herbarius of 1484 (Missouri Botanical Garden copy in BHL). Although there is an occasional genre scene (such as laborers) and landscape setting sprinkled throughout these early printed herbals, most of the plants are simply shown cut off at the stem. The first of Prüss’ editions of Meydenbach’s Ortus Sanitatis, printed in Strasbourg in 1497, is the Smithsonian Libraries’ copy which has been scanned for the Biodiversity Heritage Library.   

A pot of basil: may this be symbolic or practical, whether signifying divine or earthly love, used as a culinary ingredient or insect repellent, to soothe a sad soul, or just a convenient place to store a lover’s severed head. The iconography of the image in printed books, manuscripts and paintings is yet to be fully explored. The bibliography of early printed herbals—endless editions, translations, fragments, versions, and reuse and copying of woodcuts—is a complex and difficult task to sort out. But the increasing number of scanned early herbals in the Biodiversity Heritage Library allows for easy exploration of these extremely rare works. Perhaps Prüss’ Ortus Sanitatis has a unique basil pot because of an inventive author/illustrator. The book does contain a woodcut of the human skeleton, the first appearance of one in an herbal.

Should you happen upon any, please send me your finds of illustrations of basil in a pot. Or, a picture of the herb growing in a container on your windowsill.    



What is old is new again: basil oil from the local grocery store.
The first printed herbal to have illustrations is Macer Floridus’ De Viribus Herbarum (Milan, 1482). 

Di Pedacio Dioscoride Anazarbeo Libri cinque Della historia, et materia medicinale first appeared in 1544. It was soon reprinted many times in a variety of languages; there are several of these editions in the Smithsonian Libraries and many digitized versions in the Biodiversity Heritage Library (link to one here).

Blunt, Wilfrid and Sandra Raphael. The Illustrated Herbal. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1994.

Ray, Anthony. “The Rothschild ‘Alfabeguer’ and Other Fifteenth-Century Spanish Lustred ‘Basil-Pots’,” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 142, no. 1167 (June 2000), pages 371-375 (link here).

Poet John Keats picked up the narrative in “Isabella or, the Pot of Basil” (1818). In turn, British painters of the 19th century, most notably by the Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt, were greatly inspired by the story. 
Painting of 1867, by William Holman Hunt. Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, England (image from Wikimedia Commons)
She wrapp’d it up; and for its tomb did choose
A garden-pot, wherein she laid it by,
And cover’d it with mould, and o’er it set
Sweet Basil, which her tears kept ever wet.
And so she ever fed it with thin tears,
Whence thick, and green, and beautiful it grew,
So that it smelt more balmy than its peers
Of Basil-tufts in Florence; for it drew
Nurture besides, and life, from human fears,
From the fast mouldering head there shut from view:
So that the jewel, safely casketed,
Came forth, and in perfumed leafits spread.
"Isabella, or the Pot of Basil," painting by Joseph Severn (1793-1879), a close friend of Keats (image from Wikimedia Commons). Guildhall Art Gallery, London. 
Ocimum basilicum 'Genovese Verde Migliorato'. The only variety for proper pesto.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Celebrating Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker at 200

By Cam Sharp Jones and Virginia Mills 
Project Officers
The Joseph Hooker Correspondence Project
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker

On the 30th June 1817, Joseph Dalton Hooker was born in Halesworth, Suffolk. The second child of William Jackson Hooker, Joseph would, during the course of his life, become a ‘botanical trailblazer’ - traveling across the globe to collect plants and theorizing on plant species diversity and geography. Joseph Hooker would also become Kew Gardens’ second and most illustrious Director, overseeing the establishment of the first dedicated botanical Laboratory at Kew, the Marianne North Gallery and the expansion of the Gardens' herbarium and economic botany collections.

To celebrate the bicentenary of his birth this year, BHL is joining the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to highlight Hooker's works and contributions to science. Follow #JDHooker2017 on social media this week (26-30 June) to learn more about J.D. Hooker and explore his publications and archival materials. You can browse his publications in the BHL book collection and see related artworks from those publications in our Flickr collection. Learn more about the BHL content here.

