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Richard Spruce 1864
taken upon his return from Brazil

Richard Spruce (10 September 1817 – 28 December 1893) was an English botanist specializing in bryology. One of the great Victorian botanical explorers, Spruce spent 15 years exploring the Amazon from the Andes to its mouth, and was one of the first Europeans to visit many of the places where he collected specimens.[1] Spruce discovered and named a number of new plant species, and corresponded with some of the top botanists of the nineteenth century.

The plants and objects collected by Spruce (mostly in Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru) from 1849 to 1864 form an important botanical, historical and ethnological resource, and have been indexed at the New York Botanical Garden, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, at Trinity College Dublin, and at the University of Manchester.[2] Towards the end of his expedition through South America, Spruce studied indigenous cultivation of cinchona in the Andes of Peru, then successfully exported seeds and young plants as requested by the government of India. The plant was cultivated to produce quinine, a drug used to prevent malaria.[3][4]


Early life and CareerEdit

Richard Spruce was born near Ganthorpe, a small village near Castle Howard in Yorkshire. After training under his father, a local schoolmaster, Spruce began a career as a tutor and then as a mathematics master at St. Peter's School, York.[5]

As a child, Spruce "showed much aptitude for learning, and at an early age developed a great love of nature. Amongst his favourite amusements was the making of lists of plants, and he had also a great liking for astronomy." In 1834, at age 16, Spruce drew up a neatly written list of all of the plants he had found on trips around Ganthorpe, focusing on bryophytes. Arranged alphabetically and containing 403 species, the gathering and naming was Spruce's first major contribution to local botany. Three years later he had drawn up a "List of the Flora of the Malton District" containing 485 species of flowering plants. Several of Spruce's localities for the rarer plants are given in Henry Baines (botanist)'s Flora of Yorkshire, published in 1840.[6]

This early interest in botany led to his being sent on a collecting trip in the Pyrenees in 1845-6. In 1849 he followed Alfred Russel Wallace and Henry Walter Bates to the Amazon Basin, collecting more than 30,000 plant specimens there and in the Andes during the next 14 years. After returning to England he wrote The Hepaticae of the Amazon and the Andes of Peru and Ecuador.[7]

Memorial on the house in Coneysthorpe (North Yorkshire) where Spruce spent his last years

His paper on "The Musci and Hepaticae of Teesdale",[8] the result of a three-week excursion, showed his skill at locating and identifying rare species. In Baines's Flora of Yorkshire only four mosses were recorded from Teesdale. Spruce increased the record to 167 mosses and 41 hepaticae, of which six mosses and one liverwort were new to Britain.

In April, 1845, he published in the London Journal of Botany descriptions of 23 new British mosses, about half of which he had discovered himself. That year he also published his "List of the Musci and Hepaticae of Yorkshire" in The Phytologist. The list included 48 mosses new to the English flora and 33 new to Yorkshire.

Expedition to South AmericaEdit

After proving his skill as a botanist in the Pyrenees, Spruce was sent on an expedition to Brazil by Sir William Jackson Hooker, the director the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, with the prominent botanist George Bentham acting as his broker and distributor of specimens. Spruce arrived at Pará on board the Britannia on 12 July 1849, later joining two other young naturalists on their ongoing collecting and geographical expedition in Santarem: Alfred Russel Wallace and Henry Walter Bates. Both well known for their work on natural selection in plants, animals, and insects, Wallace and Bates traveled along the tributaries of the Amazon, occasionally crossing paths with and sharing information with Spruce. Within the first two years of his expedition, Spruce trekked along the full length of the river Trombetas to British Guiana, crossing over the Rio Negro to Manaos.

Selected publicationsEdit

  • Spruce, Richard (1908). Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon & Andes: being records of travel on the Amazon and its tributaries, the Trombetas, Rio Negro, Uaupés, Casiquiari, Pacimoni, Huallaga, and Pastasa; as also to the cataracts of the Orinoco, along the eastern side of the Andes of Peru and Ecuador, and the shores of the Pacific, during the years 1849-1864. Vol. I-II. Edited by Alfred Russel Wallace. London: Macmillan.
  • Spruce, Richard (1841). "Three Days on the Yorkshire Moors." Phytologist (i): 101-104.
  • Spruce, Richard (1842). "List of Mosses, etc., Collected in Wharfdale, Yorkshire." Phytologist (i): 197-198.
  • Spruce, Richard (1842). "Mosses Near Castle Howard." Phytologist (i): 198.
  • Spruce, Richard (1845). "A List of Musci and Hepaticae of Yorkshire." Phytologist (ii): 147-157.
  • Spruce, Richard (1845). "On Several Mosses New to British Flora." Hooker's London Journal of Botany (iv): 345-347, 535.
  • Spruce, Richard (1846). "Notes on the Botany of the Pyrenees." Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh (iii): 103-216.
  • Spruce, Richard (1850). "Mr Spruce's Voyage to Para." Hooker's Journal of Botany (li): 344-347.
  • Spruce, Richard (1850). "Botanical Excursion on the Amazon." Hooker's Journal of Botany (li): 65-70.
  • Spruce, Richard (1850). "Voyage Up the Amazon River." Hooker's Journal of Botany (li): 173-178.
  • Spruce, Richard (1850). "Journal of an Excursion from Santarem, on the Amazon River, to Obidos and the Rio Trombetas." Hooker's Journal of Botany (li).


  1. ^ Pearson, M. Richard Spruce: Naturalist and Explorer. Hudson History, Settle, Yorkshire. 2004.
  2. ^ Seaward, M. R. D. and S. M. D. Fitzgerald. (eds.) Richard Spruce (1817-1893): Botanist and Explorer. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 1996.
  3. ^ Wallace, A.R. (1894). "Richard Spruce, Ph.D., F.R.G.S." Nature. 49 (1266): 317–319. Bibcode:1894Natur..49..317E. doi:10.1038/049317a0.
  4. ^ "Details - Notes of a botanist on the Amazon & Andes : being records of travel on the Amazon and its tributaries, the Trombetas, Rio Negro, Uaupés, Casiquiari, Pacimoni, Huallaga, and Pastasa; as also to the cataracts of the Orinoco, along the eastern side of the Andes of Peru and Ecuador, and the shores of the Pacific, during the years 1849-1864 / - Biodiversity Heritage Library". Retrieved 2017-01-25.
  5. ^ "Book Review: Two Great Botanists". The Athenaeum. 4273: 335. 1909.
  6. ^ Baines, Henry (1840). The Flora of Yorkshire; With Two Plates. Longman, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Wallace, A. R. (ed) and Spruce, R. Notes of a botanist on the Amazon and the Andes... during the years 1849-1864 by Richard Spruce PhD. 2 vols, cr8vo, Macmillan, London 1908. [the first part of the first volume contains all the text completed by Spruce before his death, and the rest is written by Wallace on the basis of Spruce's notes]
  8. ^ Spruce, R. (1844). "The Musci and Hepaticae of Teesdale". Annals of Natural History. 13 (83): 84, 191–203, 271–283. doi:10.1080/03745484409442593.
  9. ^ IPNI.  Spruce.

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