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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’                                   …                      

  and other plants           Georginen (Dahlia)          Paeonia chinensis

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

be true?

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 to Pelargonium. 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 the Abbildung has

pictures of 25 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

Pelargonium world.

But, wait! There’s more, as they say in the TV commercials. What about that

“all known Pelargoniums”? 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, under P. acetosum

he lists three color forms (bright red, whitish, pale red). He notes that P.

alchimilloides is the correct spelling for P. alchemilloides. He recognizes only

one type of P. peltatum. There are 15 varieties of P. inquinans and between

15 and 20 variations of P. 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 titled Annalen 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 more Pelargoniums. He illustrated numerous other plants,

particularly beautiful specimens newly available in Europe. These volumes

include many more description of Pelargoniums 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 on Pelargonium

among many other plants.

Here was a person who pulled together vast amounts of information about Pelargoniums;

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 in The 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 on Pelargonium. While H.E. Moore, Jr. (various

publications about Pelargonium), Helen Krauss (Geraniums for Home and Garden,

1955) and Anne Wilkinson (The Passion for Pelargoniums) do mention L.

Trattinnick (another underappreciated, but important chronicler of Pelargonium

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.