A special aspect of the campaign is Hooker's archival material, which is being made available online thanks to Kew Gardens. Hooker was a prolific correspondent – writing to family, friends and colleagues up until his death in 1911. We are fortunate at Kew to hold an extensive archival collection reflecting both his personal papers – such as his letters to his family during his travels in India – and those created during his tenure as Assistant Director and then Director of Kew.

The Joseph Hooker Correspondence Project is currently working on digitizing and transcribing a large selection of Joseph Hooker’s correspondence, and we are delighted to announce that over 1,000 of his letters are now available to view online. This portal allows visitors to search the letters and, where available, read the summaries and transcripts of the letters. We also plan to release further letters and data in the coming months – so watch this space.

Joseph Dalton Hooker's correspondence online.

Highlights of the current online collection are the letters written by Hooker to Charles Darwin, a long-time friend and confidant, as well as those to his family during his adventures in Antarctica and India. These letters provide wonderful insights into the hardships of botanical collecting and the trials of travel during the first half of the nineteenth century.

2017 is an important year for Kew as it marks the 200th Anniversary of Joseph Hooker's birth. Not only is the correspondence project continuing to scan, transcribe and make publicly available the previously unpublished letters written by Joseph Hooker, but we are also working with colleagues from across the gardens and beyond with our partners such as BHL to further raise awareness of Hooker and his important work.

Kew will be hosting a conference celebrating the ongoing impact Joseph Hooker has had on modern botanical science. The ‘Joseph Dalton Hooker Bicentenary Meeting: The Making of Modern Botany’ will be held on the 30th June at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and will bring together experts on subjects such as botanical illustration, Antarctic flora and botanical classification.

In addition to this conference, currently on display at the Shirley Sherwood gallery is the exhibition ‘Joseph Hooker: Putting plants in their place’, which brings together archival, three dimensional and illustrative material from the Kew collections to explore Joseph Hooker's life and work. The exhibition will be open until the 17th September 2017 and various tours and talks are also being held.

Selection of material on display on the Wolfson Reading Room at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The Library, Art & Archives department has also prepared a display in the Wolfson Reading Room in the Herbarium, Library, Art & Archives building, which has just opened and is free to view. Drop in Monday-Friday 10am-4pm to see more material from our Historic Joseph Hooker collections, including material relating to his (entirely scientific!) interest in opium.

One of a series of illustrations depicting the cultivation and manufacture of opium. Collected by Joseph Hooker during his visit to the Patna opium manufactory in India in 1848.

In the gardens, the Kew volunteer guides will be providing walking tours, allowing visitors to find out how instrumental Joseph Hooker was in shaping botany and the landscape at Kew. On the weekend of the 1st and 2nd of July, the gardens will host a Joseph Hooker Bicentenary celebration with family activities, explorer’s camp and talks. The Shirley Sherwood Gallery will also be hosting a ‘Kew After Hours’ event on the evening of the 29th June. Further details of these events and others related to Joseph Hooker can be found on the main Kew website.

Further afield, the Botanic Survey of India has been hosting an exhibition on Joseph Hooker's legacy in Indian botany. The exhibit is curated jointly with Kew staff and will shortly go on tour to other locations in India.

Visit the BHL website to learn more about the #JDHooker2017 campaign, and follow the hashtag all this week for more great highlights.

Related Links

Joseph Hooker Correspondence Project
View the Joseph Hooker letters online
Joseph Dalton Hooker Bicentenary Meeting: The Making of Modern Botany
Joseph Hooker: Putting plants in their place 
Walking tours around the gardens

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The First European Language Monographic Series on the Zoology of Japan

Robert Scott Young (Special Collections Librarian, Ernst Mayr Library)
Constance Rinaldo (Librarian of the Ernst Mayr Library & MCZ Archives)
Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University

Siebold, Philipp Franz von. Fauna japonica. v.[2] Pisces. ([1842]-1850). Digitized by Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library.

