Napoleonís Daisy: some time ago we read the transcript of an interview between Robyn Williams, of ABC radio, and Jill, the then Duchess of Hamilton who spoke about Napoleon and Josephineís garden Malmaison near Paris. The ex-Duchess writes under the name of Jill Hamilton.
The garden contained many Australian plants and some species were even named from specimens growing at Malmaison. Acacia subulata and Eucalyptus diversifolia were two of these species.
During the interview Jill Hamilton mentioned that when the Emperor was exiled to the island of Saint Helena he was given seeds of an Australian everlasting daisy. The seeds were supposed to have been sown around Longwood, the Emperorís residence and have colonised parts of the Island.
We were intrigued by this historical dispersion of an Australian plant and endeavoured to discover the truth of this story and identify the daisy.
The search for the plantís identity led us into many highways and byways of the internet.
We sent emails to the Saint Helena Environment Department, Kew Gardens in London, the London Garden History Museum, John Tyrell who conducts a blog about Saint Helena, the French authority on the Island and the Duke of Hamiltonís estate in Scotland. An email from the Dukeís estate informed us that Jill Hamilton was now the ex-Duchess.
Nobody knew the identity of Napoleonís daisy but we received an interesting email from Dr Colin Clubbe, Kew Gardens. Dr Clubbe, who researches the flora of Saint Helena, did not know about Napoleonís daisy but told us that the only feral daisy on the Island is the Australian species: Xerochrysum bracteatum (previously Helichrysum bracteatum) (see image). The first record of this daisy is 1860. This date ties in with Napoleons exile on St Helena. He arrived there in 1815 and died in 1821.
We have found another reference to Xerochrysum bracteatum in a St Helena Environmental Impact Survey. This survey recorded the presence of Xerochrysum bracteatum in the vicinity of Longwood house, Napoleonís home during his exile on the Island.
This was an interesting internet exercise and has fostered new interest in botanical history.