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  • By Eduard de Vogel
  • Posted July 11, 2016

Botany Department of Naturalis

Naturalis in Leiden, The Netherlands is one of the 5 largest biodiversity institutes in the world. It was formed in 2010 by unification of 3 large institutions: Naturalis (formerly Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie) and the Nationaal Herbarium Nederland (NHN) in Leiden, Utrecht and Wageningen, and the Zoölogisch Museum Amsterdam. The institute maintains c. 37 million samples and individual zoological, botanical and geological specimens.

The Leiden branch of the NHN, earlier known as the Rijksherbarium, and the Hortus botanicus Leiden (HbL) have a long history together. The Hortus was founded in 1590, while the Rijksherbarium dates from 1829. NHN and HbL co-existed for most of their existence as separate institutions but from 1989-1999 they were united in one institute. Always a close cooperation existed between NHN and HbL. The Hortus houses the living plant collections and the Herbarium the preserved collections. Orchids have featured prominently in the history of these institutions, each institute profited from the activities of the other. Together these two botany centers formed the base where the data which form this website were compiled.

The Botany Department of Naturalis

The history of the Leiden herbarium is shorter than that of the Hortus Botanicus, but more complicated.

Originally known as Rijksherbarium, later as Rijksherbarium-Hortus Botanicus, then Nationaal Herbarium Nederland and since 2010 after unification with Naturalis (formerly Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie) and the Zoölogisch Museum Amsterdam known as Botany Branch of Naturalis. The institute maintains c. 37 million samples and individual zoological, botanical and geological specimens.

Carl Ludwig Blume (1796-1862)

The Rijksherbarium was founded in 1829 as an independent national institution housed in Brussels, now Belgium. After a year, during the Belgian uprising against the Dutch government, Von Siebold travelled on horseback to Brussels and rescued the herbarium and spirit collections (mainly his own collections from Japan and Blume's collections from Java) which he transported by tow-boat to Leiden. Later the institute became an institute of the University of Leiden. The first director of the Rijksherbarium was Carl Ludwig Blume (1796-1862).

Before he took up this position, in 1829, Blume had been director of the 's Lands Plantentuin te Buitenzorg (now Kebun Raya Bogor) in Java. During his stay in Java Blume had become thoroughly acquainted with the local orchid flora. In 1825 he published a book, Bijdragen tot de Flora van Java, in which he in brief descriptions described hundreds of local orchid species for the first time. Many orchid genera were established by Blume, including such horticulturally important ones as Phalaenopsis, Arachnis, Spathoglottis, and Dendrochilum. Blume was among the first botanists to describe orchids from New Guinea, such as Cypripedium glanduliferum, now known as Paphiopedilum glanduliferum and Latouria spectabilis, now known as Dendrobium spectabile.

Unfortunately, Blume's descriptions are often extremely sketchy, and some of his New Guinea orchids will remain obscure forever for this reason, as for example Cadetia biloba. After Blume, research on orchids at the Rijksherbarium came to a halt for a long period. The most eminent Dutch orchid specialist of the first half of the twentieth century, Jacobus Johannes Smith, Jacobus Johannes Smith (1867-1947) did most of his work while he was employed at the Buitenzorg herbarium and 's Lands Plantentuin (now Kebun Raya Bogor) in Java. He was a prolific and gifted plant describer who made excellent and very detailed descriptions. He made sure that, whenever possible, duplicates of plants were sent to the Rijksherbarium in Leiden. After his retirement in 1924 he returned to the Netherlands where he continued describing and drawing numerous orchids from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), including 537 new taxa from New Guinea. He became an honorary collaborator of the Rijksherbarium but was never formally a staff member of that institute. His enormous archive is preserved at the NHN; it contains handwritten notes in barely readable script and detailed flower analyses in pencil. His drawings of New Guinea orchids are all digitised and included in this website, and are very often the single illustration of a species. The immense value of the Leiden herbarium for New Guinea orchidology will become readily apparent when one scans the checklist on this CD-ROM and notices how many type specimens are cited as being kept at L (which is the standard acronym for this herbarium). The types of the New Guinea orchids present in Leiden are included in this website.

After the second World War another period followed in which the study of orchids at the Rijksherbarium became dormant. But since 1979 the orchid family has once more become an important subject of research, in which the present authors played a role.

Ed de Vogel

Ed de Vogel was appointed Curator Orchidaceae when he returned in 1975 from his stay in Indonesia where he collected the materials for his PhD on tree seedlings. His orchid work is described in detail on a separate page.

During his Curatorship first Jaap Vermeulen became guest researcher and later André Schuiteman as well. Both worked many years on mainly Southeast Asian orchids.

After retirement of Ed de Vogel the function of Curator Orchidaceae was fulfilled by Jaap Vermeulen, albeit not as a permanent position. Jaap made a major effort to bring the spirit collection in order. Unfortunately after 5 years the position was not continued and orchid taxonomy is at present only conducted by MSc and PhD students, and by the first author of this website as honorary researcher.

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