Baker, John Gilbert

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BAKER, John Gilbert

Checked 02-20-2009

"This condensed account of the eternal rocks and the mutable forms which grow upon them, and change and pass like men and manners with the years, will not easily be superseded..." *

 Who was


Born on January 13, 1834,
in Guisborough or, perhaps, Osmotherley,
along the North Yorkshire Moors, England. 
Lived years in Thirsk, a North Yorkshire market town. 
Had a passion for understanding and preserving plants.
"doyen of British field-botanists"
and "Keeper of the Herbarium"
of the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew.
Died August 16, 1920, London.


The Hemerocallis Species site, here, lists BAKER as the author of a number of Hemerocallis descriptions. The following lists the dates of the descriptions and the publications in which they were printed:

          Hemerocallis fulva var. augustifolia (new variety)
          Journal of the Linnean Society, Vol.11, p.349-359

          Hemerocallis fulva var. disticha
          Journal of Botany, British and Foreign, Vol.11, p.349-359

          Hemerocallis aurantiaca (new species)
          Hemerocallis thunbergii (new species)
          The Gardeners' Chronicle, Ser.III, Vol.8, p.94

          Hemerocallis aurantiaca var. 'Major' (new variety)
          The Gardeners' Chronicle, Ser.III, Sol.18, p.62+71, f.14


J. G. Baker who described the Hemerocallis plants was John Gilbert Baker, an English botanist.  J. G. Baker worked at the library of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Surrey, England, from 1866-1899.  He was also an assistant curator of the herbarium there, and from 1890-1899 the curator.

According to the entry at, Baker "wrote handbooks on many plant groups, including Amaryllidaceae, Bromeliaceae, Iridaceae, Liliaceae, and ferns.   His published works include Flora of Mauritius and the Seychelles (1877) and Handbook of the Irideae (1892)."  Also, Wikipedia mentions that he was the father of another botanist, Edmund Gilbert Baker.  More below on publications and about his son.


  • In 1865, IN APRIL, J. G. Baker was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London. [The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Review, January 1866.p. 672]
  • In 1878, he became a member of the Royal Horticultural Society.
  • In 1897, he received the Victoria Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society.
  • In 1899, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Linnean Society.  (The Linnean Medal was awarded annually, alternately to a botanist, then a zoologist.  More recently one of each has been awarded in the same year.  Until 1976 the medal was gold.)
  • In 1907, Baker received the Veitch Memorial (Gold) Medal, awarded annually by the Royal Horticultural Society for outstanding contribution to the advancement and improvement of the science and practice of horticulture.
  • In 1919, the University of Leeds awarded him an honorary doctorate.
  • He served as associate editor of the Journal of Botany [London Journal of Botany?].


John Gilbert Baker prepared the first key
to the species of Hemerocallis

On February 3, 1870, John Gilbert Baker read a paper to the Linnean Society entitled "A Revision of the Genera and Species of Herbaceous Capsular Gamophyllous Liliaceae.  It was published in 1871 in the Journal of the Linnean Society, Vol. 11 [XI], beginning page 349.  I found that the pages involving (long Latin) descriptions of Hemerocallis are at this site:
p. 358  H. flava; H. minor
p. 359  H. dumortieri; H. middendorffii; H. fulva and H. fulva var. augustifolia

A menu on the left allows one to select specific pages. In the same volume of the Journal of the Linnean Society is J. G. Baker's "Monograph of British Roses", starting p. 197, which was a paper presented to the Linnean Society the previous year.

The Hemerocallis descriptions mentioned a few lines above are identified in the AHS The New Daylily Handbook, p. 44, as being "a key to five species, using odor and color of the flowers as primary distinguishing characters, the texture and venation of the inner segments as the next important characters, and the width of leaves, the length of the perianth-tube, the length of pedicels and the width of inner segments for separating closely related species.  Baker prepared the first key to the species of Hemerocallis in botanical history."  The author, Shiu Ying Hu,  gives some difficiencies of that first key.

Page 67 of The New Daylily Handbook has a detailed description of Hemerocallis X aurantiaca (Baker).  It then says, "The name was based upon a plant cultivated at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in England.  The type specimen contains a ramet with leaves, a scape, two withered detached flowers, a sepal and a flower bud."

Page 69 speaks of the type specimen Hemerocallis X aurantiaca 'Major', saying that Baker's material was imported from Japan to England.

[Something confusing on page 44 of The New Daylily Handbook is that a G. P. Baker is quoted, from a 1937 article.  But who, then, was G. P. Baker?  George Percival Baker (1856-1951) was an English horticulturalist, mountaineer, and plant collector. He also belonged to the Royal Horticultural Society, and was a person connected with alpine plants.  Tulipa bakeri was named for G. P. Baker.]


