Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach (Leipzig 1823-1889) was an ornithologist, botanist and the foremost German orchidologist of the 19th century. His father Heinrich Gottlieb Ludwig Reichenbach (author of Icones Florae Germanicae et Helveticae) was a well-known botanist.
He started his study of orchids at the age of 18. He supported his father in writing the Icones. He became a Doctor in Botany with his work on the pollen of orchids (see ‘Selected Works’).
Soon after his graduation, Reichenbach was appointed to the posts of extraordinary professor of botany in Leipzig in 1855. He then became director of the botanic gardens at Hamburg University (1863-1889).
At that time thousands of newly discovered orchids were being sent back to Europe. He was responsible for identifying, describing, classifying. He named and recorded many of these new discoveries. He had probably not the easiest of characters, since he used to bragg with his many descriptions. Many of these were actually so streamlined, that they could have fitted more than a hundred orchid species.
H.G. Reichenbach became the world’s leading authority in orchids, after the death of his friend, the 'father of orchidology' John Lindley in 1865.
"Orchid specimens from all over the world were sent to him for identification, and these, together with his copious notes and drawings, forms an immense herbarium which rivaled that of Lindley at Kew" (Reinikka, 'A history of the orchid', p. 215).
His immense herbarium and library were bequeathed to the 'Naturhistorisches Museum' in Vienna, Austria (instead, as expected, to the Kew Gardens), on the condition that it would not be consulted during the first 25 years after his death. He probably acted this way out of resentment of the appointment of Robert Rolfe , a self-taught orchid expert, as the top taxonomist at Kew. This resulted in a great number of double or multiple descriptions, which had to be corrected afterwards.
After Reichenbach’s death, his work was continued by Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig (“Fritz”) Kraenzlin (1847-1934).
In 1886 Frederick Sander commissioned Henry George Moon (1857-1905), a pure colourist, to paint 192 watercolour plates of orchids with descriptions by Reichenbach (1888-1894). This book has become known as the Reichenbachia and it is one of the largest colour plate books ever produced about orchids.
In taxonomy his name is usually abbreviated as Rchb.f. (f = filius - son), while his father is abbreviated as Rchb.
Genera, species and subspecies named after him include
- Chondrorhyncha reichenbachiana
- Kefersteinia reichenbachiana
- Masdevallia reichenbachiana
- Microstylis reichenbachiana
- Nepeta reichenbachiana
- Phalaenopsis reichenbachiana
- Pinguicula longifolia subsp. reichenbachiana
- Restrepiopsis reichenbachiana
- Sievekingia reichenbachiana
- Stanhopea reichenbachiana
- Viola reichenbachiana
- REICHENBACH, H.G. De pollinis Orchidearum genesi ac structura et de Orchideis in artem ac systema redigendis. Commentatio quam ex auctoritate amplissimi philosophorum ordinis die mensis julii decimo hora decima MDCCCLII illustris ictorum ordinis concessu in auditorio juridico pro venia docendi impetranda publice defendet. Lipsiae, F. Hofmeister, 1852 (on the origin and structure of orchid pollen)
- REICHENBACH, H.G. Beiträge zu einer Orchideenkunde Central-Amerika's. Hamburg, T.G. Meissner, 1866.
- REICHENBACH, H.G. & KRAENZLIN, W.L. Xenia Orchidacea. Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Orchideen. Leipzig, F.A. Brockhaus, 1858-1900. 3 volumes (one of the rarest works on orchids).