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Robert Fortune

Robert Fortune

British botanist
Robert Fortune
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro British botanist
A.K.A. Fortune
Was Scientist Botanist
From United Kingdom
Type Science
Gender male
Birth 16 September 1812, Berwickshire
Death 13 April 1880, London (aged 67 years)
Star sign Virgo
The details


Robert Fortune (16 September 1812 – 13 April 1880) was a Scottish botanist, plant hunter and traveller, best known for introducing tea plants from China to India.

Travels and botanical introductions to Europe

Fortune was born at Kelloe, Berwickshire, Scotland. He was employed in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and later in the Horticultural Society of London's garden at Chiswick. As a result of his mission success, the British gained a large profit and they were able to manufacture tea throughout the world.

Following the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, Fortune was sent out by the Horticultural Society to collect plants in China.

His travels resulted in the introduction to Europe of many new, exotic, beautiful flowers and plants. His most famous accomplishment was the successful transportation of tea from China to India in 1848 on behalf of the British East India Company. In total, Fortune stayed in China for about two and a half years, from 1848 to 1851. Similar to other European travellers of the period, such as Walter Medhurst, Fortune disguised himself as a Chinese merchant during several, but not all, of his journeys beyond the newly established treaty port areas. Not only was Fortune's purchase of tea plants forbidden by the Chinese government of the time, but his travels were also beyond the allowable day's journey from the European treaty ports. Fortune travelled to some areas of China that had seldom been visited by Europeans, including remote areas of Fujian, Guangdong, and Jiangsu provinces.

Fortune employed many different means to transport tea plants, seedlings, and other botanical discoveries, but he is most well known for his use of Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward's portable Wardian cases to sustain the plants. Using these small greenhouses, Fortune introduced 20,000 tea plants and seedlings to the Darjeeling region of India. He also brought with him a group of trained Chinese tea workers who would facilitate the production of tea leaves. With the exception of a few plants which survived in established Indian gardens, most of the Chinese tea plants Fortune introduced to India perished. The technology and knowledge that was brought over from China, however, may have been instrumental in the later flourishing of the Indian tea industry.

In subsequent journeys he visited Formosa (modern day Taiwan) and Japan, and described the culture of the silkworm and the manufacture of rice. He introduced many trees, shrubs and flowers to the West, including the cumquat, a climbing double yellow rose ('Fortune's Double Yellow' (syn. Gold of Ophir) which proved a failure in England's climate) and many varieties of tree peonies, azaleas and chrysanthemums. A climbing white rose that he brought back from China in 1850, believed to be a natural cross between Rosa laevigata and R. banksiae, was dubbed R. fortuniana (syn. R. fortuneana) in his honor. This rose, too, proved a failure in England, preferring warmer climates. Today both of these roses are still widely grown by antique rose fanciers in mild winter regions. R. fortuniana also serves as a valuable rootstock in Australia and the southern regions of the United States.

The incidents of his travels were related in a succession of books. He died in London in 1880, and is buried in Brompton Cemetery.


Books about Robert Fortune


Rose, Sarah (2008). (For) All The Tea in China. 


Sheridan, Sara (2009). The Secret Mandarin. 

Chun, Pam The Perfect Tea Thief (2014)

Plants named after Robert Fortune

  • Arundinaria fortunei
  • Cephalotaxus fortunei
  • Cyrtomium fortunei
  • Euonymus fortunei
  • Hosta fortunei
  • Keteleeria fortunei
  • Mahonia fortunei
  • Maxburretia fortunei
  • Osmanthus fortunei
  • Pleioblastus fortunei
  • Rhododendron fortunei
  • Rosa fortuniana
  • Trachycarpus fortunei

