JAKOB ERNST VON REIDER—PROLIFIC WRITER
By Wayne L. Handlos, Ph.D.
von Reider His books (2 of 85) His hot-bed design (1 of many interests) including
Pelargonium P. Metternichianum P. Lemmel P. ‘Roi des Pays bas’ …
Who was Jakob Ernst von Reider? Some time ago, while “surfing the web,” I
stumbled across the name of Jakob Ernst von Reider and shortly thereafter I found
some illustrations from his books. After “googling” his name I came upon a bit of
information about him. He lived, worked and died in Bavaria, Germany. His basic
information indicated that he died in December of 1853. His birth date proved to be
more elusive and seems to have been 19 Apr. 1784. His occupation was listed as
district court judge and landowner. Then there was a list of his publications.
The most inclusive website (Deutsche Biographie, an equivalent of Wikipedia) listed
some 49 publications (all in the German language). This site indicated, in
translation, that “he was one of the most prolific writers on agriculture and
horticulture.” Even if you don’t know German, certain words jump out: Gartenbau,
Kultur, -pflanzen, Blumen, Gärten, Wein, Botaniker, Azaleen, Cactus, Calceolarien,
Lilien, Rhododendron, Oleanders, Hyacinthen, Tulpen. Surely these words are
similar enough to English to pique ones interest. Nothing apeared to be of particular
interest to the “pelargoniste.” Further research turned up titles which were much
more suggestive, botanically, that is. I took out the old German dictionary to find
out the meaning of titles like Beschreibung aller bekannten Pelargonien and
Abbildung von fünf und zwanzig und Beschreibung von hundert der neuesten und
merkwürdigsten Pelargonien. I discovered that these translate as “Descriptions of
all known Pelargoniums” and “Illustrations of 25 and Descriptions of 100 of the
newest and most remarkable Pelargoniums.” And all of this from 1829!!! Can this
Living in our current times—where everything is the “newest”, the “greatest” and
the “most comprehensive” - was I just looking at 19th century hype? Was I going to
plow through a lot of German words (in old German script) only to find that there
was not really much there. Had modern advertising made me so cynical? Almost,
but not quite. I would give it a shot.
If you don’t know Google Books, you should learn about this search feature.
This is the source of literature for your Kindle, Nook, I-Pad, etc. Or you can
download to your computer, for free, all kinds of fascinating things—including
the two volumes named above relating toPelargonium. The general downside—
all of von Reider’s publications are printed in the Old German Script
(named Fraktur)—which at first glance is all but indecipherable. There are lots
of swirls, curlicues and tiny appendages—to say nothing of the fact that certain
letters are nearly indistinguishable. The good news is that theAbbildung has
pictures of25 Pelargoniums. That doesn’t rival Andrews, Sweet and Trattinnick
but it does show us what was on the market in 1829/30. Further investigations
showed that this was only Volume One. Antiquarian booksellers indicated
that there was a second volume with another 25 plants and 100 more descriptions
of the “newest and most remarkable”Pelargoniums in 1830. (The
two volumes bound together are available for between $2,753 and $6,218 from
rare book sellers.) While this second volume does not appear to be available
on-line just now, it will very likely be there some day. So that puts von Reider’s
total at 50 illustrations and 200 descriptions, no small contributions to the
But, wait! There’s more, as they say in the TV commercials. What about that
“all knownPelargoniums”? Good news. In 347 pages, it includes descriptions
of 635 taxa (different named things—species, hybrids, variants). Bad news.
There are no pictures and, again, that dreadful German script. Good news. If
you can decipher the script, there is an immense amount of information there.
Generally, von Reider described the height, leaf size, color, number of flowers
per inflorescence, size and color of all flower parts. Specifically, underP. acetosum
he lists three color forms (bright red, whitish, pale red). He notes thatP.
alchimilloidesis the correct spelling for P. alchemilloides. He recognizes only
one type ofP. peltatum. There are 15 varieties of P. inquinans and between
15 and 20 variations ofP. zonale (including leaf and flower color differences,
variegated leaves, and double flowers). What’s new?
