Planting a career with room to grow

12 Nov 2019

James Feez’s great-great-grandfather collected the first known specimens of the Cooktown Orchid. Now, the young horticulturalist is reaping the fruits of his own labour.

Far North Queensland was a strange place for a rattlesnake, but in the mid-1800s, a wooden one spent four years serpentining around the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait. 

HMS Rattlesnake carried a number of naturalists, including biologist Thomas Henry Huxley and botanist John MacGillivray. But it was the ship’s surgeon, Dr John Thomson, who collected the first specimens of Dendrobium phalaenopsis, a delicate lilac flower, during a survey of Mount Aldophus Island off Cape York.

The samples were sent back to London where, in 1852, they were formally described and named as the Cooktown Orchid, despite Cooktown being 500 kilometres south. That flower was selected in 1959 as the state flower of Queensland.

“I’m glad they went for a native, because they had a few other options, and they were exotic species,” said Dr Thomson’s great-great-grandson James Feez (Bachelor of Applied Science ’15).