Benedikt Roezl (1823 - 1885)

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Czech botanist (August 13, 1823, u Prahy - October 14, 1885, Prague) was probably the most famous collector of orchids of his time. Among many other species he discovered is Zamia_roezlii, a Colombian cycad, the tallest and (in evolutionary terms) oldest Zamia of all.

Traveller, gardener and botanist, Roezl was first trained as a gardener at Count Thun's gardens in northern Bohemia, western part of Czech kingdom in Austrian empire. After taking several gardening jobs in 1846 he started working as a gardener in the Louise van Houtte garden in the Belgian Gent. Thanks to his knowledge he became the main gardener of its tropical greenhouses and later, when the garden became a national institute, he was named the main gardener too. However, as he was always attracted to exotic destinations, he left from the Dutch Vlissing port to New Orleans on March 1, then leaving for Mexico. He has sent his first collected plants to Gent.

He settled briefly in Mexico, buying a restaurant and growing Ramias for fibre. Later he was known as a fields owner, custom officer and the director of the local port in Sontekomapan. A major change in his life came, when at one exhibition, he was requested to try whether a machine he constructed for Ramias could be used for extracting fibre from Agaves. The experiment resulted in an accident in which he lost his hand. It also changed his life completely as he could not continue his normal work. He later equipped his amputated hand with an iron hook, an instrument which made him quite popular among local Indians, who kept bringing him plants.

He first considered returning to Bohemia, but then transferred his property to relatives and decided to begin a collectors business, originally on his own. His life as a collector of exotic species continued in the services of Sander & Co., who he worked for 40 years. On a horse or walking, he travelled all the American continent from Mexico to Cuba, from California to New York through the Rocky Mountains. From Panama and Colombia he sent more than 10,000 orchids to Europe, from the Santa Martha region he travelled to R"o Hacha, collecting more than 3,000 Odontoglossum orchids. In the Washington area he collected conifer seeds. He travelled around Peru and the Andes. After a brief visit in his parents home in Bohemia he returned to New York through Liverpool and then to Colorado on August 3, 1872. From the Central American Sierra Madre he sent another 3,500 Odontoglossum orchids. He travelled from Panama to Venezuela, sending 8 tons of orchids to London, and from the Oaxaca (Mexico) more than 10 tons of cacti, agave and orchids. From Peru he brought back more than 10,000 different plants.

Despite the loss of a hand, Roezl travelled the world and discovered over 800 species of orchids, with more than forty named in his honour. He was usually accompanied by some of his relatives. Some of them later remained in the Americas, helping him to continue in the business after he returned to Bohemia in 1875. He settled in Prague, selling exotic species around Europe and becoming the first president of the Flora botanical society and the founder of the first Czech botanical magazine Flora in 1880. On the end of his life he was honoured by the Order of St. Stanislaus given to him by the Russian tzar. Similar proposal of the Belgian government did not arrive on time, as Roezl died in 1885 in Prague. His burial was attended by the Austrian emperor himself. In 1898 he was honoured by a statue, still standing on Prague's Charles Square.

Among the orchids named in his honour are:

Other plants named in his honour:

The standard author abbreviation Roezl is used to indicate this individual as the author when citing a botanical name. His first name is often misspelled as Benedict (instead of the correct Czech spelling Benedikt).

Contributed by:

Ian Edwards

External Links:

Google, Google Images, Flickr