Introductions by Robert Fortune

  • Shrub Abelia chinensis (syn A. rupestris) 1844 Chinese Abelia Emil Bretschneider
  • Shrub Abelia uniflora 1849 Large Flowered Abelia Bretschneider
  • Tree Acer rufinerve f. albolimbatum 1861 Maple Gorer
  • Perennial Aconitum autumnale 1846 Monkshood Bretschneider
  • Climber Actinidia chinensis 1846 Kiwi Fruit Bretschneider
  • Shrub Adenosma grandiflorum 1843 (Figwort Family) Bretschneider
  • Climber Akebia quinata 1845 Chocolate Vine Bretschneider
  • Perennial Anemone hupehensis var japonica 1844 Japanese Anemone Bretschneider
  • Climber Apios fortunei 1845 (Groundnut Family) Bretschneider
  • Shrub Aralia papyrifera 1854 Rice-paper Plant Bretschneider
  • Shrub Arundina graminifolia 1844 Orchid Bretschneider
  • Bamboo Arundinaria fortunei 1844 White, variegated Bamboo NTS D Donald
  • Perennial Aster turbinatus 1861 Michaelmas Daisy Bretschneider
  • Shrub Aucuba japonica, green-leaved form 1861 Laurel Bretschneider
  • Shrub Barthea chinensis 1856 Bretschneider
  • Shrub Berberis consanguinea Fortune 1848 Berberis Bretschneider
  • Shrub Brassica "Pak tsae" 1846 White Cabbage of Shan tung Bretschneider
  • Shrub Brassica chinensis 1844 Chinese Cabbage Bretschneider
  • Shrub Buddleia lindleyana Fortune ex Lindley 1843 Buddleia Bretschneider
  • Shrub Callipcarpa dichotoma 1857 Beauty Berry Bean
  • Shrub Calystegia hederacea 'Flore Pleno' 1844 Convolvulus, double Bretschneider
  • Shrub Camellia 'Cup of Beauty' 1854 Camellia Bretschneider
  • Shrub Camellia 'Princess Frederick William' 1854 Camellia Bretschneider
  • Shrub Camellia 'Robert Fortune' 1843 Camellia Bean
  • Shrub Camellia japonica 'Variegata' 1866 Camellia Bretschneider
  • Shrub Camellia reticulata 'Pagoda' 1843 Camellia Bretschneider
  • Shrub Camellia sasanqua cvs. 1860 Japanese Camellia Gorer
  • Shrub Camellia sasanqua var. anemoniflora 1850 Japanese Camellia Bretschneider
  • Shrub Camellia sinensis - to India Tea Plant
  • Shrub Campanula grandiflora Campanula NTS D Donald
  • Shrub Caryopteris incana 1844 Blue Spiraea Bretschneider
  • Tree Castanea mollissima 1860 Chestnut Bretschneider
  • Shrub Cephalotaxus fortunei 1848 Chinese Plum Yew Bretschneider
  • Shrub Cephalotaxus harringtonia 1849 Japanese Plum Yew Bean
  • Shrub Ceratostigma plumbaginoides 1845 Plumbago Bretschneider
  • Tree Cercis chinensis 1845 Chinese Red Bud Gorer
  • Conifer Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Aurea' 1860 Cypress Bean
  • Conifer Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Lycopodioides' 1861 Cypress Bean
  • Conifer Chamaecyparis pisifera 1861 Sawara Cypress Bean/Gorer
  • Conifer Chamaecyparis pisifera Plumosa Aurea 1861 Cypress Bean
  • Tree Chionanthus retusus 1845 Chinese Fringe Tree Bretschneider
  • Perennial Chirita sinensis 1844 Bretschneider
  • Perennial Chrysanthemum 'minimum' 1846 Chrysanthemum Bretschneider
  • Perennial Chrysanthemum Dragon cvs 1862 Chrysanthemum Bretschneider
  • Perennial Chrysanthemum indet ChusanDaisy 1846 Chrysanthemum Bretschneider
  • Perennial Chrysanthemum indicum 'Roseo Albo Punctata' 1862 Chrysanthemum Bretschneider
  • Perennial Chrysanthemum japonicum'Laciniatum' 1862 Chrysanthemum Bretschneider
  • Perennial Citrus medica cv Fingered Citron 1844 Citron Bretschneider
  • Climber Clematis 'Fortunei' 1862 Clematis Bretschneider
  • Climber Clematis Florida cvs 1860 Clematis Gorer
  • Climber Clematis lanuginosa 1850 Clematis Bretschneider
  • Climber Clematis patens 'Standishii' Clematis NTS D Donald
