Bayside, New York
January 14, 2002
Michaux was a French botanist who arrived just as the US had declared their independence from England; before that, he had spent time looking for plants that might enrich France. His son was to join him here in a tireless search of new varieties, and eventually, they would both define the Charleston garden.
Michaux started his cultivation of seeds in New Jersey and came to the conclusion that the climate was not ideal for a "large-scale botanical enterprise". Father and son arrived in Charleston in 1786. There he began cataloguing native plants, native such as the magnolia, beauty berry, loblolly bay, witch hazel and yellow trumpet. The Huguenots that had settled in the area welcomed his arrival and invited him to their parties and teas.
Michaux’s farm, which measured 100 acres, was located where Charleston’s airport now lies; there he grew plants and shrubs which he imported from warmer climates, some of his favorites from the Orient. Middleton Place was the recipient of crape myrtles and camellias as a gift from Michaux, which continue to survive today.
His work didn’t stop there: a tireless scientist, he ventured into the Blue Ridge and Cumberland mountains and catalogued seeds he collected of 525 red maples, 190 magnolias, 260 hickories, 112 silver bell trees, 100 hollies, and quantities of mulberry, birch, buckeye and other trees. More curiosity took him as far as Florida, and because of the breadth of his tremendous work, his cataloguing still stands today. Prominent botanists and biologists today consider Michaux to have been the "greatest field botanist ever to collect in the Carolinas, maybe one of the best anywhere. He is still the authority".
His work was intermittently interrupted by problems in the homeland, as the French Revolution was in full gear, and he had been ordered to return from America. Further political complications with the acquisition of the Louisiana territory prevented his return; finally in the summer of 1794, he came back to Charleston and visited Drayton Hall where he gifted Dr. Charles Drayton with a number of exotic plants. . Michaux died in 1802 from a fever he contracted in Madagascar. His son picked up his legacy and published a book called the North American Sylva which became the reference book for forestry practices. Remember Michaux the next time you are enchanted by the fragrance of a tea olive’s fragrance.
Other imports: Gardenia (China), hibiscus (Syria), canna (India), marigolds (Mexico), four o’clocks (West Indies).
From journal Charleston Place - A peerless experience