QBARS - v17n2 J. F. Rock, 1884-1962, Part I

J. F. Rock, 1884-1962
Alvin K. Chock
Editor Newsletter of the Hawaiian Botanical Society


R. traillianum
Fig. 12. R. traillianum growing on the Li-Chiang
Range N.W. Yunnan. Elevation 11,500 ft.
Age of tree 150 years.
Rock photo

Almost sixty years ago a young Austrian left his homeland to see the world and regain his health. His trip around the world was to be postponed for a decade, for he made a prolonged stopover in Hawaii. During his lifetime he made his home in Hawaii and China. This energetic, versatile, and legendary scientist became recognized throughout the world first as a botanist, then as a plant collector, naturalist, and explorer. His explorations and his remarkable linguistic ability led him to become a geographer, Orientalist, philologist, and anthropologist. His contributions were legion and they enlightened, increased, and diffused mankind's knowledge about the flora of the Hawaiian Islands and the natural history of Western China and Eastern Tibet.
Dr. Joseph Francis Charles Rock (Josef Franz Karl Rock) was born to Franz and Francisca (Hofer) Rock on January 13, 1881, in Vienna, Austria. His mother died when he was only six years old and his older sister and father cared for him. His family felt that his destiny lay in the Church and directed his early training toward the priesthood. His own inclinations, however, did not point in this direction. Even as a young child he developed a lively curiosity about strange lands anal their strange tongues, triggered by a visit to Egypt with his father at age 10. In Egypt he learned to speak Arabic so fluently that at age 16 he taught the language at the University. At home he taught himself Chinese, studying it by candle light after the household had retired. The conflict between his father's and sister's plan for his life and his own interests in the world about him led him to leave home as soon as his formal education at the Vienna Schoten Gymnasium and Vienna University were completed.
He wandered about Europe and was in Antwerp when he decided to spend the summer in England. However, he missed the channel steamer and on impulse bought passage for the United States, leaving Antwerp on board the SS Zeeland and arriving in New York on September 9, 1905. After a short stay in New York, his health forced him to seek a warmer and drier climate and he went to Texas where he attended the University to gain greater proficiency in English. This set the linguistic pattern for the rest of his life, for from that time on all of his writing was done in English. Forsaking the land of his birth, he became a naturalized citizen in May 1913. His health did not improve appreciably and he was advised to go to Arizona. However, he had always had a longing to see the tropics, so against the doctors' advice that he had but three months to live unless he sought dry desert air, he set off for Hawaii. An interesting fact is that Dr. William Hillebrand, who preceded him as resident botanist, was also afflicted with tuberculosis. Like his predecessor, Rock recovered in Hawaii's salubrious climate and regained his health.
His first position upon his arrival in Honolulu in 1907 was as one of the three full-time teachers at Mills School. The following year the school became known as Mid-Pacific Institute. In September 1908 Rock resigned for reasons of health in order to be out-of-doors, and was placed on official leave of absence by the school. That same month he went on a botany trip with Charles N. Forbes, Assistant in Botany at the B. P. Bishop Museum, who had arrived in June.  Rock showed him a tree which he had seen two months before. In Forbes' first publication of new Hawaiian plants, he named that tree Euphorbia rockii in honor of Rock.
In October 1908 he joined the Division of Forestry, Board of Commissioners of Agriculture and Forestry. Territory of Hawaii (now Forestry Division, Department of Land and Natural Resources, State of Hawaii), first as Botanical Collector, and later as Botanical Assistant. His assignment as the first and only Botanist of the Board consisted of collecting seeds of rare Hawaiian trees and shrubs for exchange purposes and of establishing a herbarium. His botanical knowledge was largely self-taught, but his tremendous capability made the task easy. He applied himself by studying the available botanical literature and quickly became thoroughly familiar with the native flora by spending most of his time in the field on the different islands pursuing his studies. His interest in botany was not limited to the woody plants. He made a complete fern collection and at Waikiki Beach collected limu (algae), utilizing what was perhaps the first glass bottomed boat in Hawaii which Alexander Hume Ford built for him. The herbarium he developed from his own Hawaiian plant collections and from exchanges with mainland U.S. and European herbaria. Such specialists as O. Beccari, E. B. Copeland, C. de Candolle, A. Heimerl, F. L. Lewton, U. Martelli, L. Radlkofer, and A. Zahlbruckner, collaborated with him in the identification of Hawaiian plants and published many new species from his collections. The forestry and botany exhibit which he prepared for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909 won a gold medal. He wrote many reports in the Board's Biennial Reports and The Hawaiian Forester and Agriculturist . His early scientific publications comprise the entire Botanical Bulletin series of the Board.