  • Shrub Clerodendrum bungei 1850 Glory Bower Bretschneider
  • Shrub Cleyera fortunei 1860 Bretschneider
  • Perennial Corydalis sheareri 1873 Fumitory Bretschneider
  • Shrub Corylopsis pauciflora 1860 Winter Hazel Bretschneider
  • Shrub Corylopsis spicata 1860 Cowslip Bush Bretschneider
  • Conifer Cryptomeria fortunei Fortune’s Cedar Bretschneider
  • Conifer Cryptomeria japonica 'Nana' Japanese Cedar NTS D Donald
  • Conifer Cryptomeria japonica var. sinensis 1844 Chinese Cedar Bretschneider
  • Shrub Crytandra fortunei 1861 Bretschneider
  • Shrub Cupressus funebris 1849 Cypress Bretschneider
  • Shrub Cyrtomium fortunei 1843 Holly Fern NTS D Donald
  • Shrub Daphne genkwa 1844 Oriental Daphne Bretschneider
  • Shrub Deutzia fortunei 1866 Deutzia NTS D Donald
  • Shrub Deutzia scabra 'Flore Pleno' 1861 Deutzia Bretschneider
  • Perennial Dicentra spectabilis 1846 Bleeding Heart Bretschneider
  • Shrub Dichroa versicolor (Fortune) D Hunt 1844 Bretschneider
  • Shrub Edgeworthia chrysantha 1845 Paper Bush Bretschneider
  • Climber Euonymus fortunei 1860 Euonymus Bretschneider
  • Climber Euonymus fortunei 'Variegatus' 1860 Euonymus Bretschneider
  • Perennial Eupatorium fortunei 1851 Agrimony Bretschneider
  • Shrub Exochorda racemosa 1849 Pearl Bush Bretschneider
  • Shrub Fontanesia fortunei 1846 Fortune’s Privet Bretschneider
  • Shrub Forsythia suspensa var. fortunei 1861 Golden Bell Bretschneider
  • Shrub Forsythia viridissima 1844 Forsythia Bretschneider
  • Shrub Fortunearia sinensis 1907 Fortuneria NTS D Donald
  • Shrub Fortunella japonica 1846 Round Kumquat Bretschneider
  • Shrub Fortunella spp Kumquat NTS D Donald
  • Tree Fraxinus chinensis 1852 Ash Bretschneider
  • Tree Fraxinus retusa Champion 1852 Ash Bretschneider
  • Shrub Gardenia jasminoides var. fortuniana 1844 Gardenia Bretschneider
  • Perennial Gentiana scabra var. fortunei 1849 Gentian Bretschneider
  • Tree Halesia fortunei 1843 Snowdrop Tree Bretschneider
  • Perennial Hosta fortunei 1856 Plantain Lily NTS D Donald
  • Shrub Hydrangea scandens subsp. chinensis 1843 Hydrangea Bretschneider
  • Shrub Ilex cornuta 1849 Horned Holly Bretschneider
  • Shrub Ilex cornuta var fortunei 1853 Horned Holly Bretschneider
  • Shrub Ilex crenata f. latifolia 1852 Holly Bretschneider
  • Shrub Ilex rotunda var. microcarpa 1848 Holly Bretschneider
  • Shrub Indigofera fortunei 1845 Indigo Bretschneider
  • Climber Jasminum nudiflorum 1844 Winter Jasmine Bretschneider
  • Shrub Juniperus chinensis 'Variegata' 1862 Juniper Bean
  • Shrub Juniperus chinensis var. fortunei 1850 Juniper Bretschneider
  • Shrub Keteleeria fortunei 1844 Bretschneider
  • Shrub Lactuca denticulata 1844 Japanese Lettuce Bretschneider
  • Shrub Ligularia tussilaginea 1855 Tussilago Bretschneider
  • Shrub Ligustrum fortunei 1855 Chinese Privet Bretschneider
  • Shrub Ligustrum japonicum 'Rotundifolium' 1860 Japanese Privet Bretschneider
  • Shrub Lilium fortunei 1860 Lily Bretschneider
  • Shrub Lilium lancifolium var. fortunei 1861 Tiger Lily Woodcock & S
  • Climber Lonicera fragrantissima 1845 Honeysuckle Bretschneider
  • Climber Lonicera japonica 'Aureoreticulata' 1863 Honeysuckle Bretschneider
  • Shrub Lonicera maackii 1843 Honeysuckle Bretschneider
  • Shrub Lonicera standishii 1845 Honeysuckle Bretschneider
  • Perennial Lysimachia fortunei 1845 Loosestrife Bretschneider
  • Shrub Lysimachia klattiana 1845 Chinese Loosestrife Bretschneider
  • Shrub Lysionotus pauciflorus 1862 Bretschneider