The following are SOME others of the works of J. G. Baker in print:

  1. "Further Contributions to the Flora of Madagascar" The Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, Vol. 25, Issue 171, pp. 294-306.
  2. Supplement to Baines' Flora Yorkshire (Pamplin, London), 1854
  3. Unknown title - about the ferns of Great Britain, 1855
  4. North Yorkshire, Studies of its Botany, Geology, Climate, and Physical Geography,1863
  5. Synopsis Filicum, a synopsis of all known ferns, including the Osmundace?, Schiz?sve?, Marattiace?, and Ophioglossace?, by William Jackson Hooker, John Gilbert Baker, 1868; completed by J. G. Baker with assistance of manuscript notes left by Dr. Hooker.
  6. Flora of Northumberland and Durham (Williams & Norgate, London),1868, with George Ralph
  7. Elementary Lessons in Botanical Geography (Lovell, Reeve & Co., London) 1875
  8. Flora off Mauritius and the Seychelles (Reeve, London), 1877
  9. Flora of the English Lake District, 1885
  10. Unknown title -  about ferns, 1887
  11. Handbook of the Amaryllideae, including the Alstroemerieae and Agaveae, 1888
  12. Handbook off the Bromeliaceae, 1889
  13. A summary of the new ferns which have been discovered or described since 1874. Oxford : At the Clarendon Press, 1892 (Reprinted from the Annals of Botany, Vol. V, 1891)
  14. The Leguminosae of tropical Africa (Erasmus, Race), 1926-1930, (posthumous edition)


The Family of John Gilbert Baker:

His mother was Mary Gilbert (1813-1875).
His father was John Baker (1806-1866) - had drapery and grocery business, North Yorkshire area, UK
He married Hannah Unthankt (July 19, 1860).
They had a son and a daughter.

The son was Edmund Gilbert Baker, a botanist (1864-1949 d. Kew, Surrey). He was in the Department of Botany of the British Museum, and was a plant collector in North Africa.  In 1887 he became, like his father, a Fellow of the Linnean Society.


Plant names referring to John Gilbert Baker and/or his son:

Bakerantha (family Bromeliaceae) - named for the British botanist John Gilbert Baker; currently considered a synonym of Hechtia. Source

    Bakerella (family Loranthaceae)

Bakeria (family Bromeliaceae)"Bakeria is an obligate synonym of Bakerantha. Andr? was well aware of the presence of the name Bakeria Seem. when he established his Bakeria. However, as he notes that that name had been placed into synonymy under Pterandra (Malpighiaceae) by the authors of 'Genera Plantarum', he established a new Bakeria as was often done at the time. Named in honor of Englishman John Gilbert Baker (1834-1920), botanist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, England, and author of the landmark 'Handbook of the Bromeliaceae' (1889). "?le savant botaniste de Kew, qui a tant d?crit de Brom?liac?es nouvelles et connait si bien cette famille. C'est d'ailleurs avec satisfaction qu'il a accueili la proposition de voir son nom attach? ? un ordre de plantes qu'il affectionne particuli?rement." [?the learned botanist of Kew, who described new bromeliads so much and who knows that family so well. It is, moreover, with satisfaction that he welcomed the proposal to see his name attached to a group of plants that he particularly likes.]Source

(family Sapotaceae; an evergreen; milky sap) - named for John Gilbert Baker

    Bakerisideroxylon (family Sapotaceae) - named for John Gilbert Baker

    Bakeropteris (family: Adiantaceae) - named for John Gilbert Baker

     Bakerophyton (family: Fabaceae) - named for John Gilbert Baker and for his son, Edmund Gilbert Baker

    Bakeridesia (family Malvaceae) - named for the son, Edmund Gilbert Baker

    Neobakeria (Hyacinthaceae) - also named for the British botanist John Gilbert Baker


Description of John Gilbert Baker -
no doubt inspired by his work with
herbarium specimens:

Beatrix Potter kept a journal from from when she was fifteen until when she was thirty, from 1881-1897.  Many people do not know that she was an expert in fungi and lichens, bryophytes.   She was a mycologist.   In her journal she expressed frustrations with various biologists. On May 19, 1896, she mentioned J. G. Baker in her diary (page 424).  She wrote, "Outside we met Mr. Baker... A slim timid looking old gentleman with a large thin book under his arm and an appearance of having been dried in blotting paper under a press."  Source of quote 

Potter wrote in a substitution code that was not cracked until 1958, so Mr. Baker never suffered from knowing her description.

      Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature
      By Linda Lear
      Edition: illustrated
      Published by Macmillan, 2007
      Pages 109-110

For a picture of John Gilbert Baker,
? of The Natural History Museum, London

 look here.



Aurantiaca (Baker, 1890)
height 36", season EM, Rebloom, Evergreen,,  Rom2.

