Hermann Wendland (1825-1903)

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Wendland was a German botanist and horticulturist who was the third generation in a family of gardeners to the court of Hannover and who became a major figure in Central American botany. Born at Herrenhausen near Hannover, he became a skilled gardener, trained at the Botanic Gardens of Gottingen and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. After his father's death in 1870 Wendland became the director of the Royal Gardens at Herrenhausen. His interest in palm botany began in 1854 with his publication of a list of palms being cultivated in European collections. In the years 1856 and 1857 he travelled through Central America (Guatemala, El Salvader, and Costa Rica), collecting herbarium specimens and live plants of the large monocots such as palms, Araceae and Cyclanthaceae.

Many species of the large monocots are typified by Wendland specimens, although mostly described by other authors. Today, there is hardly an aroid genus in Central America without a species called wendlandii. His palm collections were treated hy various authors: Geonoma by Richard Spruce; Bactris by Max Burret; Chamaedorea by Udo Dammer. While some specific names like Bactris wendlandiana, Chamaedorea wendlandiana and Geonoma wendlandiana have been superseded, his name is commemorated in the Australian species Hydriastele wendlandiana, and in the palm genus Wendlandiella (the suffix -ella distinguishing it from another genus Wendlandia, a shrub named after his grandfather). Wendlandiella gracilis is the only species in the genus, a dwarf understorey palm from the western Amazon region.

Wendland is credited with having brought many now familiar house plants into cultivation for the first time. Among the most notable are Anthurium scherzierianum (the Flamingo Flower), which he found in Costa Rica, and the African Violet, Saintpaulia ionantha, named for Baron von Saintpaul who introduced it from Tanzania. The orchid and palm collections established by the Wendland family at the Royal Gardens in Herrenhausen were among the best ever formed, indeed the palm collection reputedly surpassed that at Kew. The Palm House, built in 1880, was, at 30m., the tallest in Europe. Unfortunately it was completely destroyed by bombing in 1944.

His collecting trip to Central America was followed by intense taxonomic study of palms from all over the world, particularly tropical America, Africa and Australia, using conserved specimens as well as live plants at Kew, Hannover and Gottingen. He became the acknowledged authority on palms, collaborating with many botanists and collectors actively working in the tropics (such as von Warscewicz). He carried on a correspondence and seed-exchange not only with other European institutions, but also with other botanists. Many of his taxonomic works remain the standard references and his name is associated with more palm genera than any other botanist. In total Wendland named some 130 palm species including Bismarckia nobilis, Hyophorbe verschaffeltii, Licuala grandis, Ptychosperma macarthurii, Reinhardtia gracilis, and Washingtonia robusta.

Tropical plants, including palms, were hothouses favourites in the great European botanic gardens like those at Kew, Paris, Berlin, Munich and Vienna, and the private gardens of noted personages like Borsig, Decker, Arenberg, van Houtte and Loddiges, whose names appear in many palm species. Wendland had a lifelong interest in the genus Chamaedorea, and although those from his own collections had been described by others, he in turn described many new species from cultivated plants collected by others and grown either in his own collection of Chamaedoreas at Herrenhausen, or in other European gardens. They included now familiar species like C. ernesti-augustii, C. geonomiformis, C. glaucifolia and C. klotzschiana.

In conjunction with Oscar Drude, another renowned palm botanist, Wendland published the first detailed treatment of Australian palms in Palmae Australasica, in the journal Linnaea in 1875. He named Archontophoenix cunninghamiana and Arenga australasica.

Contributed by:

Ian Edwards

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