Ernest Wilson (1876-1930)
An amateur British botanist in China had alerted Kew to the alarming
impact that the charcoal industry was having on the forests of
Yunnan province. Concerned, William Thiselton-Dyer at Kew sent
a trained botanist, 23-year-old Ernest Henry Wilson, to investigate.
‘Of athletic build, and endowed with an indomitable courage
and perseverance’, his mission was not only to botanise
but also to satisfy the horticultural needs of his financier, the
Veitch nursery, for interesting hardy garden plants.
He was to search for one plant in particular, which had been
described but never collected. This was the Handkerchief
involucrata). Following a sketched map and instructions,
Wilson located the valley where the tree was last sighted – only
to find a stump and a newly erected hut built from its timber!
Fortunately he persevered and was later successful.
In all, EH ‘Chinese’ Wilson brought us over 1,000 garden
plants and around 16,000 herbarium specimens, introducing more
plants to Western horticulture than any other collector. His introductions
included the Beauty Bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis), the ‘Wilson
50’ Kurume azaleas, and the magnificent King’s
Lily (Lilium regale), the collection of which very nearly
cost him his life.
Sinowilsonia henryi from central and western
China and many species are named in his honour.
Veitch Memorial Medal 1906
Victoria Medal of Honour 1912
to: John Hutchinson