Australian Orchids and the Doctors they Commemorate Part 4 of 20

Continuing Professor John Pearn’s article

Part 4

The first orchids scientifically named in the Pacific were species in the genus Thelymitra J.R.Forst. & G.Forst., a taxon raised and coined by the Forsters — the irascible Johann Reinhold Forster (1729–1798), and his son Georg Forster (1754–1794), who was 18 years old when they left on Cook’s second voyage of 1772 to 1775. The Forsters collected Thelymitra longifolia in the South Island of New Zealand in 1772 and published the name of the species in 1776. The Forsters described and named nine new species in what they termed the “Class of Orches” in the South Pacific. Georg Forster graduated in medicine in Vilna (now Vilnius, Lithuania) in 1784. Species of Thelymitra, which are known as the Sun Orchids, are found mainly in the south-west of Western Australia.

It should be noted that Thelymitra are found both in the east, central and the west of southern Australia.

Australian Orchids and the Doctors they Commemorate Part 3 of 20

To learn a little more about some of the orchids Professor John Pearn has mentioned, click on the links

Part 3

Early orchidology in the Asia–Pacific region

The fleshy pseudobulbs (thickened stems that serve as storage organs) of orchids have been eaten and used medicinally by Indigenous Australians for thousands of years. The first Australian orchids brought to the attention of Western science were three species of Dendrobium (D. discolor Lindley [described by John Lindley]; D. canaliculatum R.Br. [described by Robert Brown]; and D. rigidum R.Br. [described by Robert Brown]) that were collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander at the Endeavour River between 17 June and 3 August 1770. Solander had trained in medicine and botany under Linnaeus in Uppsala (Sweden) and, after 1759, in London (England). One of the plant species named after him is the Australian orchid Orthoceras solandri (also known as Orthoceras strictum).

Australian Orchids and the Doctors they Commemorate Part 2 of 20

In continuing this series of Professor John Pearn, links have been provided for the genera or species mentioned.  In this group most of them are from limited locations in Queensland.

Orchids named after medical professionals

Sixteen doctors who practised medicine and/or botany in Australia have their names recorded in the scientific names of 24 indigenous orchids of Australia. In addition, one separate species (Thelymitra flexuosa, also known as Thelymitra smithiana) and five genera of indigenous Australian orchids record the names of European doctors, pharmacologist–pharmacists or herbalists. The five genera are Burnettia Lindl. (described by John Lindley in 1840), a monospecific genus; Cadetia Gaud. (described by Charles Gaudichaud-Beaupré in 1829); Goodyera R.Br. (described by Robert Brown in 1813); Robiquetia Gaud. (described by Charles Gaudichaud-Beaupré in 1829); and Vrydagzynea Blume (described by Carl Ludwig Blume in 1858).

The Lizard Orchid, Burnettia cuneata, blooms in eastern Australia and Tasmania; it commemorates Gilbert Thomas Burnett (1800–1835), surgeon and foundation professor of botany at King’s College London.

In the genus Cadetia (delicate white orchids), four species are named after the apothecary of the French imperial court, Charles-Louis Cadet de Gassicourt (1769–1821) — C. collinsii, C. maideniana, C. taylori and C. wariana. They commemorate his life and works as an apothecary, soldier, scholar, writer, scientist and researcher.

The genus Goodyera is named after the 17th century herbalist John Goodyer (1592–1664).

Robiquetia commemorates Pierre Jean Robiquet (1780–1840), a French pharmacist, organic chemist, professor and foundation member of the Académie royale de Médecine (1820). He was the first to describe an amino acid (asparagine) (1806), and he characterised caffeine (1821) and discovered codeine (1832).

One species out of the 40 species of the Tonsil Orchids, Vrydagzynea grayi, grows in Australia. A rare orchid of the Daintree rainforest in north Queensland, it commemorates Theodore Daniel Vrydag Zynen (fl. 1850), a Dutch pharmacologist and contemporary of one of the most famous doctor–orchidologists, Karl Ludwig Blume (1796–1862). The Twisted Sun Orchid, Thelymitra flexuosa, commemorates the Norwich physician and friend of Joseph Banks, Sir James Edward Smith (1759–1828). When he was 25 years old, Smith took the decisive action to buy the great Linnean collection of plants, which were in danger of being lost to science following the death of Linnaeus’s son in 1783. Smith bought them when they were offered for sale in 1784. In conjunction with the bishop of Carlisle, he founded the Linnaean Society of London and was its first president. In 1798, he raised the new genus, Diuris, which is one of the first taxa of Pacific orchids to be described. The Lilly Pilly, Syzygium smithii, is another of his six botanical memorials.

Australian Orchids and the Doctors they Commemorate Part 1 of 20

Back in 2013, Professor John H Pearn, Emeritus, School of Medicine, University of Queensland wrote a five page article about medical doctors who were Australian orchidologists.  This was published in the Medical Journal of Australia.  My intention is to post direct quote extracts from his article.

