"Did the people remember Dr. [Augustine] Henry? Did they know the K'ung-tung (local name of Davidia)? To these and similar questions they pleasantly answered in the affirmative. Would someone guide me to the tree? Certainly!" Recalling E. H. Wilson's search for the dove tree in China in 1899.
Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana
Photograph by Ernest Henry Wilson (1876-1930), American, English
Changyang, Hubei Sheng, China
January 30, 1909
Ernest Henry Wilson (1876-1930) was the furthest traveled of all the Arnold Arboretum’s plant explorers and collectors of the early twentieth century. It is not an overstatement to credit Wilson with bringing Eastern Asian botany, history, and culture to widespread interest in western society, nor to exaggerate the introduction of thousands of Asian plant species to western gardens.
This photograph was among hundreds taken by Wilson during his Third Expedition to China (his first under the official aegis of The Arnold Arboretum). “A good set of photographs are really about as important as anything you can bring back with you,” Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927), the first Director of The Arnold Arboretum, wrote Wilson as he prepared for his journey while living in England. Sargent insisted Wilson take on this journey and on all that would follow, a large format Sanderson whole-plate field camera capable of recording both great detail and broad perspectives without distortion. Wilson turned out to be a considerably talented photographer–and not only has his work endured but it’s also remarkable when you consider the double benefit of The Arboretum’s expeditions: botanical collecting along with visual documentation of cultural landscapes.
Arnold Arboretum Head of the Library and Archives Lisa Pearson explains more about Wilson’s travels in China and his quest for the dove tree.
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