Henri Galeotti

Ariocarpus retusus

Galeotti was born in France in 1814. He moved to Brussels with his father after the outbreak of the Belgian national revolution in 1830. There, he used to visit and take lessons at the well-known Etablissement Géographique de Bruxelles created by Philippe Vandermaelen, a place where many of Belgian scientists used to gather. In 1835 Henri Galeotti won a gold medal in the Brussels’ Academy, but he did not even show up for the ceremony for he had already left for Mexico. Indeed, the aforesaid establishment had sent him there in order to harvest geological information on Central America. He spent 5 years in the New World and became familiar with its botany during his long stay there. He even sent crates full of living plants, mostly cactus as far as we know, to Brussels. That is the reason why some taxa were described there by Michel Scheidweiler, such as the Ariocarpus retusus illustrated. The young collector returned with a rich Mexican herbarium, that the Brussels’ Botanic Garden, then a joint-stock company, would buy later.

Incidentally, one of the first recorded ascents of El Pico de Orizaba, Mexico's highest mountain, was by the botanists, Henri Galeotti, Nicolas Funck, Auguste Ghiesbreght and Jean-Jules Linden.

At the beginning of the year 1840, Galeotti was offered a position teaching botany at the University of Brussels, but he preferred to run his own nursery in the suburbs. There he would sell rare imported plants, herbaria and other naturalia. He also worked with botanists A. Richard, M. Martens on works dedicated to Orchids and Ferns he had collected in Mexico, and wrote several articles about other botanical groups that he had come across in Central America. In 1852, he began with the editing of the Journal d’Horticulture pratique, and in 1857 he created the first Bulletin the Brussels’ botanic garden would ever benefit from before 1902 (Bulletin de la Société Royale d’Horticulture de Belgique et du Jardin botanique de Bruxelles 1857-1858).

Before the turn of the Fifties his company was failing, being a victim of the European economic crisis of 1848. The Brussels’ Botanic Garden was then in search of a scientist to run its nursery and hired him in 1853. Some twenty years later it was said that the Galeotti Era (1853-1858) was the best time the garden had ever had: he tried to develop correspondence with several other gardens, using his personal network to acquire various dried and living collections, made the library grow bigger, hired more gardeners etc. When Galeotti died, in 1858, the botanic garden bought his personal Mexican Herbarium from his widow.


by Dr. Denis Diagre

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