AFRICAN

ORCHIDS

Friedrich Richard Rudolf Schlechter (16 October 1872-16 November 1925)

friedrich richard rudolf schlechterFriedrich richard rudolf schlechterWas born in Berlin, Germany ,on 16 October 1872 .

As a youth he served an apprenticeship as a horticulturist and at nineteen years of age he left Europe for the beginning of botanical explorations that carried him to Africa in 1891 and later to Sumatra , Java , Celebes , Borneo ,New Guinea , the Bismarch Archipelago ,and Australia.

For Nineteen Years after he was continually in foreign lands, collecting botanical specimens and acquiring a constantly expanding knowledge of orchids in their native habitats.

Extensive trips were made to south tropical Africa (including the Yoruba country, the Cameroons and Togoland) in 1895- 1898 as leader of an expedition for the German Colonial Department to investigate the caoutchouc industry. In the summer of 1895 he worked for several weeks in the Department of Botany at the British Museum, having just returned from South Africa. He had made extensive collections there, particularly asclepiads and orchids, and it was chiefly these that he studied during his saty in London. As a result of the expedition, the botanical appendix to his Westafrikanische Kautschuk-Expedition (1899-1900) contained the names of many new plant species.

In 1901-1902 he appeared in German New Guinea, and again visited there in 1906 -1909. Though most of his time was absorbed by economic matters, he made it a point to find some for collecting and studying orchids, with the result that whereas ninety species belonging to thirty two total up to the surprising figure of 1450 species (1102 of which were new) representing 116 genera .Die Orchidaceen von Deutsch -Neu Guinea, the important work stemming from his introductions and discoveries, was published as a large volume of over 1100 pages in 1911-1914.

Between collecting trips Schlechter continued his visits to London, stopping in always at the Kew and the British Museum. He was considered an interesting figure, but being no respector of persons or things, he was apt to trod on other people's feelings and sensibilities. He was dogmatic in his convictions, a characteristic which did not assist in making him popular; but on the basis of his achievements and experience, he was accorded great respect.

Throughout his career Schlechter was occupied with the publication of the results of his indefatigable research, and at an early period he set for himself the ambition of describing at least one new species each day. That ambition may have been achieved; it was estimated that he proposed in excess of 1000 new species of orchids alone. Simutaneous with the publication of the results of his findings, and beginning in 1893, his published contributions to systematic botany appeared with regularity each remaining yeat of his life. In those years he produced more than 300 individual papers .His contributions to horticulture and orchidology.

Before World War I he settled in Berlin, where he took his Ph.D. and served as a curator in the Botanical Museum at Dahlem. There he continued his taxonomic work in a large, well-lighted room, surrounded by his cases of herbarium material he had brought with him in 1913. He devoted himself primarily to the orchids of both the Old and New World, including enumerations of those of the Chinese-Japanese regions and various parts of tropical America, and published as Beihefte of Fedde's Repertorium .

Schlechter died at only fifty -three years of age. His untimely death on 16 November 1925, at Berlin -Schoneberg , was thought to have been due to the lingering effects of diseases contracted in the eastern tropics .

The immense collections made by Schlechter were placed in the Botanical Museum at Dahlem, where they continued to grow, becoming one of the finest definitive herbaria of the world. Disaster struck in the form of World war II, however, when on the night of 1 March 1943 the museum was destroy by Allied bombing and the thousands of critical specimens and notes destroyed in a subsequent fire in 1943.

References:

Ames ,Oakes . 1944 . Destruction of the schlechter Herbarium by Bombing . Amer. Orch. Soc .Bull . 13 ,no.4.

Ames , Oakes . 1933. Friedrich Richard Rudolf Schlechter -1872-1925. Amer . Orch. Soc. Bull. 2, no.2.