Journal Number 107
February 2008


By Val Smith

Daniel Oliver (1830-1916)
Pterostylis oliveri

Daniel Oliver was herbarium keeper at Kew during the latter part of the 19th century.

He was born at Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1830, the son of Andrew and Jane Oliver, members of the Society of Friends, and educated at the Friends' School at Wigton. He developed an early interest in natural history, and came into contact with other North Country enthusiasts when he joined the Tyneside Naturalists' Field Club. Later, when Lecturer in Botany in the medical school of the University of Durham, he made "herborising" excursions in the north counties and in Ireland. An early discovery added a new genus to the Irish and British flora, and he also published several short papers on mainly British plants. He was elected a member of the Edinburgh Botanical Society in 1851, and in 1853 the Linnaean Society of London.

In 1858, after writing to Sir William Hooker, he was invited to Kew where he worked energetically and diligently for a pittance on the mechanical work of classifying and elaborating the herbariums and library. He also initiated free lectures on botany and other subjects to the young gardeners of Kew. Officially appointed Keeper of the Herbarium and Library in 1864, he held the position until he relinquished it in 1890. Concurrently, from 1861 to 1888, he succeeded John Lindley as Professor of Botany at University College, London, supplementing his meagre Kew stipend. His many publications ranged from the botany of remote and little known parts of the world to official guides to the Kew museums and gardens, and were written in simple, clear language, within the understanding of all. Daniel Oliver's main scientific work was carried out at the Kew Herbarium, assisted by the contribution of a wide network of collectors, and he became well known as a systematic botanist of the highest order.

However, Daniel Oliver was enchanted as much by the beautiful forms of nature as by their arbitrary grouping for study. His holidays, often in France or in the county of his birth, Northumberland, were largely spent sketching, and his retirement leisure was devoted to gardening, painting in oils and collecting illustrated works of the old masters in botanical literature.

He was a quick, methodical worker with a penchant for punctuality, and although of a retiring nature, had a wide circle of friends. He was averse to personal honours such as medals and other emblems being given for services that he considered duties to God and man, nevertheless had several prestigious awards bestowed upon him.

In describing Pterostylis oliveri, Donald Petrie wrote, "I have much pleasure in dedicating this plant to Professor D. Oliver, F.R.S., of Kew, in acknowledgment of valued assistance in my botanical studies".

After a long life with hardly an illness, Daniel Oliver died in December 1917, at the age of 87, survived by Hannah, nee Wall, his wife since 1861.

Pterostylis oliveri Watercolour by Bruce Irwin

Pterostylis oliveri   Petrie Trans. NZ I.26:270 (1894)

The dorsal sepal is deflexed as in P. patens, but the lateral sepal tips are long and erect, diverging at a narrow angle (ie, not pointing back and down as in P. patens); labellum narrow triangular. Stem sometimes decumbent as shown.

Found in montane to sub-alpine open scrub and low bush. Flowering December to January.
Confined to the South Island. Conservation status: not threatened.




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