Those who work with plants inevitably develop a shorthand for describing them: “We’ll need a dozen Stellas for the front border, a couple of Vera Jameson’s and maybe a nice Constance Spry against the wall.” Stella, of course, refers to Hemerocallis ‘Stella de Oro’, ‘Constance Spry’ is a very famous rose, and Sedum ‘Vera Jameson’ (sometimes listed as Hylotelephium ‘Vera Jameson’) is a popular relation to Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (also sometimes listed as Hylotelephium ‘Autumn Joy’). The names are familiar. The plants are familiar. But who are the people whose names have become synonymous with the plants that honor them?
British plantswoman Vera Jameson (1899-1989) was married into the Jameson’s Irish Whiskey dynasty. She discovered the dark-foliaged seedling that now carries her name in 1968, growing in a bed along with Sedum cauticolum and Sedum ‘Ruby Glow’, as well as Sedum telephium maximum ‘Atropurpureum’. The plant was first exhibited at the Royal Horticultural Society Show in 1971, where it received an award of merit. With excellent form, flowers and foliage, this plant has gone on to win other awards and to become a garden favorite. 1
Constance Spry (1886 - 1960) was a British gardener who was well-known for her skills at flower arranging and her love of old roses. She was working as a school headmistress when demands for her unique floral arrangements finally encouraged her to go into business for herself. Her business was successful and Spry became known for her bold color statements and her use of unusual colors. She went on to found a school of cookery and home decoration. A heavy-flowering snowberry grown in Spry’s garden was marketed under her name (Symphoricarpos albus ‘Constance Spry’), and in 1961, shortly after her death, David Austin introduced Rosa ‘Constance Spry’, the result of a cross between a gallica and a floribunda. This fragrant rose has large pink flowers and can be trained as a climber. 2
The distinctive double-flowering columbine Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Nora Barlow’ was named after Nora Darwin Barlow, granddaughter of Charles Darwin, who later married Sir Alan Barlow, of the Barlow baronetcy in Buckinghamshire, England, under-secretary to the Treasury. Barlow herself studied genetics at Cambridge University, edited several books about her famous grandfather and experimented with hybridizing flowers including columbines. The flower that is now called ‘Nora Barlow’ has been grown for several hundred years in British gardens. It was named in her honor after she recommended it to Alan Bloom of Blooms of Bressingham. 3
Many plants were named after plant hunters or explorers:
Abelia (Abelia) was named after Clarke Abel (1780-1826), who was designated surgeon to the British Embassy to the Emperor of China in 1816. He discovered Abelia chinensis in China, even though Robert Fortune was the first to introduce live specimens to England.
Clematis X jackmannii (Jackman clematis) was a cross produced by George Jackman and Son in 1862. Jackman wrote about 200 forms of Clematis in his book on the genus, The Clematis as a Garden Flower, published in 1872.
Diervilla (Bush honeysuckle) was named after N. Dierville, a 17th French surgeon who explored Canada in about 1700.
Euonymus fortunei (Wintercreeper) was introduced by Scottish plant hunter Robert Fortune (1812 - 1880) from Japan in 1860.
Kolkwitzia amabilis (Beautybush) was introduced to England from China by E.H. Wilson. The plants in America today were first grown from seed in England in 1910 and were named in honor of R. Kolkwitz, a professor of botany in Berlin.
Magnolia (Magnolia) - This genus was named in honor of the French doctor and botanist Pierre Magnol (1638 - 1715), who was professor of botany at the Royal Garden of Montpellier.
Spirea X bumalda ‘Anthony Waterer’ (‘Anthony Waterer’ spirea) is a form of ‘Bumalda’ spirea grown at Knap Hill Nurseries in England before 1890 and is named after the nursery owner. Waterer and his son are also famous for introducing the well-known Knap Hill hybrid rhododendrons, which the Waterers began to cross in 1870.
Syringa X prestonae (Hybrid lilac) - This lilac was developed in Canada at the Horticulture Central Experiment Farm in Ottawa, as the result of work by Isabella Preston (1881 - 1965). Preston, who began work at the experiment station in 1920, worked with lilacs, lilies, roses, Siberian iris, columbine and flowering crabs.
Viburnum carlesii (Koreanspice viburnum) - This very fragrant viburnum was named after William Richard Carles (1849 - 1929), who was British Vice-Consul in Korea in the 1880s. While stationed in Korea, Carles made three trips into the country’s almost unexplored interior. It was on one of these trips that he discovered the koreanspice viburnum, sending samples to the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew. Nearly a decade passed before Carle discovered the shrub had been named after him. 4
Other plant hunters discovered many plants which were in turn named in their honor. The lives of these explorers were anything but mundane. The Douglas-fir (Pseudo-tsuga menziesii) was named after Scottish plant hunter David Douglas (1799-1834). Douglas made several collecting trips for the Horticultural Society of London, including trips to the east coast of North America, the northwestern coast of the U.S. and Canada, California, the Rocky Mountains and the West, down around Cape Horn, the Sandwich Islands and into South America. After all the hardships, terrible weather conditions, lack of food, medicine or supplies, physical ailments, unfriendly natives, rough seas, and countless other difficulties that Douglas endured and survived, he died while hiking on a mountain trail in Hawaii after falling into a cattle pit, trampled and gored by a wild bull that apparently fell into the pit with him. 5
One source says, “There are more plants named for Douglas than for any other person in the history of scientific nomenclature.” 6 Among these are Allium douglasii, Carex douglasii, Cicuta douglasii, Crataegus douglasii, Eriogonum douglasii, Limnanthes douglasii, Phlox douglasii, Polygonum douglasii, Quercus douglasii, Satureja douglasii, Solanum douglasii, Spirea douglasii, and many more.
George Forrest (1873 - 1932) was studying the apothecary arts in his native Scotland before a small inheritance enabled him to spend some time sheepherding in Australia. His later work at the herbarium of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh led to five expeditions to China in search of botanical specimens.
Forrest spent 28 years in the North Yunnan region of China, despite turbulent political conditions -- especially near the border with Tibet -- where French botanists had recently been attacked, shot with poisoned arrows, and finally either chopped to pieces with swords or shot. Forrest, although escaping death at the hands of the Tibetan guerrillas, stepped on a booby-trap at the edge of a farmer’s field and sharpened bamboo spike, an inch thick, ran all the way through his foot.
Forrest survived this and other hardships and became a successful plant hunter in the North Yunnan. Records show that he had organized the packing of close to 300 pounds of seed, of 4-5,000 species of plants, when he decided to relax by snipe shooting in a rice paddy. Forrest had been complaining of chest pains, and when he jumped up to shoot a snipe, his shot was true but the strain was too much and he also fell dead. Among the many plants named in George Forrest’s honor are Acer pectinatum subs. forrestii, Arenaria forrestii, Betula forrestii, Buddleia forrestii, Cynanchum forrestii, Hedychium forrestii, Hemerocallis forrestii, Hypericum forrestii, Iris forrestii, Pieris formosa var. forrestii, Pterocarya forrestii, and Rhododendron forrestii.
1,2, 3 Who Does Your Garden Grow? by Alex Pankhurst, 1992, Earl’s Eye Publishing, Colchester, England
4 Garden Shrubs and Their Histories, by Alice M. Coats, 1964, 1992, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY
5, 7 The Plant Hunters, by Tyler Whittle, 1997, Lyons & Burford, New York, NY
6 David Douglas Trail: Overland Trail, www.over-land.com/david_douglas.html
8 Plant Hunter: George Forrest, www.gardenweb.com/cyberplt/people/forrest.html