William Baxter (1787-1836) was a prominent 19th century upper society gardener who collected exotic seeds and cuttings for elite commercial nurserymen in and around London, England, including the director of the centre of British Imperial Botany at Kew Gardens, William Hooker.
Baxter cultivated exotic plants to be used as specimens for illustrations and coloured prints in the popular planters’ magazines of the time, notably Curtis’s Botanical Magazine sold to avid collectors and wealthy clients (this was the golden age of plant curiosities from the New World colonies and, in a pre-photographic world, illustrations and coloured prints of plant specimens were in high demand).
Baxter was commissioned to come to Australia in 1822 to collect the seeds, cuttings and tubers of plants of commercial value. He travelled extensively across south-western Australia, Kangaroo Island, Wilson’s Promontory, and along the southern coast of NSW to Sydney. The cones of Banksia brownii that Baxter collected in King George Sound near Esperance WA, were later named for an early botanist in the same area, Robert Brown. The Bird’s Nest Banksia (Banksia baxteri) collected in the Esperance area was named in Baxter’s honour by Sir Joseph Banks.
The epithet of baxteri identifies many Australian plants in the southern zones. Kunzea baxteri is the popular Scarlet Kunzea from Esperance, WA, and Eucalyptus baxteri is the ubiquitous Brown Stringybark, with a range from SA, including Kangaroo Island, through to southern NSW.
Isopogon baxteri, from the Stirling Range in WA, is a beautiful conebush species with spidery, fluffy, pink flowers and it was a sensation when first grown for display in 19th century England.
Hakea baxteri is a handsome medium shrub with spidery, cream-caramel flowers held tightly within distinctive thick, gingko-like, fan-shaped leaves.
Of special note in our area is the Fringed Everlasting (Chrysocephalum baxteri), a very striking plant with single heads 20–40 mm tall with stiff white bracts around a bright yellow centre. Baxter found specimens growing in the Adelaide Hills and Port Phillip, Victoria. It is found in abundance in the Brisbane Ranges near Anakie Gorge. The long stems make it a very popular nursery plant for rockeries and containers.