Adelbert von Chamisso

Adelbert von Chamisso
Adelbert von Chamisso, scientist and explorer.

Lithograph by C. Barth

French-born explorer and naturalist Adelbert von Chamisso (full name: Louis Charles Adélaïde de Chamisso de Boncourt) (1781-1838) visited the San Francisco Bay area in the early nineteenth century. During his time in California, Chamisso studied a number of indigenous plant and animal species and his inventory is considered a valuable ecological record to this day.

On October 2, 1816, a two-masted brig flying the colors of the Russian Imperial Navy arrived in the San Francisco Bay. Named the Rurik for a Viking explorer of Russia, the ship had rounded Cape Horn and explored islands in the South Pacific during its fifteen months at sea. On board were four scientists--including Adelbert von Chamisso, a naturalist, linguist, botanist, and romantic writer. Throughout the month of October, Adelbert von Chamisso compiled an inventory of many plant and animal species in the bay area. Chamisso is best known locally for giving a Latin name to the California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, which he described based on specimens found at the Presidio. He named the poppy in honor of his friend Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz, the Rurik's young surgeon and also a botanist. Eschscholtz returned the compliment by naming a local lupine species for Chamisso, Lupinus chamissonis.

Following her time in the San Francisco Bay, the Rurik returned to St. Petersburg in 1818--having long since been given up for lost. Later that year, Adelbert von Chamisso was named custodian of the botanical gardens in Berlin. He remained active in science for the remainder of his life, pursuing investigations in fields as diverse as zoology and Australasian languages. To this day, Chamisso's Gesammelte Werke (Gathered Works) is esteemed for its distinctive record of California natural history. On December 12, 1890, the California State Floral Society selected Eschscholzia californica the state flower.



Chambers, Kenton L. "Adelbert von Chamisso and Botanical Orthography"

Lewis, Oscar. "A sojourn at San Francisco Bay 1816, from the diary of Adelbert von Chamisso", 1936.

"Russia's Great Voyages to America," Archived exhibit from California Academy of Sciences.

Lithograph image courtesy of Dr. Scott A Mellor, Department of Scandinavian Studies at
University of Wisconsin at Madison, who acquired it from The Hans Christian Andersen Center in Odense, Denmark.

Last updated: September 7, 2016

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