Ernest Wilson - explorer and plant hunter
- Written by Susan Gordon
During World War One, Wilson was again off on plant-hunting expeditions, this time taking his wife and child along.
In January 1914 Sargent sent him to Japan, where he chiefly collected blossoming Japanese cherries as well as Kurume azaleas for the Arnold Arboretum.
After returning to Boston in 1915, Wilson went on to collect in the Japanese islands of Bonin, Liukiu, and Formosa. Two years later he was in north Korea and Taiwan. Over the course of these trips, he gathered seeds, living plants and 30,000 herbarium specimens reflecting some 3,000 species in the region. In 1916, he published Cherries of Japan and Conifers and Taxads of Japan followed, in 1917 by Aristocrats of the Gardens.
After the war, in 1919, Wilson was appointed assistant director of the Arnold Arboretum. A year later he published The Romance of Our Trees and embarked on yet another plant-hunting expedition, this time to Australia and New Zealand, Java, Malaya, India and South Africa. In 1921, he published A Monograph on Azaleas (in collaboration with Rehder).
Wilson returned to the Arboretum a year or so later and from 1922 to 1927 taught there. In 1925, he published Lilies of Eastern China and America's Greatest Garden: the Arnold Arboretum, followed by a second edition of Aristocrats of the Garden in 1926.
In 1927, upon the death of Sargent, Wilson became the Arboretum's keeper. He also wrote other fully illustrated accounts of his travels as well as popular books on gardening such as: Plant Hunting, in two volumes (1927). This was quickly followed by More Aristocrats of the Garden (1928), China, Mother of Gardens (1929), Aristocrats Amongst Trees (1930) and If I Were to Make a Garden (1931) the latter being published posthumously.
On 15 October 1930, Wilson, along with his wife, was fatally injured in a car accident outside Worcester, Massachusetts. Their remains were buried at the Mont-Royal Cemetery in Montreal, Canada.
A Wilson memorial garden in Chipping Camden commemorates his life and the impact his work made on the world of botany and horticulture, through the thousands of new plants and trees he was able to discover and introduce as a result of his plant-hunting adventures.