Fauna japonica, sive, Descriptio animalium, quae in itinere per Japoniam ... (Leiden, 1833-1850) is a set of five volumes based on natural-history collections made in Japan by German physician and botanist Philipp Franz von Siebold and his assistant and successor Heinrich Burger, with drawings by the Japanese artist Kawahara Keiga. It is the first monographic series written in a European language (French) on the zoology of Japan, and it introduced Japanese fauna to the West on a large scale. The volumes of Fauna Japonica, contributed by the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, can be viewed on BHL.

Siebold, Philipp Franz von. Fauna japonica. v. [3]. Reptilia. (1838). Digitized by Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library.

Von Siebold (1796-1866) arrived in Japan in 1823 as resident doctor of the Dutch trading post on Deshima island, Nagasaki. He was eager to learn about natural history in far-flung countries at a time when natural history knowledge was progressing in Europe. In addition to medical work, Von Siebold, who had a strong interest in zoology, and Burger along with their Japanese colleagues collected and purchased natural history specimens and ethnological objects during excursions in the Nagasaki area. Von Siebold was also allowed to travel beyond Nagasaki with Dutch embassy officials. Patients whom von Siebold and Burger treated and residents whom they met assisted with the massive collecting project. Von Siebold established a private school where he taught medicine and natural history and the students became collectors as well.

Von Siebold was was given several detailed maps of Japan for his explorations by the court astronomer, Takahashi Kageyasu. When the Japanese government discovered the maps, they accused von Siebold of spying and treason, expelling him from the country. His then 2 year old daughter, Kusumoto Ine, went on to become the first licensed female Japanese physician of Western medicine.

Siebold, Philipp Franz von. Fauna japonica. v. [4.] Aves. ([1844]-1850). Digitized by Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library.

After enduring these legal difficulties, von Siebold was able to return to the Netherlands in 1829. His vast natural-history collections preceded him to Batavia onboard ships while he was detained. The Dutch contingent that received the collections was actually a bit relieved that von Siebold was not present when the specimens arrived, as they feared that he might disperse them to institutions beyond the Netherlands.

Safely home, von Siebold commissioned Leiden Museum director C. J. Temminck to write Fauna japonica’s mammal volume. Temminck and his museum colleague Hermann Schlegel compiled the bird, reptile, and fish volumes; and Leiden Museum invertebrates curator Wilhelm de Haan wrote the Crustacea volume. The series was originally published in separate fascicles, edited by von Siebold. An unfinished, unpublished echinoderm manuscript for Fauna japonica by J. A. Herklots is now in the archives of the Leiden Museum.

Siebold, Philipp Franz von. Fauna japonica. v. [5]. Mammalia. ([1842-1845]). Digitized by Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library.

Initially, von Siebold published Fauna japonica partly with his own funds and partly with a grant from the Dutch government. By 1833, the Amsterdam publisher J. Muller became partners with von Siebold in the venture. Until 1840, the plates were lithographed at von Siebold’s own lithographic plant, as indicated by “Lith. d. Nippon,” and later were done at other firms until the Leiden printer A. Arnz took over publication of Fauna japonica’s text and plates entirely.

Because the original volumes of Fauna japonica were issued in a limited (unknown) number, they became so difficult and expensive to obtain that a facsimile edition in four volumes was published in Japan in 1934 in an edition of 350 copies -- now that edition has become very difficult to obtain as well. The University of Kyoto has also digitized the volumes of Fauna Japonica.

Siebold, Philipp Franz von. Fauna japonica. v. [1]. Introductions and Crustacea. (1833-1850). Digitized by Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library.


L. B. Holthuis and T. Sakai. Ph. F. von Siebold and Fauna japonica: a history of early Japanese zoology. Tokyo: Academic Press of Japan, 1970.

L. B. Holthus. “On the dates of publication of W. De Haan’s volume on the Crustacea of P. F. von Siebold’s Fauna japonica,” The Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, vol. 3, pt. 1, 1953.