On September 1, 1911, he was transferred to the College of Hawaii as Botanist since the Board of Agriculture & Forestry's funds for botanical purposes were limited. Arrangements for the transfer of the herbarium to the College on an indefinite loan basis were completed the following summer when the College's first permanent building was constructed. Despite the changeover, he continued his relationship with the Board in an honorary capacity as Consulting Botanist until 1921. At the four year old College, which had that year changed its name from the College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts to the College of Hawaii, Rock was placed in charge of the herbarium.
In June 1913 with a Bishop Museum Expedition he made a trip to Palmyra Island which produced the flora of Palmyra. During the 1913-14 school year he made a trip around the world at his own expense, but his trip was not a selfish one. He collected seeds and plants for the reforestation of Mauna Kea and Haleakala for the Board of Agriculture and Forestry; bamboos from the Himalayan area for planting in the Panama Canal Zone at the request of the Bureau of Plant Industry, U.S. Department of Agriculture (which association was to continue in a Collaborator status until 1944); and examined Hawaiian herbarium specimens in European and American institutions for the College. While at the Botanisches Museum at Berlin-Dahlem, Rock obtained permission to take 1,000 sheets of fragments and duplicates from the type collections of William Hillebrand, M.D., which were made during his residence in the islands in 1851-71. This was fortunate since the museum's herbarium was destroyed on March 1, 1943, during World War II. Portions of the type specimens of Hawaiian plants described by Dr. Asa Gray were also obtained from the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University, and photographs of Hawaiian specimens were made at the Harvard, Berlin, Vienna, and Paris museums. He developed the herbarium further by securing Hawaiian plant collections and specimens from Australia, Ceylon, Cuba, Central and South America, Java, Mauritius, New Zealand, and the Philippines through exchanges with other institutions. He subsequently made several other plant introduction trips, all at his own expense: in 1916 to the Philippines, Java, and Singapore; in 1917 to southern California; and in 1919 to Siam, Malaya, and Java.
After 1914 he was listed in the college's catalog as the only instructor of the Systematic Botany Division's courses: "Botany 10, Systematic Botany for Advanced Students" (first and second semesters, three credits) and "Botany 11, Advanced Research Work in Phaenogamic Botany" (credits arranged). In 1919 he was officially appointed Professor of Systematic Botany. One of his former students, Edwin H. Bryan, Jr. (now Curator of Collections, and Manager, Pacific Scientific Information Center, B. P. Bishop Museum), who was then a part-time Assistant in Entomology at the Museum, recalls that he was the only student in Rock's systematic botany class in 1919-20. Rock would lecture informally in Latin or English, and Bryan transcribed these notes. Bryan was secretary, laboratory assistant, and mounter for several hours each day during these informal "class" sessions, and assisted in the descriptions and bibliographic data for Pritchardia, Plantago , and other plant groups. Rock's memory was phenomenal - there were piles of books and specimens all over his small work room since there were few shelves and cabinets, but he knew where everything was in spite of the apparent disorder. Before Rock left Hawaii, he and Bryan arranged and cataloged the herbarium.
In 1914 Rock was appointed to the Buildings and Grounds Faculty Committee, and placed in charge of the plantings for the twenty acres alloted for the campus as a botanical garden. According to the President's Report for 1915-17, "In order properly to develop these plantings we have prepared a permanent plan for placing the buildings and drives so that no valuable plants need be planted in situations which will later be needed for other purposes." By 1918 Rock had planted 500 different species on the campus. These plants were from Asia, Indonesia, America, and Hawaii. All of the native plants were grown from seeds, and many of them were from Rock's type collections of new species.
