Wallace’s centenary

Alfred Russel Wallace centenary

Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace, circa 1895. First published in Borderland Magazine, April 1896. London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company.

November 7, 2015 marks the 102nd anniversary of the death of renowned British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Largely credited for conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection independently of Charles Darwin, Wallace travelled widely and advanced theories important to understanding how geographic features affect the evolution of tree and animal species. Indeed, Wallace is often called the “father of biogeography” for his landmark work on the distribution of species, and is also regarded as the pre-eminent tropical field biologist and collector of the nineteenth century.

Wallace’s quotations about trees

“Every one has heard of the rich autumnal tints in Canada and the United States as something of which our [British] woods, beautiful as they are, give hardly any idea. Instead of the yellows and browns of our trees, there is in the American forest every tint from the richest scarlet and crimson to yellow, which, combining in endless varieties, give a splendor to the autumnal landscape which is worth a journey across the Atlantic to behold.”
Epping Forest, 1878

“There is, however, one natural feature of this country, the interest and grandeur of which may be fully appreciated in a single walk: it is the “virgin forest.” Here no one who has any feeling of the magnificent and the sublime can be disappointed; the sombre shade, scarce illumined by a single direct ray even of the tropical sun, the enormous size and height of the trees, most of which rise like huge columns a hundred feet or more without throwing out a single branch, the strange buttresses around the base of some, the spiny or furrowed stems of others, the curious and even extraordinary creepers and climbers which wind around them, hanging in long festoons from branch to branch, sometimes curling and twisting on the ground like great serpents, then mounting to the very tops of the trees, thence throwing down roots and fibres which hang waving in the air, or twisting round each other form ropes and cables of every variety of size and often of the most perfect regularity. These, and many other novel features-the parasitic plants growing on the trunks and branches, the wonderful variety of the foliage, the strange fruits and seeds that lie rotting on the ground-taken altogether surpass description, and produce feelings in the beholder of admiration and awe.”
Letter from Wallace describing Brazil’s rainforests, 1849

“Can we believe that we are fulfilling the purpose of our existence while so many of the wonders and beauties of the creation remain unnoticed around us? While so much of the mystery which man has been able to penetrate, however imperfectly, is still all dark to us? While so many of the laws which govern the universe and which influence our lives are, by us, unknown and uncared for? And this is not because we want the power, but the will, to acquaint ourselves with them. Can we think it right that, with the key to so much that we ought to know, and that we should be the better for knowing, in our possession, we seek not to open the door, but allow this great store of mental wealth to lie unused, producing no return to us, while our highest powers and capacities rust for want of use?”
The Advantages of Varied Knowledge, 1843

Did you know?

Indonesia is split latitudinally by the Wallace Line. In 1859, Wallace noted the differences in mammal and bird species occurring in Borneo and Sulawesi, which he believed represented a transitional zone between Asia and Australia.

Related Links

Full-Text of (Almost All of) Wallace’s Published Writings, compiled by historian Charles H. Smith. [link]

The Alfred Russel Wallace Website [link]

Arboretum Library Holdings

Island life; or, The phenomena and causes of insular faunas and floras, including a revision and attempted solution of the problem of geological climates. New York. 1881. [link]

The Malay archipelago : the land of the orang-utan and the bird of paradise : a narrative of travel, with studies of man and nature. Macmillan, 1902. [link]

A narrative of travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro : with an account of the native tribes, and observations on the climate, geology, and natural history of the Amazon valley. Reeve and Co., 1853. [link]

On Epping forest and how best to deal with it. London, 1878. [link]

Tropical nature, and other essays. London. 1878. [link]