Joseph Hers

Meet the Explorers

Joseph Hers (1884–1965)

Collector and Photographer of rare Chinese plants

Joseph Hers

Joseph Hers, undated portrait.

Joseph Hers was born in Mamur, Belgium on September 6, 1884. Holding a degree in “Sciences Commerciales et Consultaires,” Hers arrived in China in 1905, employed as an interpreter for the Belgium Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Later he became Secretary General of the Belgian-financed Lunghai and Pienlo railways, and as an assessor at the International Mixed Court in Shanghai. Hers founded the Sino-Belgian Friendship Association in 1915 and established the Sino-Belgian Inter-university Commission. He was president of the Sino-Belgian Commission for Education and Philanthropy and it was in this capacity that he arranged for Chinese students to attend Belgian universities.


Stationed in Chengchow, Hers was superbly situated to collect and photograph rare plants endemic to that region. In a 1919 letter to Sargent, Hers wrote that although his “own knowledge of botany is, I regret to say, very limited, I happen to live in a part of China where very few botanical collections, if any, have been made…” Enclosed with the letter was a list of trees and shrubs that included a number of new species. Hers offered to send “seeds, or cuttings, or photos.” Sargent replied that “this is one of the most important collections of Chinese plants which has been sent to the Arboretum and I am extremely obliged to you.” Between 1919 and 1938, he collected seed and specimens of over 2,000 species, and published papers on cultivated and indigenous woody plants of Northeastern Asia. After World War II, he remained in Belgium where he continued his interest and connection with China as General Secretary of the Association Belge pour l’Extreme–Orient, a position he retained until his death in 1965.

Search the VIA image database for Hers’s photography.


Joseph Hers (1884-1965) papers, 1919-1992 [pdf].

Index of Botanical Specimens collected by Hers [Harvard University Herbaria].