Capetown and seeds, but not about bulbs

Joe Shaw
Thu, 16 Nov 2006 16:13:01 PST
A Tale of Sturdy Seeds

Jan Teerlink was a Dutch merchant returning to Europe in 1803 after visiting 
Asia on a trading trip.  His ship, the Henriette, stopped in Capetown, South 
Africa for a fortnight and Teerlink went ashore.  He acquired friends, 
artifacts, and other items; among his Capetown-collected booty were seeds of 
32 plant species.  Based upon his notes and the seed packages, it seems 
likely he acquired them at the garden of the Dutch East India Company.

The stage for the garden was set in 1652 when Jan van Fiebeeck and his 
colleagues at the Dutch East India Company established a way station for 
ships coming and going to Asia.  By the early 19th Century the Dutch East 
India Company gardens at Capetown were an important repository of fynbos 
plants, those special plants from the Cape floristic province.  Though it 
has changed in size, scope and mission over the past few centuries, parts of 
the original garden remain; they are known as the Company Gardens.

Thus, in 1803, Jan Teerlink is thought to have acquired his seeds from the 
Capetown gardens of the Dutch East India Company.  After setting out from 
Capetown for Europe, the Henriette was interdicted by British ships.  This 
was during the Napoleonic Wars when the Netherlands was controlled by 
France; the occupied state was known as the Batavian Republic.

War between Great Britain and France was in one of the "on again" phases in 
1803; therefore, when the Henriette (a citizen of the France-controlled 
Batavian Republic) was taken prisoner.  His fate is unclear but his 
belongings were seized and transferred to the British officials.  Inside 
Teerlink's notebook were seeds of 32 different plant species that he had 
collected in during his stay in Capetown.    It is not clear how they were 
stored for most of the past 200 years, but for a time they were placed in 
the Tower of London.

Eventually the notebook and its contents were returned to the Netherlands 
where they were found a few years ago in the Dutch National Archies, nestled 
between the pages of the notebook.  Based upon carbon dating studies the age 
of the seeds is clearly about 200 years old.

Scientists at the  Millennium Seed Bank at Kew decided to try and germinate 
the seeds.  Three species have been germinated successfully!  After 200 
years, and not so perfect storage, some of the seeds were viable.

One might suppose that seed storage could be enhanced by time aboard ships 
or in the Tower of London.  Or perhaps it can be supposed that the best 
seeds are collected by Dutch traders.

LINK:  Dutch East India Garden, Capetown…

LINK:  BBC News, Seeds 200 years old breathe again…

LINK:  Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Press Release

LINK:  News Article;

LINK:  Millennium Seed Bank

LINK:  Cape floristic province…



Conroe TX

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