Ernest H. Wilson Expeditions to China, Japan, Korea, Formosa, and Islands
in the Japanese Sea 1899–1919
Ernest H. Wilson made six trips to China, Japan, Korea, and Formosa between 1899 and 1919 to collect rare plants and seeds, ultimately collecting over 100,000 specimens of more than 5,000 species and introducing many new plants into gardens in the West. Wilson’s first two trips were commercial expeditions to China sponsored by the James Veitch and Sons nursery in London. The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, where Wilson learned advanced methods for storing and shipping seeds, sponsored Wilson’s later trips to China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.
Harry Veitch hired Wilson to collect seeds of the rare dove tree (Davidia involucrata) in western China. Wilson found Davidia laeta, a different species, and obtained plant specimens and seeds from western Hubei and eastern Sichuan.
Wilson explored western Sichuan and eastern Tibet, using Leshan, Kangding, and Songpan as bases. He obtained specimens and seeds of the yellow poppywort (Meconopsis integrifolia) as well as a red variety of the plant (Meconopsis punicea).
Charles Sargent of the Arnold Arboretum asked Wilson to travel to Hubei and Sichuan to collect and photograph woody plants. During this trip Wilson first saw the regal lily, Lilium regale.
Wilson collected conifer seeds and the bulbs of the regal lily for the Arnold Arboretum, using Yichang and Chengdu as his bases. In a landslide, he suffered a badly broken leg—an injury so severe that it left Wilson with a limp for the rest of his life.
Wilson studied plants in cultivation, including Japanese cherries; collected conifers and yews; and first saw the dwarf azaleas of Kurume.
In Japan, Wilson collected the dwarf azaleas previously seen in Kurume. In Korea, he met with Dr. T. Nakai, botanist for the Japanese government, and collected in the Diamond Mountains. In Taiwan (then known as Formosa), he studied forests and obtained seeds and living conifers, in particular the rare Taiwania (Taiwania cryptomerioides).
Expeditions and Discoveries Resources on the Wilson Expeditions
Selected Manuscripts and Records in Expeditions and Discoveries
Wilson, Ernest Henry. Ernest H. Wilson Papers. Arnold Arboretum Library of Harvard University, Boston, Mass.
Wilson, Ernest Henry. Leaves from My Chinese Note-Book. Arnold Arboretum Library of Harvard University, Boston, Mass.
Sargent, Charles Sprague. Plantae Wilsonianae: an Enumeration of the Woody Plants Collected in Western China for the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University during the years 1907, 1908, and 1910. Cambridge, Mass.: University Press, 1913–1917.
Veitch, James H. Hortus Veitchii: A History of the Rise and Progress of the Nurseries of Messrs. James Veitch and Sons. London: J. Veitch & Sons, 1906.
The following sources were used in writing this page.
Briggs, Roy W. "Chinese" Wilson: A Life of Ernest H. Wilson, 1876–1930. London: HMSO, 1993.
Connor, Sheila. "The Nature of Eastern Asia: Botanical and Cultural Images from the Arnold Arboretum Archives." Arnoldia. 63:3 (2005): 34–44.
Foley, Daniel J. The Flowering World of "Chinese" Wilson. London: Macmillan, 1969.
Howard, Richard A. "E.H. Wilson as a Botanist." Arnoldia. Part I, 40:3 (May 1980): 102–138; Part II, 40:4 (July 1980): 154–93.
Tozer, Eliot. "On the Trail of E.H. Wilson." Horticulture. 72:9 (Nov. 1994): 50–59.