Ueno, Masuzo. "The Western Influence on Natural History in Japan." Monumenta Nipponica 19, no. 3/4 (1964): 315-39. doi:10.2307/2383175.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Southern Cultivator

By Patrick Randall
Community Manager
Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature

The Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature (EABL) collection has grown rapidly over the last year, with the addition of born digital material and in-copyright titles scanned by various BHL member libraries. It wasn't until recently, however, that the collection included titles contributed directly by non-BHL members. This process—a significant departure from usual BHL workflows—is part of EABL's effort to digitize valuable content from organizations outside the consortium. Contributors ship their material to the closest Internet Archive (IA) scanning center, where it is scanned and added to the BHL and EABL IA collections. From there, the metadata is ingested into BHL by the usual process. EABL then reimburses the scanning cost.

The first organization to digitize in this way through EABL was the Cherokee Garden Library, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center. They contributed seed catalogs published by H.G. Hastings & Co., a major commercial agricultural company in Atlanta, Georgia, in the early 20th century.

Hastings' Seeds, No.55 (1918). Digitized by Cherokee Garden Library, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.

The Cherokee Garden Library also contributed a number of volumes (v.1-4, 1843-1846; v.13-15, 1855-1857; v.17, 1859) of The Southern Cultivator, another Atlanta-based publication that historian Michael T. Bernath called "the Confederacy's oldest, strongest, and intellectually most impressive agricultural journal." The journal is important not only as a source of information about the agriculture industry of the antebellum South, but also for its stark depiction of American slavery and the unconscionable role it played in the rise of that industry. It was published from 1843 to 1872.

Southern Cultivator. v. 17 (1859). Digitized by Cherokee Garden Library, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.

The editors of The Southern Cultivator minced no words in promoting the practice of slavery; in fact, they saw it as a crucial component in their plan to elevate southern agriculture. In v.1 (1843), they printed an address given by John Belton O'Neall to the Agricultural Society of South Carolina in December of the previous year. In it, Judge O'Neall states that there is one obstacle to realizing the full industrial potential of the state — the "carelessness of her operatives," i.e., slaves. He continues, "Still, our slaves are capable of more, much more, than we have hitherto had credit for. It is only necessary that they should be taught habits of regularity, economy and thrift, to make them the most effective laborers in the world. This is what we are attempting." (p.109).

Difficult as it is to read these words—and they are hardly the most racist to appear in the journal's pages—they provide an unvarnished glimpse into a period of American history in which slavery was a cornerstone of agriculture throughout much of the country. Indeed, The Southern Cultivator shows that it was not southerners alone who believed slavery was vital to the economy. In v.17 (1859), as the tensions that would lead to civil war were quickly rising, the editors reprinted an editorial from the Providence [Rhode Island] Post arguing that the North would suffer equally, if not more, if the South were to secede from the Union or if slavery were abolished. They preface the editorial by saying, completely without irony, that they "seldom dabble in anything that even resembles the 'dirty water of politics'." The editorial itself is frank in putting material concerns over principle: 

Slavery may be a great outrage against humanity. We look upon it in this light, and have no defence to offer for it. But we remind Northern men, not only that the North clung to while it promised to be profitable...but that Northern merchants and Northern mechanics and Northern manufacturers are dependent on it to-day for their stately ships, their immense store-houses, their splendid dwellings, their paying railroads and their reputation for thrift. (p.107)

Sample of the index to v.17 (1859),
showing the topical breadth of the journal. Digitized by Cherokee Garden Library, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.

As the United States continues to grapple with the legacy of the Confederacy, slavery, and the aftermath of the American Civil War, the digitization of these volumes is particularly timely. We are grateful to the Cherokee Garden Library, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center for contributing them through EABL, and we hope that they will be useful to researchers across many disciplines. 

To learn more about the Cherokee Garden Library and its work with EABL, see this post from earlier this year.


Michael T. Bernath, Confederate Minds: The Struggle for Intellectual Independence in the Civil War South, Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2010, p. 86