Napoleon’s willow Print E-mail
News - Briewe
Monday, 28 January 2019 11:44
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Clem Le Lievre from Rotorua New Zealand writes:
I see online an article about Napoleon’s Willow, in particular with reference to reintroduction to St Helena. The article, ‘Pretoria’s forgotten willow trees’, was in The Bronberger of August 2016, written by Eric Bolsmann.

I’m hoping the writer has more information about the willow transplantation. I understand there was an earlier ‘reintroduction’ in 1942. I suspect both of these reintroductions failed as there were apparently no young trees in 1952.

This is part of a research process to throw light on the many stories of the distribution of Napoleon’s willow across the globe.

There are many tales of sprigs being taken from the willow and distributed all around the world, too many for them all to be apocryphal. However, there seems to be for the most part only second-hand accounts of such distributions. One involves my own ancestor (Etienne) Francois Le Lievre who was one of the first French settlers in Akaroa New Zealand in 1840 (from near Villedieu-les-Poêles in Normandy).

On an earlier trip to NZ, in 1837 on a French whaling ship the Nil, he obtained cuttings of Napoleon’s willow from St Helena and planted them. When he returned to settle in NZ, two were well-established young trees. It is likely that willows in Christchurch on the Avon River are descended from these. There is also likely to be at least one more separate introduction to NZ by missionaries, probably pre-1835.

I am currently working with dr Pieter Pelser, senior lecturer and curator, University of Canterbury Herbarium, to see whether it may be possible to now obtain robust scientific evidence to support the claims of association with Napoleon for trees such as yours and ours. We believe we have located a museum sample of the original willow, which allows the possibility of DNA testing.

Any contacts or information that you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

We put Clem in touch with Eric Bolsmann. Readers who have additional information are welcome to send an e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . – Ed

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