Francis Masson

Date of Birth - 1741

Started as his working life as a garden boy. 1760s he travelled to London where he got a gardening job at Kew which was the directed by Joseph Banks. In 1772 Captain Cook was preparing for his second great voyage of exploration. At this time Masson was appointed the first Kew plant collector and gained his passage to Cape Town South Africa with Captain Cook at the instance of the Admirality.


francis-massonFollowing his arrival on 30 October 1772, he undertook his first expedition which lasted two months. This first exploration of in the Stellenbosch area and the Hottentot Holland Mountains, with the Cape's rich flora must have seemed like paradise to Masson.

Following this he undertook an expedition to the interior in the company of the Swedish Botanist Carl Thunberg. Later he made one further extended expedition which took him through some of the world's most rugged terrain, between these expeditions he explored the slopes of Table Mountain. It was while he was collecting on Table Mountain that he had a dangerous encounter with a party of escaped convicts who intended to take him hostage. Following these expeditions he introduced many exotics, including several Cape heaths and proteas.

He returned to Kew in 1775 crowned in glory. His reputation as a collector and introducer of new, exciting plants was firmly established. In 1776- 78 he made collections in Madeira, Canary Isles, the Azores and West Indies. Imprisoned by a French expeditionary force on Grenada in 1779, eventually released then returned to England.

Between 1786- 95 returned to collect in S Africa and sent a large number of plants, seeds and bulbs to Britain. 1797 Sailed to N. America but was captured by French pirates before being transferred to a German ship, eventually landing in New York 1798.
Collected in the Great Lakes region and Canada for seven years.

The circumstances of his death are unclear, however at the age of 64 after some 25 years in hot climates it is likely that the cold climate wrecked havoc with his health.

Countries visited: South Africa, Spain, Portugal, Tenerife, Azores, West Indies, Canada, USA.

Awards: FLS 1796

Francis Masson Main Plant Introductions:

Introduced over 86 species of Cape Heaths, some 50 species of Pelargonium and Protea. His introductions of succulents included Crassula sp, Stapelia sp and Mesembryanthemum sp. Large numbers of new bulbs new to cultivation included Gladioli sp, Ixia sp, Babiana sp, Gardenia sp, Moraea s, and Orthogalum sp. Such was the impact that The Royal Botanic Garden at Kew constructed a large new Cape House, especially to display them.

He also introduced Strelitzia regina, “The Bird of Paradise Flower”, one of most flamboyant of South African exotics.

  • Dorotheanthus bellidiformis
  • Gladiolus alatus
  • Gladiolus hybrids
  • Kniphofia caulescens – Red Hot Pokers
  • Lobelia hybrids
  • Pelargonium hybrids – Geranium’s
  • Trillium grandiflorum
  • Watsonia pyramidatus

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