Carl Skottsberg and the Plants of Southern South America

At Punta Arenas, in southern Chile, there is a botanical garden named in honor of one of the world's greatest botanical explorers. The Jardin Botanico “Carl Skottsberg” was founded in 1970, just a few years after the death of the Swedish botanist Carl Skottsberg (1880–1963). Early in his career, Skottsberg took part in a Swedish expedition to Antarctica, where he studied the vegetation on islands off the Antarctic coast. A few years later he led an expedition to study the distribution of plants in Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the islands of Juan Fernandez, which are much farther north, at latitude 33.25°S.

Skottsberg devoted decades to the study of the flora of the far south. He concluded that before its surface vanished beneath the ice, Antarctica supported plants and animals that migrated northward, crossing land bridges that once linked Antarctica with South America, Australia, and New Zealand. He also thought it possible that much earlier a land bridge had existed between Antarctica, the Kerguelen Islands, and South Africa. His investigation of the flora of Juan Fernandez, off the Chilean coast, led him to propose that long ago there had been land extending northward from Antarctica parallel to the present South American coastline. Plants and animals moved northward along this strip of land, eventually reaching Juan Fernandez and the adjacent volcanic islands of Mas a Fuera and Mas a Tierra. This meant that the flora of these islands was a relic of climatic conditions that had existed in the remote past, like the floras of Upper Teesdale, Ireland, and the Lizard Peninsula. The modern view is that continental drift, driven by the movements of the plates making up the Earth's crust, transports landmasses together with their living inhabitants, but Skottsberg did not accept the theory of continental drift.

Carl Johan Fredrik Skottsberg was born on December 1, 1880, at Karlshamn, in southern Sweden. His father, Carl Adolf Skottsberg, was rector of the local boys' school. Skottsberg entered the University of Uppsala in 1898 and obtained his doctor's degree in 1907. He became a lecturer at the university the year he received his doctorate, and in 1909 he was made keeper of the herbarium at the Uppsala Botanical Museum. While he was still a student, Skottsberg was the official botanist on the 1901–04 Swedish Antarctic Expedition led by Otto Nordenskjold (1869–1928), and he led the 1907–09 Swedish Magellan Expedition to southern South America. He returned to Juan Fernandez in 1916–17 and again in 1954–55, and he made four visits to Hawaii to study the flora. Skottsberg also traveled widely in Europe.

In 1915 the city of Goteborg commissioned Skottsberg to design a botanical garden. Work was completed in 1919, and Skottsberg became its director, a position he held for the next 29 years. From 1924 to 1947 Skottsberg was secretary of the Royal Society of Science and Letters of Goteborg. He was secretary of the International Commission for Preservation of Wildlife in the Pacific from 1929 to 1949. In 1949 he became president of the Royal Swedish Academy, and in 1950 he was elected president of the Seventh International Botanical Congress and also a foreign member of the Royal Society of London. Skottsberg died at Goteborg on June 14, 1963.