Tall Boronia, or Boronia molloyae, is one of the few Australian plants named after a woman. B. molloyae, found in Section 150 of the Australian National Botanic Gardens, flowers from October to January in quite spectacular sprays of dense, bell-shaped, deep pink flowers. It is valued for the retention of colour as the flowers age and for the length of time the flowers are held. To find Section 150, follow the signs to Black Mountain Tower to cross over the wooden bridges in the Correa Genus Section. Then cross the bitumen road to Section 150, Rutaceae.
The genus Boroniae, in the family of Rutaceae, is almost exclusively Australian in its natural distribution and is highly ornamental. There are approximately 95 species of boronia. Many boronia are cultivated for the perfume industry and indeed, often make their presence felt initially, in the Australian bush or in the Gardens, through their pleasing and unmistakable perfume. Brown Boronia, B. megastigma, is intensely fragrant and valued in the Australian cut-flower industry, as is B. heterophylla, which has good fragrance and vibrant pink flowers.
Boronia is named after Francesco Barone (1769-94), the Italian assistant of the English botanist, John Sibthorp. Barone died at the age of 25 when he fell, apparently accidentally, from a window in Athens. Barone had no known connections with Australia. It was J.E. Smith who named the genus Boronia in 1798.
B. molloyae honours Mrs Georgiana Molloy (1805-43), an early settler in south-west Western Australia and plant collector at Augusta and in the Vasse River area. Georgiana made an enormous contribution to world scientific knowledge in her research into the wildflowers of Western Australia and their curative properties as gleaned from Aboriginal Australians.
Georgiana was exceptionally well-educated, being born into the affluent, upper middle class Kennedy family in England's Lake District. At the age of 24, Georgiana Kennedy married John Molloy, the illegitimate son of the Duke of York, brother of King George III. John was twice her age, but, with limited means of support, was determined to settle in Australia. The Molloys arrived in the Warrior at Rottnest Island in Western Australia on 30 March, 1830.
Governor Stirling urged the new settlers to go south to Augusta, together with their shipmates the Bussels (later of Busselton) and the Turners. At Augusta, the conditions were primitive. Georgiana's first baby was born without professional assistance and died some days later. She sought solace in the bush.
In late 1836, Georgiana received a letter from Captain John Mangles, a cousin of Lady Stirling and a retired sea-captain. Captain Mangles asked for specimens of Australian native seeds that he might grow in his garden in England.
The next seven years saw Georgiana Molloy collecting for the Captain, helped by Aboriginal Australians who understood medicinal plants. Her correspondence with Captain Mangles became important to her, especially given the intellectual isolation and hardship of the Australian bush.
The Molloys had six children, only one a boy. Baby John, at 19 months wandered off. Georgiana had tied a bell to his belt to keep track of him, because, like his mother, he was drawn to the bush. But suddenly, one morning, the bell stopped. John was gone. He had fallen down the family well. Once again, the solace of the bush saved Georgiana. It is poignant that the species named after her has bell-shaped flowers.
Georgiana Molloy was never acknowledged in the publications by Captain Mangles describing the flora of south-west Western Australia. She died at the age of 37 years, following childbirth. She had earlier written to Captain Mangles, in her last letter to him, 'I believe I have sent you everything worth sending.'
In 1844, one year after Georgiana's death, Bartling published a description of a tall boronia that he named B. elatior. But precedence prevails in the naming of plants. Later, it was discovered that there was an earlier request to Kew Gardens for the plant to be named after Mrs Molloy. James Drummond, the Government Naturalist in Western Australia, had written to Sir William Jackson Hooker at Kew, describing a boronia as tall "as the shoulder of a man riding on a horse." It was established that this description related to the plant previously known as B. elatior. And so Boronia molloyae recognises Georgiana Molloy's contribution to the early knowledge of wildflowers in south-western Australia and is a tribute to the respite of the bush in easing the terrible hardships of the early settlers.
Further reading :
Sharp F.A. (1996) Western Australian plant names and their meanings: a glossary.
University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, W.A.
Vries-Evans de S (1987) Pioneer women, pioneer land : yesterday's tall poppies.
Angus and Robertson Press, Sydney, N.S.W.
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