Earliest records of Heracleum mantegazzianum in Bohemia

Jiří Danihelka, Lajos Somlyay, Petr Pyšek

A herbarium specimen of Heracleum mantegazzianum collected in 1871 in the spa of Teplice in northern Bohemia by Lajos Haynald, archbishop of Kalocsa-Bács in Hungary, was recently found in the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest (herbarium BP). To our knowledge, this is the earliest preserved specimen of this invasive species from the territory of the current Czech Republic. It is assumed to have been collected in ornamental plantations in the town. Until recently, a specimen of an escaped plant of H. mantegazzianum collected in 1877 on the outskirts of the spa of Mariánslé Lázně (formerly Marienbad) was considered the earliest herbarium recod from theis country. Examining the earliest record in this country of H. mantegazzianum form the town of Kynžvart (formerly Könggswart) dated to 1862 and variously interpreted as relating either to cultivated or to escaped plants, we have arrived to the conclusion that this infromtation is erroneous and misplaced as it is based on misinterpretation of the name H. elegans, which certainly refers to a morphological variant of H. sphondylium recorded next to the nearby spa of Mariánské Lázně.

In newspapers and in various texts found on the internet, H. mantegazzianum is reported to have arrived in Bohemia as early as in 1815 as a present of Russian tsar Alexander I for Austrian foreign minister Prince Metternich during the Congress of Vienna. Reportedly, the seeds were handed over to the minister in one of the malachite vases that are still on display in the Chateau of Kynžvart. However, we failed to find the primary source of this information and, therefore, the exact year of introduction into the chateau park of Kynžvart remains uncertain. Still, this is a plausible report, because Prince Metternich had at least some interest in natural history and established a small natural history museum in his Kynžvart Chateau, which he opened to the public.