Rev. Samuel Wells Williams and Dr. James Morrow were appointed to collect botanical specimens on the U.S. Japan Expedition. Their searches allowed them to explore more of the country than the other expedition members, and Williams said, “If there is anything which has rendered the expedition to Japan pleasant to me it is the walks in search of flowers…with an agreeable companion in Dr. Morrow, so that we have both been pleased with our rambles, with each other, and with the objects of our search.”
Perry with colleagues.
The U.S. Japan Expedition, commanded by Commodore Matthew C. Perry, had a mission to obtain open trade with Japan. All previous attempts, including four American expeditions and fourteen international expeditions, had failed to initiate trade. Commodore Perry was the first to be successful and persuaded Japan to sign the Kanagawa Treaty on March 31, 1854. Perry clearly saw the benefits trade with Japan could provide the United States, but he also knew that gathering information about the country’s natural history was important.
Before the expedition began, Botanist Morrow was given the task to deliver western seeds and plants to the Japanese. Many of his early journal entries document his struggle to keep the plants alive on the ship en route to Japan. He was given a box, seeds, and directions to water the plants until the ship crossed the Equator, but it was nearly impossible to grow the plants as the box was constantly under danger of being covered in saltwater during the tumultuous voyage. Many ended up dying, but he mentioned that the “oak, maple, and Kentucky coffee-tree look better than any of the others.”
Upon his arrival, Morrow frequently notes that he “found some new flowers” to add to his collection. Sometimes the Japanese helped him collect, and Morrow said that “they knew the names of most of [the flowers] we found. They had dug up for me three small pines, and a peach tree for setting out, and seemed to understand for what purpose I wanted them.”
The Japanese gratefully received western seeds, and Morrow states that, due to the importance of agriculture in the country, the seeds were the only object the men were able to accept without hindrance by the government. Morrow would often give the most seeds to those that showed the greatest curiosity in the western agricultural equipment he demonstrated. The Japanese were fascinated with the quality of flour produced by an American corn mill, and Morrow was intrigued with the Japanese version of a cotton gin and the bark they used to produce strong paper. The Japanese had never seen a garden engine with a hose that would pump water, and a crowd of over 200 people gathered to watch the water being pumped into the air. Morrow notes that they looked “carefully at the suction hose as though they thought they had learned the secret of putting out fires.”
Morrow spent his evenings on the ship pressing the plants he collected. He accumulated seventeen cases of dried and live plants to bring to the U.S., some of which were placed in the U.S. Botanic Gardens. The expedition resulted in a three-volume report, which contained a list of plants collected in Japan and compiled by Asa Gray. Only a portion of the 1,500 to 2,000 plants brought back to the U.S. were sent to Gray for description, and 41 new species and one new genus were identified. Clematis williamsii was a new species named after Williams, whom Gray described as “a cherished friend and correspondent, author of one of the best works that have appeared upon the Chinese empire, and a good naturalist, as well as a learned oriental scholar.” Morrow was given the same honor, lending his name to Lonicera morrowi.
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