1905 Expedition to East Asia


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1905 Expedition to East Asia

J.G. Jack’s 1905 Expedition may not meet our working definition of an Expedition because it was not initially sponsored by the Arnold Arboretum, and was in fact adamantly opposed by then director C.S. Sargent. However, we include it here because this trip was later recognized by Sargent and the Arboretum community to be a significant journey to East Asia, due not only to Jack’s collection of seed and herbarium vouchers from 258 plants, but also his 172 photographs of the plants, landscape features, and buildings from the region. Of particular significance is the fact that Jack’s trip marks the first official Arboretum collecting trip to China, two years before Ernest Henry Wilson would collect on behalf of the institution.

Jack’s life is chronicled in a 2014 Arnoldia article, “John George Jack: Dendrologist, Educator, Plant Explorer” by Lisa Pearson [pdf]. The excerpt below provides an overview of the 1905 journey.

In 1905, John Jack decided to visit Japan, Korea, and China. He hoped that the things he would invariably learn while abroad and the plants he might find would enrich his teaching and the collections of the Arboretum. For some unknown reason, Charles Sargent was opposed to his trip. He refused to pay for any of Jack’s expenses and he docked Jack’s pay of fifty dollars a month for the duration of his six-month leave of absence. Undeterred, Jack left Boston at the beginning of July and arrived in Yokohama at the end of the month. He spent the next month and a half visiting gardens, parks, and forests in the area and made an expedition further afield to Nikko and Lake Chuzenji. He decided to alter his itinerary and pay a visit to Sapporo where he was hosted by Professor Kingo Miyabe, whom he had known many years earlier when Miyabe was a doctoral candidate at Harvard University.

From Japan, Jack sailed to Korea where he spent several weeks exploring the region around Seoul. Unfortunately the Japanese government, which had ruled the country since the end of the recently concluded Russo-Japanese War, would not allow travel out of the area, thus precluding any chance of botanical collections outside of the capitol. Jack then traveled to Shandong, China, and then on to Beijing. There he spent time botanizing with his old friend Frank N. Meyer, who was collecting economic plants for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He returned to Japan in October to spend time with his brother, Milton, and to revisit Lake Chuzenji where he had noted numerous rhododendron and azalea species from which he collected seeds.

He finally sailed for home by way of Naples, Italy, in November, arriving in New York on December 20. Jack considered this trip a success, notwithstanding the recently concluded war between Russia and Japan that hampered his movements somewhat. It cost him some $2,000, so it came as a pleasant surprise when Sargent, in an uncharacteristically apologetic manner, admitted the great value of Jack’s collections and allowed him the $300 in back pay that had been withheld during the trip.

Among the many collections Jack brought back that still remain in the Arboretum landscape is the wonderful bridalwreath spirea (Spiraea prunifolia var. simpliciflora) from South Korea, accession 18283*A, still growing underneath the hickory collection [pdf].

Additional Resources

John George Jack (1861-1949) papers, 1887-1990: Guide. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University [pdf].

2. Sax, Karl “John George Jack. 1861-1949.” Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 30(4) October 1949 [link].