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Ernest Wilson - explorer and plant hunter

Article Index

  1. Ernest Wilson - explorer and plant hunter
  2. Early life and training
  3. Wilson's first trip to China
  4. Second trip to China
  5. Trips for the Arnold Arboretum
  6. Publications
  7. Further trips
  8. Sources
  9. All Pages

Early life and training

Ernest Henry Wilson was born on 15 February 1876 at Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire, England, the eldest of six children of Henry Wilson, a railway worker, and his wife, Annie (née Curtis).

A photographic portrait of Ernest Henry WilsonPhotographic portrait of Ernest Henry 'Chinese' Wilson.

While he was still a young child, Wilson moved with his family to Monkspath, near Shirley, in Warwickshire. There he attended Shirley Schools [1].

On leaving school at the age of 13, Wilson was apprenticed at the nurseries of Messrs Hewitt of Solihull in Warwickshire. Later, in 1893, at the age of 16, he was employed as a gardener at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, where he worked under W. B. Latham and enrolled in evening classes at Birmingham Technical School, winning the Queen's prize in botany [2].

In January 1897, at the age of 21, Wilson left Birmingham and started work at the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew. A year or so later he began studying to become a teacher of botany at the Royal College of Science in South Kensington.

Soon afterwards, Kew's director, William Thistleton-Dyer, recommended Wilson to the Chelsea-based nursery firm of James Veitch & Sons as someone particularly well-suited to be trained to travel to China in order to collect and bring back seeds. The nursery required seeds of Davidia involucrata, also known as the dove tree or handkerchief tree (originally discovered in 1869 by Abbé Armand David, a French missionary, travelling in China), as well as other seeds and living plants.

Wilson signed a three-year agreement with Veitch on 27 March 1899.