Wilson, Ernest Henry 1876-1930
Ernest Henry Wilson was born in Gloucestershire, England on February 15, 1876. After some years in school he began work for the Hewitt Nurseries at Solihull, Warwickshire. In 1892 he was asked to come to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and at the same time he studied botany in the Birmingham Technical School where he won the Queen's Prize. At twenty-one years of age he went to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Shortly he became a teacher of botany in the Royal College of Science at South Kensington, now a part of the University of London.
Interestingly the famous firm James Veitch and Sons was seeking a man to explore inland China for the purpose of locating the Dove trio Davidia Involucrata, accounts of which had been sent by Dr. Henry, an earlier plant explorer. Ernest Wilson was assigned this responsibility. Later Wilson sent back many of the collected seeds from his explorations to this nursery among which were these of Meconopsis integrifolia, Astilbe davidi, Pheum alexandrae, Senecio clivorum, Paonia Veitch, and Clematis Montam rubens.
At the beginning of his trip the elder Veitch reportedly said to him, "My boy, stick to one thing you are after and do not spend time and money wandering about. Probably almost every individual plant in China has now been introduced into Europe." This set of directions are interesting in view of the fact that Wilson himself subsequently introduced from China at least 1500 plants hitherto unknown.
Wilson decided to start on his journal by visiting America where he established two lifelong friendships, one with Professor Charles Sargeant and one with Jackson Dawson. Most of his time in America was spent in Arnold Arboretum and the beautiful gardens of Professor Sergeant in Brookline.
He returned to England in 1902 and married again in 1903 he went back to China and returned in 1905. He became a botanical assistant at the Imperial Institute in London. Very shortly Professor Sergeant asked him to return to China on behalf of the Arnold Arboretum. In January 1907 he started for China on this trip designed especially to locate trees and shrubs of value to American gardens
A fourth exploration to China was initiated by the Arnold Arboretum with which he was now definitely employed. In this exploration he found many of the Chinese introductions including the Royal Lily, Sargeant's Lily, and the Wilmott Lily. He also introduced Henry's Lily and Lilium davidi was rediscovered.
He returned in 1911 and then set off to Japan to collect Japanese cherries. In 1915 he returned to the Arboretum with 63 named forms of these cherries. In 1917 and 1918 he went back to Asia, exploring in Korea and Formosa. Upon return to the Arnold Arboretum in 1919 he was appointed Associate Director. Three years later he set off for Australia, New Zealand, India, Central and South America and East Africa. These expeditions involved 2 years. In 1927 he became Keeper of the Arnold Arboretum with a marvelous record of plant explorations for which to be very proud. He had collected and introduced into cultivars a greater number of plants than any other collector.
Plantae Wilsonianae (with Alfred Rehder) 1911-1917
A Naturalist in Western China 2 vol. 1913
The Cherries of Japan 1916
The Conifers and Taxads of Japan 1916
A Monograph of Azaleas (with Alfred Rehder) 1921
The Lilies of Eastern Asia 1925
America's Greatest Garden (Arnold Arboretum) 1925, 1926
Plant Hunting 2 vol. 1927
More Aristocrats of the Garden 1928
China - Maker of Gardens 1929
Aristocrats of the Trees 1930
The China Mother of Gardens is stated "to be the most comprehensive authority and readable book on China horticulture, botany and physical characteristics" (Farrington, Edward I, Secretary, Massachusetts Horticultural Society, 1931).
In recognition of his service to horticulture he received many awards such as the Victoria Medal of Honor of the Royal Horticultural Society of London in 1912 and the Veitch Memorial Medal, The George Robert White Memorial Medal of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received an honorary M.A. degree from Harvard University and the D. Sc. degree from Trinity College, Connecticut. Over 100 plants introduced by Wilson received the First-Class Certificate or Awards of Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society of London. Sixty species and varieties of Chinese plants bear his name.
Unfortunately he was killed at Worcester, Massachusetts, on October 15, 1930, when the automobile in which he was riding skidded on a slippery road and dropped 40 feet over an embankment. Mrs. Wilson was killed in the same accident. His one daughter is married to Dr. George L. Slate, pomologist of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva, New York.