Expeditions and Discoveries Sponsored Exploration and Scientific Discovery in the Modern Age

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.

China, 1899-1902

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.

China, 1903-1905

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).

China, 1907-1909

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.

China, 1910-1911

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.

Japan, 1914-1915

Wilson studied plants in cultivation, including Japanese cherries; collected conifers and yews; and first saw the dwarf azaleas of Kurume.

Japan, Korea, Formosa, and Bonin Islands, 1917-1919

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).

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.