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Madame Gillain Boivin in Yellow and Orange. Asclepias curassavica, Lembang, Java, Indonesia | by Rana Pipiens
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Madame Gillain Boivin in Yellow and Orange. Asclepias curassavica, Lembang, Java, Indonesia

Across the Meuse River the late-Autumn sun set in a splash of magnificent orange and red while the rest of the sky was full of rainy clouds. Watching this Display with a glass in hand from the house of the Pharmacist from V. - known by some on flickr from a photo of mine of a marvellous Johannesteijsmannia magnifica taken in the Rimba Ilmu near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - I was reminded of my visit to the Taman Junghuhn in the hills above Bandung, Java. Here is buried Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn (1809-1864), one of the four botanists in Dutch service whose work on Cinchona (quinine) was crucial in the nineteenth-century struggle against that debilitating disease malaria.The other three are Johannes Elias Teijsmann (1808-1882), Johan Eliza de Vrij (1813-1898) and Justus Karl Hasskarl (1811-1894). Of these men and their interactions with each other, their adventures, and their work to benefit humanity a wonderful historical novel could be written full of the dark and light of psyches and society...

Not far from the handsome marker on Junghuhn's ashes here in Lembang is the unmarked slab over those of De Vrij. This bright Asclepias curassavica (= from Curacao, one of the [Dutch] Antilles in the Carribean) crowds out the Cinchona plants here. Both medicinal plants originate from South America. Cinchona was introduced here from there in the mid-nineteenth century. I don't know when Asclepias was naturalised on Java. But it has some medicinal uses relating to purgatives and also to abortion. And that last power brings to mind the French name for what goes by two popular monikers: Cancerillo and Scarlet Milkweed. A name for our Asclepias in French is "Herbe à Madame Boivin". Marie Anne Victoire Gillain Boivin (1773-1841) was one of the most versatile and influential European practitioners of medicine and especially of midwifery and obstetrics in the first half of the nineteenth century. Educated in a nunnery, she was 'secularised' by the French Revolution. But as a woman Marie Boivin could not enter university. Regardless, she avidly studied medicine and anatomy outside of academia. Practising first as a midwife, she soon moved to direct a succession of hospitals, and she was a medical author as well. Whether she used this plant in her practice or whether it was named for her vernacularly by an admirer, I don't know. I do know, though, that I will always remember her as I think of Junghuhn and De Vrij.


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Taken on July 2, 2009