Lilian Suzette Gibbs
by Frank Mossman M.D., Portland, Ore.
Reprinted from Rhododendron News Portland Chapter
Two years ago in preparation for a possible journey (not yet taken) to Mount Kinabalu, a 13,400 foot high peak in Northern Borneo, I was reading material by botanists and biologists who had been there and described the flora and fauna. Among them was Lilian Suzette Gibbs of London, a Fellow of the Linnean Society, botanist who collected in South Africa, Fiji, Java, etc., according to one source. The 'etc.' is an interesting commentary on Gibbs overall activities.
Her dates - 1870 to 1925 - indicate she was 39 years old at the time of her ascent of this highest mountain of Borneo and one of the highest of the East Indies. She hiked to the top in the year 1910 between March and February, the only occidental female to have performed this remarkable feat at the time, botanizing all the way, collecting specimens and drying them under wet conditions. She described many new species of plants, observed numerous rhododendrons (vireyas) and found one new rhododendron, R. maxwellii , with yellow flowers. Many other biologists with whose work she was well aware had preceded her there. This courageous lady trekked to the highest peak without her native helpers who, never having experienced such cold, thought themselves ill. Her 78-page report of this journey to the Linnean Society covers orography, meteorology and geology, of the area, in addition to her plant descriptions and drawings.
Of the rhododendrons seen by her, some are presently growing in this country, out-of-doors in southern California, but only in greenhouses here - in Oregon - R. lowii , a waxy yellow; R. brookeanum , yellow or yellow with red margins; R. stenophyllum , bright red flowers and very narrow leaves; R. rugosum , pink flowers; R. acuminatum , red flowers and very scaly leaves; and R. ericoides with unusual tiny leaves.