During this last summer I travelled to Apollo Bay and crossed von Mueller creek on the way.

It is named for 19th century German botanist Ferdinand von Mueller who, after arriving in South Australia in 1847, moved to Victoria in 1852 to take up the position of director of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens and State Government Botanist. Von Mueller was a prolific collector of indigenous flora all over Australia, producing hundreds of scientific papers and 40 books. He was a main collaborator with English botanist George Bentham to generate the Flora Australiensis, the first (seven-volume) text on Australian plants.

Ferdinand von Mueller Ferdinand von Mueller

He engaged in long, arduous expeditions into the dry interior of South Australia and Northern Territory and traversed rugged mountainous terrain in Victoria and New South Wales. He was responsible for identifying and naming approximately 4000 plants. A diverse range of species bears his name in recognition of his extensive botanical endeavours. They include the Sydney Cypress pine, Callitris muelleri, the reddish Slaty She-oak, Casuarina muellerana, the Yellow Stringybark, Eucalyptus muellerana, Desert Hakea, Hakea muellerana, from the Big Desert area south of the Murray River and Mueller’s Bush- pea, Pultenaea muelleri. Any visitor to the Grampians will recognise the delicate, highly-scented Boronia muelleri.

Boronia muelleriBoronia muelleri

I estimate von Mueller, in his travels across Surf Coast and Otway Ranges areas, first identified about 100 plants across 20 genera in the area.

Edward Kynaston, who wrote a biography of Von Mueller in 1981 entitled A Man on Edge: a life of Baron Sir Ferdinand von Mueller, outlines an eccentric person, difficult to get on with. To a large extent he alienated himself from those in powerful political and public positions in Victoria. So much so that he was removed from his position as Director of the Botanical Gardens, for refusing to lay the gardens out for leisure, choosing rather to follow strict taxonomical formats for the plantings.

While Von Mueller came across as ‘eccentric, egotistical and dull’ (Kynaston 1981) the Australian populace owes a lot to this German- Danish émigré, for he almost single-handedly brought Australian flora to the attention of scientists in Europe during the 19th century. He died in 1896 and is buried in St Kilda cemetery. Without his herculean efforts in collecting, identifying and distributing specimens to Europe, Australia would be scientifically poorer. Think of him whenever you see muellerana or muelleri attached to a plant’s name.

Neville Millen

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