In Abyssinia. Observations on Tigre

The plants

During his many years in Ethiopia, Georg Wilhelm Schimper collected thousands of plant specimens which he sent to his supporters back in Germany, the Unio intineraria in Esslingen, and to many academic institutions in Europe. Eventually they found their way into several academic herbaria in Britain, France and Germany. (See Schimper’s Biography)

A substantial number of over 2000 specimens is held by the herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. They are stamped Herbarium Hookerianum 1867, i.e. came from the famous collections of the British botanist and director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, William Hooker, who donated his private herbarium to Kew under the condition that his son, Joseph Hooker, succeeded him as director of the Gardens. William Hooker died in 1865, his son was appointed as his successor, and the Herbarium Hookerianum was incorporated into the Kew collections in 1867.

Over the past years a substantial number of Schimper’s specimens have been digitised by the Royal Botanic Gardens and made accessible online. However, by no means the whole collection has been digitised. The Schimper edition linked as many plant names as possible to the Kew collection of Schimper’s specimens. These links are presented here in a preliminary index compiled by Professor Sebsebe Demissew, who correlated the names used by Schimper with the modern botanical terminology as well as with the vernacular names used in modern Ethiopia.

The main corpus of the Kew specimens was collected by Schimper in the late 1830s, mostly in 1837 to 1839. The manuscript book and the maps which are presented in this edition are dated from the 1868 and 1864/65 respectively. How and when the plants came into Hooker’s collection seem to have varied. Several seem to have come from different collections. And more plant specimens collected by Schimper in the 1850s and 1860s seem to have ended up in other collections worldwide rather than in Kew. A first impression of the various collections can be gained by the JSTOR Global Plants project (, which shows several hundred digitised Schimper specimens from the 1860s.

Many of Schimper’s specimen give not only the exact date of collection, but also the altitude of the location where they were collected. Many of the plant specimen in the Kew herbarium relate to locations mentioned in this edition. However, this is not always the case, and the editors could not always link systematically the index of plants mentioned in the Schimper text to the Kew herbarium. Some of these plants might have come from other areas of Ethiopia.

This index is therefore still work in progress, and the editors would welcome the interest and help of botanists to improve this section of the edition. It provides us with the unique opportunity to reconstruct Schimper’s collection virtually and link the herbaria not only to his description of the plants in the text, but also to the maps and the locations or at least wider area where he found the plants. Anyone interested in working on this aspect of the edition is welcome to contact the editors.