Orchid tree, Mountain Ebony or Bauhinia variegata, from Hortus Malabaricus by Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede tot Drakenstein, year 1693

A rare and decorative exotic botanical print of a Mountain Ebony or Bauhinia Variegata plant, labeled in Latin, Malayalam, Arabic, and Sanskrit. The twelve volume Hortus Malabaricus (Garden of Malabar) was published between 1678 and 1703 as a result of collaboration between the former governor of Malabar, local Ayuverdic doctors, physicians, botanists, translators and artisans from India and the Netherlands. It is the first comprehensive record of the plant wealth of India and the medicinal uses of those plants.

Bauhinia variegata is a species of flowering plant in the legume family, Fabaceae. It is native to an area from China through Southeast Asia to the Indian subcontinent. This is a very popular ornamental tree in subtropical and tropical climates, grown for its scented flowers and also used as a food item in Indian cuisine. In the Neotropics, it can be used to attract hummingbirds—such as sapphire-spangled emerald (Amazilia lactea), glittering-bellied emerald (Chlorostilbon lucidus), or white-throated hummingbird (Leucochloris albicollis)—into gardens and parks.  It is widely cultivated in urban areas in northern and eastern Australia, particularly as a street tree, and readily escapes cultivation into waterways in Brisbane.

The publication of the twelve volumes of Hortus Malabaricus (Garden of Malabar)  is believed to be the earliest comprehensive published work on the flora of Asia and the tropics. The volumes were published between 1678 and 1703 and was a product of the collaboration of the former governor of Malabar, Hendrik van Rheede, and a large number of Ayuverdic doctors, physicians, professors of medicine and botany, translators and artisans from India and the Netherlands. Originally written in Latin, the approximately 700 copper plate engravings include the names of the plants in four languages (Latin, Sanskrit, Arabic, and Malayalam).  

It is of great importance today as a rare record of the plant wealth of Kerala (India) and medicinal uses of those plants. Unlike many 17th century documents, the local contributors of this knowledge – the vaidyas (“healers”) Itty Achudan, Ranga Bhat, Appu Bhat, Vinayaka Pandit – do not remain unnamed, but instead have contributed sworn and signed statements of their collaboration. Indeed the ethno-medical information presented in this work was extracted from the palm leaf manuscripts of Achudan.

During the 16th century, the quality of the serious study of plants in Europe was given a huge impetus by Lucca Ghini’s invention of the ‘herbarium method’: the pressing of plants between two sheets of paper so that they could be preserved in dry form. Carolus Clusius, botanists and prefect of the Leiden Hortus botanicus, recognised the opportunity presented by the formation of the Dutch East Indies company (VOC) and recent advances in the preservations of plants to expand the plant collection of the Hortus and existing knowledge of the plant world. Apart from Clusius’ early influence, the VOC also had it in their interest to care for the health of their employees in the tropics. Recognizing the value of indigenous medicinal plants for the treatment of tropical diseases, more efforts were placed on collecting and documenting such information.

Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede tot Drakenstein (1636-1691) was botanist, naturalist, and a colonial administrator of the Dutch East India Company. He also served as the governor of Dutch Malabar between 1669 and 1676. He employed 25 people to create the work and described 740 plants of the region.

Title on plate: Chovanna - Mandaru. Lat
Mountain Ebony or Bauhinia Variegat Var Candida

Hand Colored copperplate engraving, cleaned and layed on Japanese paper for long term protection. 

Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede tot Drakenstein
Mountain Ebony or Bauhinia Variegata, Year 1693
Publication Place / Date
Image Dimensions
Amsterdam / 1693
48 by 36 cm.
Product Price
Product Number
USD 1,380
SKU #P.1854