Charles La Trobe and Ferdinand Mueller

More information has been discovered about the relationship between Charles La Trobe and Ferdinand Mueller, who named a number of plants after La Trobe. La Trobe received a letter of introduction from Francis Dutton, who was a pastoralist and politician in South Australia where Mueller and his sisters Bertha and Clara landed when they first arrived in 1847. Mueller moved to Melbourne in 1852 and was employed by La Trobe as Victoria’s first Government Botanist in 1853 to describe Victoria’s flora. He named and described over 2,000 new species.

La Trobe exclaimed to Ronald Gunn, his friend in Hobart, that There is an honest looking German here, Dr MuŽller, who as far as I can judge seems to be more of botanist than any man I have hitherto met with in the Colony; and I shall give him every encouragement. (Blake, 1975, p.41). As we now know, Mueller became a world-renowned botanist and was awarded many honours over his life-time in his pursuit of botanical science.

Both men were well educated and interested in science, especially botany. Plants and seeds of all descriptions were very valuable in the new colonies and there was a great trade between botanists and interested amateurs all around the world. Both La Trobe and Mueller exchanged seeds. Mueller also sent seeds all around the world. He regularly exchanged seeds with the Hooker family of Kew, England, Otto Wilhelm Sonder of Hamburg and Ronald Gunn in Hobart.

La Trobe was delighted with Mueller’s work, writing to Gunn in June 1853 My clever little Botanist has returned having done quite as much as expected & more (quoted Home, 1998, p.27)

Previously, in writing to Gunn, he had said that Mueller had furnished him with the description of the genus Latrobea. (Blake, 1975, p.41)

Latrobea is not a widely known genus, so investigation was needed to understand what the genus consisted of. With the help of Dr. Roger Spencer of the Royal Botanic Garden Herbarium and his trusty references books, it was discovered that there was indeed a genus and there are still some plants left in it. A lot of the plants have had their name changed because there is a protocol in naming plants that the first person to describe and publish the plant has the rights to name it. Because communication was so slow in the nineteenth century it would not have been uncommon for other botanists to be unaware that a plant had already been named.

The following are the known plants found in the genus Latrobea -

Family Fabaceae alt. Papilionaceae:
    Latrobea abnormis (F. Muell.) Base name Daviesia abnormis (F. Muell.)
    Latrobea brunonis (Benth.) Base name Pultenaea brunonis (Benth.) Meisn.
    Latrobea diosmifolia (Benth.) Base name Burtonia diosmifolia
    Latrobea diosmifolia var. diosmifolia (Benth.)
    Latrobea diosmifolia var. glabrescens (Benth.)
    Latrobea genistoides (Meisn.) Base name Pultenaea genistoides (Meisn.)
    Latrobea hirtella Base name Leptocytisus hirtellus (Turcz.) Benth.
    Latrobea tenella (Meisn.) Base name Burtonia tenella (Meisn.)
    Latrobea tenella var. grandilfora (Benth.)
    Latrobea tenella (Meisn.) Benth. var. tenella

From the investigation several more species named after him were found:
    Acacia acinacea syn. Acacia latrobei (Lindl.) (Meisn)
    Correa lawrenceana var. latrobeana syn. Correa latrobeana (F.Muell.)…
    Eremophila latrobei (F.Muell.)
    Grevillea latrobei (Meisn.)…
    Glycine latrobeana (Benth.)
    Pandorea pandorana syn. Tecoma australis syn. Tecoma latrobei (F.Muell.)…

There is also delightful letter of Mueller to William Hooker, Kew, lamenting that
T. latrobei
is going to be named T. australis. He is sad because he had named it in acknowledgement of the support his patron, La Trobe, had given him. (Home, 1998, p.171)

The Friends of La Trobe’s Cottage have sourced examples of plants with the species name Latrobei or latrobeana to add to our collection of significant plants at the Cottage.

Blake, L. J (ed). Letters of Charles Joseph La Trobe. Melbourne, Government Printer, 1975.

Home, R.W. et al (eds). Regardfully Yours: Selected Correspondence of Ferdinand von Mueller, vol. 1: 1840–1859. Bern, Peter Lang, 1998.

See also:
Darragh, Thomas A. ‘Ferdinand Mueller and Charles La Trobe: ‘So many signs of benevolence and favour’’, La Trobeana, vol.11, no.3, November 2012, 25-29.

Home, R W. ‘La Trobe's "honest looking German": Ferdinand Mueller and the botanical exploration of gold-rush Victoria’, La Trobeana, vol.11, no.3, November 2012, 9-16.

Pullman, Sandi. ‘Charles La Trobe and Ferdinand Mueller’, La Trobeana, vol.11, no.3, November 2012, 21-24.


SP 1/12/2012 rev.


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                       Eremophila latrobeii



                       Eremophila latrobeii



          Latrobea diosmifolia var. glabrescens



          Correa lawrenceana var. latrobeana syn