Madagascar Isalo national parkMadagascar

After Madagascar was discovered by Europeans in the early l6th century, the first important botanical work was undertaken by Etienne de Flacourt, a French administrator who arrived in Fort-Dauphin in 1648 and remained until 1655. His keen interest in botany inspired him to create one of the earliest herbaria of Madagascar plants. Some of his original plant labels can still be bund in the Madagascar section of the French National Museum in Paris.

During the next hundred years, knowledge of the island’s botany was increased by some notable trips and publications, but few plants were added to botanical collections. The next great name to appear was that of the French explorer and naturalist Philibert Commerson, a medical doctor. Commerson arrived at the island of Mauritius in 1769 after participating in the famous Bougainville expedition to the Pacific. From August 1770 to January 1771, he explored the eastern and southern coasts of Madagascar, and spent the rest of 1771 on Reunion island.

The botanist and explorer responsible for establishing the genus Angraecum was the Frenchman, Jean Baptiste Geneviéve Bory de St. Vincent, whose work Voyage des quatre principales isles des mers d’Afrique provides much useful and interesting information on Madagascar, Mauritius, and Reunion. His description of the species Angraecum eburneum is precise and detailed.

Another Frenchman, Louis-Marie Aubert du Petit-Thouars (1758—1831), collected extensively in Mauritius, Madagascar and Reunion. He is best remembered for the beautiful drawings included in his books Histoire des vegetaux recueillis dans les trois z’les australes, Mélanges de botanique et de voyages, and Histoire particulière des plantes orchidées recueillies dans Jes trois iles australes de France, de Bourbon, et de Madagascar.

Jean Baptiste Bory de Saint-Vincent was the earliest botanical explorer to display a specific interest in orchids and to describe and draw them. It is significant that a number of his species descriptions have stood the test of time and are still recognized today. He brought his collections back to France in 1802, and they were incorporated in the herbarium of the Paris Museum.

In the second half of the l9th century, botanical exploration was dominate by the monumental work of the Frenchman Alfred Grandidier (1836-1921), whose work was continued by his son Guillaume Grandidier (1873—1957). The older Grandier travelled through many parts of Madagascar between 1865 and 1868 studying almost every aspect of the country.


Hillerman,Fred. Cultivated Angraecoid Orchids . Oregon: Timber Press 1986.