Ernest Henry Wilson

E H Wilson E.H.Wilson

Ernest Henry Wilson (1876-1930 ) was born in the Cotswolds and became an apprentice at Hewitt's nursery in Solihull, prior to moving to the Birmingham Botanic Garden. He was a student at Kew when W.T. Thiselton-Dyer, then Director, put him forward to go to China in an expedition for the Veitch nurseries.

Wilson left Liverpool in 1899 towards America, where he stopped at the Arnold Arboretum and met Charles Sargent, with whom he continued to collaborate throughout his career. Once in Yunnan, Wilson was supposed to meet up with Henry, another plant collector, who was going to help him find the amazing handkerchief tree ( Davidia involucrata ), known then from one single tree at a single location. Showing incredible determination and ability to plan and lead the expedition, he finally found many specimens of the handkerchief tree, alongside new species of Acer, Betula, Viburnum, Clematis, Rhododendron and Camellia .

He returned to England in 1902, where Sir Harry Veitch was very impressed with the quality and variety of the new collections. During this brief visit to England Wilson married Hellen Ganderton, but soon was off to China for a second two-year long expedition, this time sailing up the river Yangtze towards Ichang. He made four more trips to China covering thousands of miles, and had a secondment in Boston where he worked with his specimens together with Sargent at the Arnold Arboretum., and published his book, 'A Naturalist in Western China', and in 1914 he travelled, together with his wife and daughter, Muriel Primrose, through Japan. After this he made his final field trip, again together with his family, in 1917, this time to Japan and Korea, returning in 1919.

With the death of Sargent in 1927, Wilson became his successor at the Arnold Arboretum, and never fulfilled his plans to retire to Gloucestershire because of a tragic accident. Wilson and his wife were killed in a car accident on the 15 th October 1930.


Musgrave, T.; Gardner, C. & Musgrave, W. 1999. The Plant Hunters. Ward Lock Books, London. 224 p.