  • Shrub Mahonia bealei (Fortune) Carriere 1848 Mahonia Bretschneider
  • Shrub Mahonia bealei var. planifolia 1849 Mahonia Bretschneider
  • Shrub Mahonia fortunei 1846 Mahonia Bretschneider
  • Shrub Microsorium fortunei Bretschneider
  • Shrub Monochasma savatieri 1843 Bretschneider
  • Shrub Osmanthus × fortunei 1862 Fragrant Olive Bean
  • Shrub Paeonia suffruticosa 'Atropurpurea' 1849 Peony Bretschneider
  • Shrub Paeonia suffruticosa 'Atrosanguinea' 1849 Peony Bretschneider
  • Shrub Paeonia suffruticosa 'Colonel Malcolm' Peony Gorer
  • Shrub Paeonia suffruticosa 'Globosa' 1849 Peony Bretschneider
  • Shrub Paeonia suffruticosa 'Ida' Peony Gorer
  • Shrub Paeonia suffruticosa 'Lilicina' 1849 Peony Bretschneider
  • Shrub Paeonia suffruticosa 'Osiris' Peony Gorer
  • Shrub Paeonia suffruticosa 'Parviflora' 1849 Peony Bretschneider
  • Shrub Paeonia suffruticosa 'Picta' 1844 Peony Bretschneider
  • Shrub Paeonia suffruticosa 'Robert Fortune' Peony Gorer
  • Shrub Paeonia suffruticosa 'Salmonea' 1846 Peony Bretschneider
  • Shrub Paeonia suffruticosa 'Versicolor' 1846 Peony Bretschneider
  • Shrub Paeonia suffruticosa 'Vivid' Peony Gorer
  • Shrub Paeonia suffruticosa cvs (40) 1843 Peony Bretschneider
  • Tree Paulownia fortunei 1861 Bretschneider
  • Shrub Phalaenopsis amabilis 1845 Moth Orchid Bretschneider
  • Shrub Photinia fortuneana 1843 Photinia Bretschneider
  • Bamboo Phyllostachys fortunei 1843 Bamboo Gorer
  • Tree Pinus fortunei 1846 Pine Bretschneider
  • Shrub Pinus tabuliformis 1862 Pine Bean
  • Shrub Pittosporum fortunei 1845 Tree Daphne Bretschneider
  • Tree Platycarya strobilacea 1845 Platycara Bretschneider
  • Perennial Platycodon grandiflorus 1845 Chinese Bell Flower Bretschneider
  • Bamboo Pleioblastus variegatus 1863 Variegated Bamboo Bretschneider
  • Shrub Podocarpus macrophylls var. maki 'Argenteus' 1861 Buddhist Pine Bean
  • Shrub Poncirus trifoliata 1850 Hardy Orange Coats/RHSD
  • Perennial Primula japonica 1870 Primula Bretschneider
  • Shrub Prunus glandulosa 'Alba Plena' 1843 Chinese Bush Cherry Bretschneider
  • Shrub Prunus glandulosa 'Rosea Plena' 1846 Chinese Bush Cherry Gorer/Bean
  • Shrub Prunus persica 'Camelliaeflora' 1854 Peach Bretschneider
  • Tree Prunus persica 'Dianthiflora' 1854 Prunus Bretschneider
  • Tree Prunus persica 'Rosaeflora' 1859 Prunus Bretschneider
  • Tree Prunus persica cv "Shanghai Peach" 1844 Shanghai Peach Bretschneider
  • Shrub Prunus triloba 'Multiplex' 1855 Prunus Bretschneider
  • Conifer Pseudolarix amabilis 1854 Golden Larch Bretschneider
  • Tree Quercus myrsinifolia 1854 Oak Bretschneider
  • Tree Quercus variabilis 1861 Oak Bretschneider
  • Shrub Rhamnus utilis 1853 Buckthorn Bretschneider
  • Shrub Rhaphiolepis indica 1847 Bretschneider
  • Shrub Rhododendron 'Obtusum' 1844 Azalea Bretschneider
  • Perennial Rhododendron 'Oomurasaki' Rhododendron Bean
  • Shrub Rhododendron 'Ramentaceum' 1846 Rhododendron Bretschneider
  • Shrub Rhododendron 'Shiromanyo' 1850 Rhododendron Bretschneider
  • Shrub Rhododendron degronianum 1862 Dwarf Azalea NTS D Donald
  • Shrub Rhododendron fortunei 1855 Rhododendron Bretschneider
  • Shrub Rhododendron indicum 'Crispiflorum' 1850 Indian Azalea Bretschneider
  • Shrub Rhododendron metternichii 1860 Rhododendron Gorer
  • Shrub Rhododendron obtusum 'Amoenum' 1850 Rhododendron Bretschneider
  • Shrub Rhododendron ovatum 1843 Rhododendron Bretschneider
  • Shrub Rhododendron simsii 'Bealii' 1851 Azalea Bretschneider