During his residence in Hawaii, this thorough and dynamic plant collector explored all the major islands, staying at each for weeks and months. He took with him his botanical equipment and a view camera with glass plates. He enlisted local residents as collecting assistants and as subscribers to publish his books. His botanizing resulted in the publication, by patronage, of The Indigenous Trees of the Hawaiian Islands in 1913. In the preface he apologizes for his construction of sentences, since English was not his native language, and thereby committed what is perhaps the only grammatical error. Another tome followed four years later, The Ornamental Trees of Hawaii . Both volumes were profusely illustrated with his photographs. He made a list of plants located in Mrs. Mary E. Foster's estate in Nuuanu Valley, Honolulu. This was significant because most of the plants were introduced by Hillebrand whose home this once was. The site later became Foster Botanical Garden under the jurisdiction of the Department of Parks and Recreation, City and County of Honolulu.
Dr. Rock was a member of the Advisory Committee, Experiment Station of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association. Because of the need for water to irrigate the sugar cane fields, he cooperated with them on water development since the watersheds are contained in the forest reserves. They in turn published his treatise, The Leguminous Plants of Hawaii .
Regarding his affiliation with the Bernice P. Bishop Museum during these years, both Rock and the Museum several times contemplated a more permanent relationship although none was consummated until 1955. There was, nevertheless, beginning in 1908 a cooperative relationship between the two. In 1908 Forbes and Rock collected in several localities in Oahu. In 1913 Dr. C. Montague Cooke, Jr. and Rock went to Palmyra Island to collect shells and plants for 16 days. The museum published two of his monographs in the Memoirs series. The first, on the Lobelioids in 1919, was one in which the Director. Dr. W. T. Brigham had expressed a keen interest 11 years before. On the day the monograph was issued, Rock told the museum that it was his hope "that every family would eventually be worked up in a similar style, the whole forming an Illustrated Flora of the Hawaiian Islands." Two years later a monograph on Pritchardia was published with Odoardo Beccari as co-author. As in his earlier works, both of these illustrated the various taxa. Shortly after Rock left Hawaii he donated to the museum his photographs and the manuscript of Hillebrand's Flora of the Hawaiian Islands (1888) which he had obtained in Washington, D.C., from Hillebrand's son.
In 1920, at the time of the transition of the College of Hawaii to University status, a reciprocity agreement between the University and the Museum was made and, by legislation, the Museum became the Territory's depository for systematic collections. The museum was to maintain the collections with the University assisting in the actual collecting. In 1922 the herbarium of 28,000 specimens which Rock had amassed for the herbaria of the Board of Agriculture and Forestry and the University of Hawaii was transferred to the Bishop Museum, which at that time had only 53,000 specimens. In 1941 the remainder of the Board's herbarium of 529 specimens, of which 315 were Rock's, and in 1958 the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association Herbarium of 3,000 specimens (about 10% having been collected by Rock) were given to the Museum. Rock himself was to deposit the specimens he collected after 1953 in the Museum.
On May 25, 1920, Rock left Hawaii to spend the next three decades in active exploration and research in Asia. During this period he was to collect thousands of botanical, ornithological, and zoological specimens; to introduce thousands of Asiatic plants to the United States; to map and photograph heretofore unknown regions; to translate volumes of native literature; to do research on the peoples, culture, folklore, religion, and geography of western China and eastern Tibet memorialized through innumerable books, articles in scientific journals, and in the National Geographic Magazine .
Rock had always had a desire to travel in the Orient and the Office of Foregn Seed and Plant Introduction. Bureau of Plant Industry, U. S. Department of Agriculture first provided this opportunity for him. In 1920 he was sent to Indo-China, Siam, Burma, and India to find seeds of the chaulmoogra ( Hydnocarpus kurzii (King) Warberg). In 1918 Dr. A. L. Dean, President of the College of Hawaii, had prepared constituents of the chaulmoogra oil in large quantities for clinical use and established them as the first useable cure for Hansen's disease. Due to the success of Rock's exploration, a plantation of 2,980 trees of this and related species were planted in the Waiahole Forest Reserve on Oahu in 1921-22.