In addition, while sorting through von Reider’s publications we find, beginning
in 1825, a series of books titledAnnalen der Blumisterei …, which ended in
1836, after 12 volumes. In addition to a lot of words (in old German script),
there are beautiful and beautifully hand-colored engraving of many flowering
plants including 25 morePelargoniums. He illustrated numerous other plants,
particularly beautiful specimens newly available in Europe. These volumes
include many more description ofPelargoniums and their culture.
He authored other books that covered such plants as hyacinths, wallflowers
(Cheiranthus), stocks (Levkojen), roses, camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons,
carnations/pinks (Nelken), primroses (Aurikeln/Primeln), cactus, calla, calceolaria,
lilies, dahlias (Georginen, doubles were the rage in England too), peonies,
amaryllis, oleanders, hydrangeas (Hortensien), and chrysanthemums.
In these works he generally described the plant culture and requirements, propagation
as well as the various types available. Each book covered two or more
groups of plants, in combinations that defy my logic. Maybe he was a great marketer?
The title for one of his books translates as “The real secrets for growing
pineapples in hotbeds, asparagus of unusual thickness, horseradish holding the
most flavor, the biggest cauliflower, melons without hotbeds …”
If we follow up on von Reider’s other titles (with a German dictionary or the
“translate” feature on your browser), you find numerous writings on many aspects
of agriculture (Landwirtschaft), horticulture ( Gartenbau or Gartenkunst) and floriculture
In the horticultural field he wrote books (handbooks or pamphlets might better
describe them) on hops (Hopfen; it was Germany and hops for beer were crucial),
teasel (Kardendistel), tobacco (Tabak), flax (Flachs), hemp (Hanf), fruit trees
(Obstbaum), asparagus (Spargel), rosemary, strawberries (Erdbeeren), grapes and
wine (Wein), mulberries, coffee and sugar substitutes, pineapples, and dye plants,
among others. On the agricultural side, he wrote about bees and beekeeping, fish,
wild animals (and their effect on cultivated plants), veal, chickens, ducks, geese
and sheep. He also included a plan for a glass covered and stove-heated hotbed in
his book on the importance and use of hotbeds. Not finished there, he wrote a
book on nature study for youth which included information onPelargonium
among many other plants.
Here was a person who pulled together vast amounts of information aboutPelargoniums;
he described 835 different ones. He illustrated 75 cultivars that were
growing in Europe and England in the early decades of the 1800’s. A look at the
full range of pictures quickly shows that most of the basic patterns that we expect
to find in today’s varieties of Angels and Regals were present in the plants that
von Reider knew (and were presumably used by the plant breeders from that time
on). With a bit of research, his list of publications now totals 85. More are likely
to be found. For all of this effort, von Reider gets not a mention in the current
literature. You will not find him inThe Joy of Geraniums (Helen van Pelt Wilson,
1965),Geraniums: The Complete Encyclopedia (Faye Brauner), 1001 Pelargoniums
(Hazel Key),Pelargoniums (Diana Miller) and probably all of the
other recent books available onPelargonium. While H.E. Moore, Jr. (various
publications aboutPelargonium), Helen Krauss (Geraniums for Home and Garden,
1955) and Anne Wilkinson (The Passion for Pelargoniums) do mention L.
Trattinnick (another underappreciated, but important chronicler ofPelargonium
featured in the December, 2011 Newsletter of the Central Coast Geranium Society),
none acknowledged von Reider. Neither does he merit attention in the work
of Martyn Rix (The Art of Botanical Illustration, 1981).
While von Reider does not name any new species or cultivars, the taxonomic
world may be forgiven for not taking much note of him, the horticultural world
and the floricultural world which deal primarily with cultivated plants can not be
given the same understanding.