Heinrich Zollinger

Explorer and Botanist, Feuerthalen, Switzerland, 1818 - 1859

Heinrich Zollinger’s family came form Fällanden to Feuerthalen, where he was born on the 22nd of March 1818. He trained as a schoolteacher in Küsnacht, and in 1837 went to Geneva to study botany. After teaching school in Herzogenbuchsee (where he met his wife) and in Horgen, the Dutch government appointed him in 1841 as official plant collector, and he was sent to Java in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). He spent several years exploring and collecting plants there, and in early 1847 Heinrich Zollinger was able to visit the volcano Mont Toombera (mis-spelling intentional), which had catastrophically exploded in 1815. He was the first explorer to climb to the still smoking remnants of the volcano, where he studied the geology of the eruption, as well as the recovery of plant life in the aftermath. On the rim he measured the height at about 9,000 ft above sea level, when the original height of the volcano before the eruption had measured 13,000 ft ! Later in 1847 he was recommended to become Curator of the “Buitenzorg Botanical Gardens” in Holland. But when the position was awarded to a Dutch botanist instead, he returned to Switzerland, where he was appointed Director of the Teachers Training College in Küsnacht in July 1848.

By 1855 Heinrich Zollinger was planning a second expedition to Indonesia, this time as an independent botanist and plant collector. In order to finance the trip, he had created a prospectus that offered to send a number of rare plant specimens to collectors, if they were willing to subscribe his expedition with 200 Swiss Francs. In order to offset the potential loss to his subscribers if he were to die during the expedition, he insured his life high enough to fully refund the subscriptions. While in Java once more he also became deputy director of a Dutch East Indian company who intended to set up coconut plantations there. He seemed to have ample time to explore aside from his official duties, as he continued to send collections of plants back to Switzerland and Holland. But he fell ill during an expedition to Kandangan in Java, and he died there on the 19th of May 1859.

Heinrich Zollinger was widely recognized for his excellent power of observation, combined with a clear and concise definition of any given problem. His collections came into the possession of botanists in Solothurn, Switzerland and the herbarium in Paris But his foremost collection is now housed in the Dutch National Herbarium at the Universities of Leiden and Utrecht. In this collection he is credited with having provided over 270 specimens, while at the same time over 20 species of plants, seaweeds and mushrooms bear the name “zollingerii” as part of its Latin designation. Aside from botany, Heinrich Zollinger also is credited with publications on geology, meteorology and on molluscs.

Because Heinrich Zollinger spent all his collecting time in the Dutch East Indies, certainly spoke fluent Dutch, and was for a considerable time in the service of the Dutch colonial government, he has always been considered a Dutch citizen, and the fact that he was Swiss is rarely recognized. Although there is a plaque dedicated to him at the Zürich Botanical Gardens, his name is only recognized today by but the most knowledgeable botanists.


Reference: Biography from the Internet

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