  • Shrub Rhododendron simsii 'Vittata Punctata' 1851 Azalea NTS D Donald
  • Shrub Rhododendron simsis 'Vittata' 1845 Azalea Bretschneider
  • Tree Rhus verniciflua 1853 Varnish Tree Bretschneider
  • Shrub Ribes fasciculatum v chinensis 1845 Yellow Flowering Currant Bretschneider
  • Shrub Rosa 'Fortune's Double Yellow' 1845 Rose Bretschneider
  • Shrub Rosa anemoniflora 1844 Wall Rose, blush white Bretschneider
  • Shrub Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis' 1880 China Rose, Scarlet fruits Gorer
  • Shrub Rosa cv "Five Coloured Rose" 1844 Rose Bretschneider
  • Shrub Rosa rugosa (rich purple) 1848 Hedging Rose Bretschneider
  • Shrub Rosa × fortuniana 1845 Climbing Rose, white double Bretschneider
  • Bamboo Sasa tessellata 1860 Sasa Gorer
  • Perennial Saxifraga fortunei 1863 Saxifrage Bretschneider
  • Perennial Saxifraga stolonifera 'Tricolor' 1860 Saxifrage Gorer
  • Conifer Sciadopitys verticillata 1861 Umbrella Pine Bretschneider
  • Shrub Silene fortunei 1847 Campion Bretschneider
  • Shrub Skimmia japonica ssp. reevesiana 1850 Skimmia Bretschneider
  • Shrub Spathoglottis fortunei 1844 Spathoglottis Bretschneider
  • Shrub Spiraea cantoniensis 'Flore Pleno' 1849 Spiraea Bretschneider
  • Shrub Spiraea chinensis 1843 Chinese Spiraea Bretschneider
  • Shrub Spiraea japonica 'Fortunei' 1849 Spiraea Bretschneider
  • Shrub Spiraea prunifolia 1845 Spiraea, White double Bretschneider
  • Shrub Statice sinensis 1843 Chinese Sea Lavender Bretschneider
  • Shrub Symplocos congesta Symplocos Bretschneider
  • Shrub Syringa oblata 1856 Lilac, lilac blue Bretschneider
  • Shrub Syringa oblata 'Alba' 1856 Lilac, white Bretschneider
  • Shrub Taxus cuspidata 1856 Yew Bretschneider
  • Shrub Thalictrum fortunei 1850 Meadow Rue Bretschneider
  • Conifer Thuja orientalis 1861 Thuja Bean
  • Conifer Thuja standishii 1861 Thuja Bretschneider
  • Conifer Thujopsis dolabrata 'Variegata' 1861 Thuja-like, conical shape NTS D Donald
  • Annual Torenia concolor 1844 Torenia Bretschneider
  • Conifer Torreya grandis Fortune 1855 Chinese Yew like Bretschneider
  • Shrub Trachelospermum jasminoides 1844 Chinese Jasmine like Bretschneider
  • Shrub Trachycarpus fortunei 1843 Chusan or Fan Palm Bean
  • Shrub Vernonia solanifolia 1852 Veronia Bretschneider
  • Shrub Viburnum dilatatum 1846 Viburnum Bretschneider
  • Shrub Viburnum erosum 1846 Viburnum NTS D Donald
  • Shrub Viburnum hanceanum 1843 Viburnum Bretschneider
  • Shrub Viburnum macrocephalum Fortune 1844 Viburnum Bretschneider
  • Shrub Viburnum plicatum f. plicatum 1846 Japanese Snowball Bretschneider
  • Shrub Weigela Florida 1844 Weigela Bretschneider
  • Climber Wisteria sinensis 'Alba' 1846 Wisteria Bretschneider
  • Shrub × Citrofortunella mitis 1846 Calamondin NTS D Donald

Barnaby Miln, a descendant of Robert Fortune, prepared this list in 1997 with help from the Horticultural Department of the National Trust for Scotland, in advance of Christian Aid Scotland's The Robert Fortune Show Garden at the Royal Horticultural Society Show on 30 May – 1 June 1997, which he designed. The show garden won a Royal Horticultural Society’s Silver Gilt Medal (Flora Range), the highest awarded at that show. Several television gardening programmes were broadcast from the Show Garden together with a BBC Songs of Praise in which HRH The Princess Royal was shown the garden by Barnaby Miln.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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