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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00074

Clemenz Heinrich Wehdemann drawings of plants collected at Cape Town

Scope and Contents

The collection is comprised of 52 original botanical illustrations of plants collected in Cape Town, South Africa in 1817. The artist is Clemenz Heinrich Wehdemann. Includes a letter dated 22 March 1820 from J. May[?], informing Professor [William Dandridge] Peck that plants were being shipped to Boston, Mass.

Also contains a "List of seeds and bulbs" collected by Wehdemann, in his own hand. Numbered drawings correspond to this list. Includes 7 drawings not listed in the seed and bulb list. Title on box: Cape plants.


  • 1817-1820


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available by appointment for research. Researchers must register and provide valid photo identification. Please contact for additional information.


0.3 linear feet (1 flat box) : 1 letter, 1 plant list, and 52 sheets of color illustrations ; 34 x 26 cm

Biographical / Historical

Clemenz Heinrich Wehdemann was born in 1763 in the Kingdom of Hanover. Wehdemann’s father was a minister and he home-schooled Clemenz, providing him with a good education. At the age of twenty-one, Wehdemann enlisted in the army of the Dutch East India Company and was quickly sent to Cape Town where he rose to the rank of Sergeant. However, Wehdemann’s military career was cut short when the British invaded Cape Town in 1795, around ten years after his enlistment. He joined the Batavian Republic’s army in 1802, but within four years, the British invasion left him without a job. Following the British takeover, Wehdemann attempted to make a living by giving drawing lessons and selling his paintings of the trees found in the Knysna and Alexandria Forests. By 1820, he had started a xylotheque: a herbarium consisting of a series of boxes which include a handwritten description of a tree, a painting of the tree and, finally, a cane tub with seeds from the tree. Wehdemann’s xylotheque is now located at the Mary Gunn Library within the National Herbarium in Pretoria. His paintings did not bring in much income, and he was still very poor when he went to live with his friend G.L.E. Krebs, a naturalist sent to Cape Town to help expand the director of the Berlin Zoological Museum’s personal botanical collection. Because of Wehdemann’s poverty, it can be surmised that Krebs assisted his artistic work by providing him with supplies. Wehdemann died in 1839 at the age of seventy-three on Krebs’s farm. His only possessions were a violin, a mattress, a chair and a table, as he had sold his xylotheque eight years earlier. Wehdemann’s paintings captured the unbridled beauty of Cape Town’s forests in the 18th and 19th centuries.


Arnold, MI. 2001. South African botanical art : Peeling back the petals (Standard ed.). Vlaeberg, South Africa: Fernwood Press in association with Art Link.

Glen, HF. 1998. The botanist who made boxes. S. African J. Sci. 94(1):47-48.

S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science accessed July 18, 2018.


Illustrations are organized by plate number. Painting dates taken from "List of seeds and bulbs".

Item titles are based upon text written on the object. In 2019, updated scientific names were added in square brackets, based upon identifications by Dr. Tony Dold, Selmar Schonland Herbarium, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.

Conservation and Digitization note

In 2018 this collection was conserved in preparation for digitization. Digitized by Harvard College Library Digital Imaging Group as part of the Original Botanical Illustrations in the Combined Collections of the Botany Libraries, 2018.

Wehdemann, Clemenz Heinrich, 1762-1835. Clemenz Heinrich Wehdemann drawings of plants collected at Cape Town, 1817-1820: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University Repository

The Harvard University Herbaria houses five research libraries that are managed collectively as the Botany Libraries. The Gray Herbarium Library specializes in the identification and classification of New World plants with emphasis on North American plants. The Archives of the Gray Herbarium houses unique resources including personal papers, institutional records, field notes and plant lists, expedition records, photographs, original artwork, and objects from faculty, curators, staff, and affiliates of the Gray Herbarium.

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