Philipp Franz von Siebold

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Flora-japonica.web.jpg
Title page of Flora Japonica

Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold (February 17, 1796 in Wrzburg - October 18, 1866 in Munich) was a German physician and the first Westerner to teach medicine in Japan. He was a resident physician on Deshima Island Nagasaki from 1823 until 1829. He was noted for his study of Japanese flora and fauna. He conducted research with the cooperation of the interpreters (institutionalised by the Shogun) and Japanese students (Rangaku).

When he was expelled from Japan in 1829, he went to Leiden, where he authored Nippon in 1832 and produced his Flora Japonica in collaboration with Joseph Gerhard Zuccarini. In a specially built glasshouse at his estate 'Deshima' he cultivated the plants he imported from Japan to endure the Dutch climate. Familiar garden-plants like the Hosta and the Hydrangea were first imported by Siebold. From the Hortus Botanicus Leiden (the botanical garden) many of Siebold's plants started their conquest of Europe and from there to other countries. It was not only the Hosta and hortensia, but also the Azaleas, the Japanese butterbur and coltsfoot, the Japanese larch and so on.

He also started the tea culture in Java (a Dutch colony at the time) with smuggled tea plants from Japan. Till then Japan had guarded the trade in Japan very strictly.

Though he is a hero to the Japanese ('Siborut-san'), quite characteristically Siebold is almost unknown to the Dutch or Germans, except among gardeners who admire many of the sieboldi and sieboldiana.

Siebold has been honored quite consistently with some of the finest and most garden-worthy plants in their genera: Primula sieboldii the Japanese woodland primula; the Hosta sieboldii of which a large garden may have a dozen quite distinct cultivars; Viburnum sieboldii; Magnolia sieboldii the under-appreciated small Oyama magnolia; Clematis florida "sieboldii,"; fragrant Malus sieboldii the Toringo Crab-Apple, whose pink buds fade to white; Prunus sieboldii, a flowering cherry; Dryopteris sieboldii a fern with leathery fronds; Sedum sieboldii a succulent whose leaves form rose-like whorls; Tsuga sieboldii a Japanese hemlock, and there are more.

The European tradition of sending doctors with botanical training to Japan was a long one; it began with Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716) a German physician and botanist who was in Japan from 1690 till 1692, sent on a mission by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The Swedish botanist and physician Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1828) who arrived in Japan in 1775 was not actually employed by the VOC.

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