Odds and quads

These are just two of the plant samples, now held by the Museum of Evolution at Uppsala University in Sweden, that Carl Peter Thunberg brought back from his pioneering expedition to Japan in 1775.

March 28, 2013

A favourite pupil of Carl Linnaeus and the greatest botanical explorer of his age, Thunberg (1743-1828) studied medicine in Uppsala and then travelled as a surgeon with the Dutch East India Company on a journey that took him to Japan via South Africa, Sri Lanka and Java.

He thereby acquired almost 28,000 pressed plants, with 731 of his Japanese samples ending up at Uppsala. All are kept in their original sheets of paper in a specially built room. Since they are never lent out, they are inaccessible to most researchers.

This material fed into Thunberg’s classic Flora Japonica (1784), “to a large extent the first description of Japanese plants”, according to the museum’s curator, Mats Hjertson.

Grants have now been provided by Vinnova, the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science to document and digitise the collection. It will eventually be made available in an open online database.

Send suggestions for this series on the treasures, oddities and curiosities owned by universities across the world to matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

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