Aurantiaca Major (Baker, 1895)
height 27", season EM, Rebloom, Evergreen, Diploid,  YOM1.



More about John Gilbert Baker

The following is information about John G. Baker that I found in a biography of another botanist.  I have alternated some quotes with information that I added for my own clarification.  My source for the quotations was:

              Hewett Cottrell Watson: Victorian Plant Ecologist and Evolutionist
              By Frank N. Egerton
              Edition: illustrated
              Published by Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2003
              page 214+ 

The information in brackets, in red, was added.  Unless otherwise noted, all the quotations in black are from the above source. See source.

"Baker grew up in Thirsk, Yorkshire.  While attending a Friends' School in 1846, he began collecting plants, and in the next year he became curator of the herbarium of the Bootham School Natural History Society (the oldest such society in Britain, founded 1834).  In 1849 he sent the first of many notes and articles to Phytologist, and these were so highly regarded that Edward Newman  attempted unsuccessfully to recruit him as editor after Luxford died in 1954.  Baker's schooling led not to college, but to his father's drapery and grocery business.  He remained a hobbyist who published regional notes on plants gathered by himself or by other members of the Thirsk Natural History Society. [Edward Newman was an English entomologist, botanist, writer.   Luxford was a printer and botanist, editor of Phytologist.]

"Two developments propelled him from a provincial to a national sphere of activity. First was the resolution passed by that Society [Thirsk Natural History Society] in November 1857, under his presidency, to run a Thirsk Botanical Exchange Club (TBEC).  This action coincided with the collapse of the London Botanical Society [founded 1836], its exchange club.  Under his able curatorship (1857-68) and secretaryship (1868-1879), TBEC attracted a national membership, which prompted Watson to transfer to it LBS's [London Botanical Society's] records and the remaining stock of its Proceedings.  Watson was familiar with Baker's competency. not only from his writings in the Phytologist, but also from his separate publications." [Hewett Cottrell Watson was a botanist and ecologist, and was an evolutionist who influenced Darwin.]

[Here there was a missing page.  Baker was Watson's protege.
So it helps to know that "Watson pioneered the study of the distribution of plants by dividing the whole of Great Britain into 112 areas, based on the then-county boundaries. These boundaries are unchanging and are unaffected by subsequent political and administrative changes.... These fixed boundaries allow modern biologists to compare past records of species."

Also, some personal, botanical loss for Baker must have been alluded to on the missing page.]

"A grateful Baker later wrote to the subscribers that the fund was
'far more than sufficient to replace all my botanical belongings which money can restore.'"

"In 1866 Joseph Hooker hired Baker as First Assistant at the Kew Herbarium.  He retained that position until he became Keeper of the Herbarium in 1890....."

[Joseph Hooker was a British botanist, close friend and defender of Darwin, and director of Kew after 1865, succeeding his father, Sir William Hooker, who had been "engaged on the Synopsis filicum with John Gilbert Baker when he was attacked by a throat disease then epidemic at Kew."

"Hooker claimed that the size of Kew's herbarium (which contained about 150,000 species by the early fifties) allowed global comparisons that made his judgements superior to those ? like the colonial botanists ? who only knew the plants of their locality."

"At age 32, Baker...performed his assigned duties in foreign botany without complaint, and found time on the side for British botany, just as he had when helping his father run the family business.  However, he soon relinquished the curatorship of the exchange club in favor of the less onerous position of secretary."

[It further helps to understand Baker to know that his superior Hooker believed very strongly that the gardens at Kew were primary for scientific use, not for recreation and pleasure-seeking.]

"Baker published articles on phytogeography in The Gardeners' Chronicle which he later collected in Elementary Lessons in Botanical Geography (1875)."

[Page missing.]

"For his part, Watson continued to collect phytogeographical data on British plants and to refine the precision of his accounts of species distributions.  After A Compendium (1868-70) of more than 650 pags came Topographical Botany (1873-74) with 740 pages.  He was working on a second edition of the latter when he died;  Baker and E. W. Newbould completed and published it in 1883.

"Baker was the executor and chief beneficiary of Watson's final will, receiving the house and land at Thames Ditton and Watson's books and botanical collections.  He had persuaded Watson not to burn his herbarium, but all the letters did go up in smoke..........."

[Watson wrote] "I burnt...a wheelbarrow full of botanical correspondence..."


* The quote that began this page came from the following page from History of Thirsk, second to last paragraph:

"John Gilbert Baker, the doyen of British field-botanists: and a Fellow of the Royal Society...won his spurs in the literary lists by contributing a masterly summary of the Physical Geology and Botany of Thirsk and its environs... This condensed account of the eternal rocks and the mutable forms which grow upon them, and change and pass like men and manners with the years, will not easily be superseded, and as time goes become more and more valuable as a local picture of the past."


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