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UC.PT

Herbário da Universidade de Coimbra

John Gossweiler

Authors: Fátima Sales & Joaquim Santos (2016)
gossweiler_estatua_final_resized

kindly provided by David Goyder (see http://www.kew.org/discover/blogs/botanical-surveys-angola)

John Gossweiler (Regensdorf 1873- Lisbon 1952) was a Swiss botanist mostly educated in in the UK who, at the age of 26, departed to Angola working for the Portuguese government. His first job was through Júlio Henriques, director at COI, (see letter to JH of the 20.x.1898). He kept in touch with Henriques over the years and they exchanged correspondence on his affairs in Angola and botany – very quickly switching from English to a good Portuguese.
Over the following 50 years (till his death), the core of his different jobs in Angola (e.g. letter to Henriques of the 17.ii.1905) was always to assess the potential of the colony for agriculture. For most of the time, he worked for the Serviços de Agricultura, during which he was also director of the Cazengo Colonial Garden, with a short interruption between 1920-26 when he was at the private Sociedade de Fomento Geral de Angola. Gossweiler also accepted many different Service Commissions for the Portuguese government that took him all over Angola. He acquired a great understanding of the vegetation, the people, the country and between 1902 – 1946 he collected over 14.000 specimens with many duplicates. Gosseweiler studied the indigenous plant sources of rubber, investigated coffee plant diseases, started an experimental cotton station, investigated the vegetation of the Portuguese Maiombe and worked in sugar-cane plantations. He also travelled twice throughout Africa, 1902 (letter to Henriques of the 25.i.1902) and 1934.

He came to Coimbra in 1933 to study his specimens and in 1936 to investigate the phytogeography of Angola. His labels at COI were written by his own hand during these visits. He also made friends with the then director at COI, Luís Carriço, Francisco Mendonça and Arthur Exell from the British Museum, London, all already engaged on the 1937 collecting trip to Angola. Gossweiler became a member of this expedition of over 13.000 km – the same that saw the sudden death of Carriço in S Angola. He had a third visit to COI in 1938 for the publication of the Carta Fitogeográfica de Angola.

Gosseweiler published a number of botanical papers, the most important being on the exotic flora of Angola, various on plant indigenous names and the flora of the Portuguese Maiombe. Out of his extensive experience in Africa, he also published the major Phytogeography of Angola in 1939 with Mendonça as collaborator.


The pioneering work of Gossweiler in Africa resulted in many type specimens and his specimens are a major asset for the publication of the Conspectus Flora Angolensis and any botanical work in Africa. His collections are mainly of flowering plants but there are also, fungi, mosses and algae. Most are at COI (being digitised) and LISC.

In his own words, Gossweiler was (in Bol. Soc. Brot. 2: 296. 1939): “Specialised technician of Swiss nationality, working for the General Government of Angola. During his missions and work with the Direcção dos Serviços de Agricultura did important collections in all districts of the colony, but mainly in the Portuguese Maiombe. In 1937 participated as attaché to the botanical mission of Dr L.W. Carrisso. His collections are in the Jardim Colonial de Lisboa (LISJC to LISC) as well as in the herbaria of the Universities of Lisboa (LISU) and Coimbra (COI). The principal collection is in the British Museum (BM), London, and some duplicates were gratuitously sent to the herbaria of Kew (K), Berlin (B) and Washington (US).”

Herbaria with Gossweiler collections:

LISC (10944 specimens) but also

B (76 specimen [search by *gossweiler*]),

BM (5 specimens)

K (824 specimens )

LISU (unknown number),

NHN National Herbaria Netherlands Holland/Leiden (692 specimens)

GBIF Sweden (13 specimens)

Z+ZT+ZSS (7 specimens)

HUH, Harvard (7 specimens)

US, Smithsonian Institution, United States National Herbarium (280 specimens)

MO (70 specimens)

P (296 specimens)

W (2 specimens)

Probably still house some material LUA, LUAI, LUBA.