In 1922 Rock took up his residence in Li-chiang, the heart of the Na-khi country. His interest in these aboriginal people and their unique culture led him to make, a decade later, his life work the study of the Na-khi tribe of northwest Yun-nan Province, China. Using Li-chiang as a base, Rock explored and collected plants on the nearby Snow Range to the 17,000 foot level, in the Kingdom of Mu-li, and along the Burma-China border. By 1923 he was far into Yün-nan Province in southwest China, and the National Geographic Society took over the sponsorship of his explorations for more than a year. He continued his work in the mountain ranges in the vicinity of the Mekong and Yangtze Rivers, searching for new plant material. During this period he collected over 80,000 plant specimens, as well as seeds of many Asiatic ornamentals as yet not introduced into the Western World. He also collected 1,600 skins of birds which were presented to the U . S. National Museum.
In 1921 Rock returned to Washington, D.C., visiting the Arnold Arboretum that summer. Professor C. S. Sargent, Director, expressed his interest in sending a botanist to collect seeds of woody plants from two little known mountain ranges (Amnye Ma-chen and Richthofen) near the Yellow River. As a result of this conference, Rock was selected to do this under the sponsorship of Harvard University. In addition to collecting for the Arnold Arboretum, the Museum of Comparative Zoology directed the collecting of ornithological specimens from northwest China and Tibet. Rock returned to Yün-nan Province and secured the help of his former Na-khi assistants. In spite of bouts with flu and bronchitis, and with his expedition repeatedly threatened with brigand attacks, the Arboretum received the first packet of seeds one year after he left San Francisco. More were sent later. These were distributed to all principal botanical and horticultural institutions in the northern parts of North America and Europe. Rock explored the Yangtze River country, along the Kansu-Szechuan border, the Tebbu region in southwestern Kansu, and the Koko Nor Lake at 10,700 ft. elevation in northeast Tibet. He searched for plant material in the Richthofen Range, only to discover that it was almost bare of vegetation. Nevertheless, he collected as much seed as he could. In later years it was discovered that the conifer seeds which he collected proved to be important in the reforestation of areas with a severe climate. He spent the winter of 1925-26 in the Lamasary of Cho-ni on the Kansu Steppes. There he observed the Butter Festival and the Mystery Plays of this almost unknown tribe. In the spring he made a reconnaisance of the Amnye Ma-chhen Range, hurried because of hostile Golock tribesmen, followed by several months exploring the Tebbu country, an area rich in wild mountain scenery and beautiful flora where no Caucasian had ever before set foot. He wintered in Cho-ni again. In the spring of 1927 he left in a southwesterly direction to Kuan-hsien, crossed the plain to Chengtu, and took the overland route to Chungking before proceeding by steamer to Shanghai, arriving there in May 1927. On this botanical and zoological expedition, he collected 20,000 herbarium specimens in addition to the many packets of propagative material, and 1,000 skins of birds, although the latter collection was a secondary task.

Rhododendron refum
Fig. 13. Rhododendron refum growing at 12,000 feet on the Kansu Min Shan,
Northwest China in the Cho-ni principality.  The tree is at least 150 years old.
Rock photo

In 1927 after a short rest in the United States the National Geographic Society appointed him to direct their Southwest China Expedition, a three year task. By May, 1928 he was in Yung-ning, home of the Hli-khin (Moso) tribe, and then in Mu-li, Szechuan Province, before exploring and collecting on the 14,000 and 17,000 ft. levels of the Konka Risumgongba Range. The winter was spent in Nv-lv-k'ö, Yün-nan, where he explored the eastern slopes of the Li-chiang Snow Range. In the spring he returned to Mu-li to explore and map the Minya Range. During the late summer and fall he was in the valleys and ranges of the great river trenches of Asia: the Yalung, Mekong, Salwin and Yangtze Rivers. There some of the canyon walls were over two miles above the rivers. He returned to Nv-lv-k'ö for the winter of 1919-20, continuing the survey of the eastern slopes of the Li-chiang Snow Range. Along with the thousands of plant specimens and seeds collected, he sent 1,700 birds to the U. S. National Museum.