First …..

Thank you, John Pearn for giving permission to post

Now to begin …….., at the beginning….. of course …………

Orchidaceae is the largest family of flowering plants. Orchids grow in habitats ranging from subalpine niches to the tropics, and they produce some of the most beautiful, varied and intriguing flowers. Of the more than 1300 genera and 33 000 species, more than 1300 named taxa of orchids, in 193 genera, grow in Australia.

The word “orchid” is from the Greek word orchis  (meaning testicle), which reflects the appearance of the  root tubers in some species. According to the “doctrine of signatures” –  a 16th century herbalist philosophy  which states that herbs resembling body parts can be used to treat those body parts – orchids were used continuously from preliterate times as aphrodisiacs and as medicaments to restore virility. Theophrastus (c. 372–288 BC) wrote about the medicinal value of orchids, as did Paracelsus (1491–1541) and Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778), the father of modern botanical taxonomy.  As a child, Linnaeus recorded details of his personally collected orchid specimens in his notebook, in which he wrote “Orchis from testiculus, through which its effects should occur”.

Orchid extracts such as vanilla (from Vanilla planifolia) and salep (from Orchis mascula and Orchis militaria) are used commercially in ice-cream, confectionery and medicinal flavouring agents. Crawley root preparations (from Corallorhiza odontorhiza) are used in folk medicine for their diaphoretic and antipyretic properties. In Australia, orchid preparations have been and continue to be used by Indigenous healers to treat diarrhoea and skin infections. Lieutenant (not yet Captain) James Cook used powdered orchid root as part of his method for preserving the health of his crew.

The physical manifestations of orchids, such as their flowers and the medicines and flavourings derived from them, are ephemeral. But the scientific names of orchids endure, and many perpetuate the lives and works of those who have contributed to medicine since the time of Aristotle. Here, I describe indigenous orchids of Australia whose scientific names commemorate doctors who worked in Australia, encapsulating a library of Australian medical history. These orchids comprise a monumentum aere perennius (monument more lasting than bronze) — a phrase coined by Horace in Book III of his Odes when referring to his own literary work.

To be continued ……………

Orchidologist John Lindley (1799 – 1865)

John  Lindley (1799 – 1865), who named Thelymitra crinita, mentioned in a previous post, was one of the world’s earliest orchidologists and has been described as the Father of Modern Orchidology (Pridgeon, p.1). Having no formal university education, his career began under Sir Joseph Banks as assistant-librarian. He eventually rose to Professor of Botany, University College, London, amongst his many other numerous official duties and public activities. It was the result of Lindley’s work and involvement with a group of other likeminded men that Kew Garden was saved from destruction and Corn Tax was repealed at the time of the great Irish potato famine.

Although orchids were not his only area of  interest they were his passion and the common name ‘orchid’ was introduced by him in 1845.  Lindley became involved with the naming of orchids at a time when the western world was discovering the wealth of the orchid world and his subsequent work on orchids was prodigious. He personally examined and named thousands of species specimens, with one author stating that Lindley named over 6,000 orchid species, establishing over 120 genera. Notably he wrote three major orchid works Genera and Species of Orchidaceous Plants (1830 – 1840), Sertum orchidaceum (1838), and Folia orchidacea (1852-1855). He also wrote for the general public and one delightfully readable textbook was Ladies’ Botany or A Familiar Introduction to the Study of the Natural System of Botany Volume I and II (1834–1837).

Though not referring specifically to South Australia, he lamented  “that there are  still, however, many species from the East and North Coast (of Australia), with which he has no acquaintance”  [sic]. As far as I can determine none of our endemic orchids were named by him.

Lindley,  J.  (1830).  The  genera  and  species  of orchidaceous plants /by John Lindley. Retrieved 30 Apr  2014,  from

Lindley, J. (1839).  Appendix to the first twenty-three volumes of Edwards’s botanical register : consisting of a complete alphabetical and systematical index of names, synomymes and matter, adjusted to the present state of systematical botany, together with a sketch of the vegetation of the Swan River colony ( London: James Ridgway.

“Lindley, John”. (2008). Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography  Retrieved 30 Apr. 2014, from

Pridgeon, A. (2005). Blue Plaque for John Lindley’s Home [Electronic Version]. Orchid Research Newsletter 46, 1. Retrieved 8 May 2014, from

Australian Orchids & the Doctors they Commemorate Part 14 of 20

Richard Sanders Rogers (1862 – 1942)

An Adelaide physician, doctor-soldier and forensic pathologist who described 82 new orchid species (66 from Australia).


Diplodium rogersii (= Pterostylis rogersii) or Curled Tongue Shell Orchid

Prasophyllum rogersii or Marsh Leek Orchid

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