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John George Jack

John George JACK (1861 – 1949)

John George Jack

By Kenneth Jack
Copyright 2002

John George JACK was born in Canada in 1861, but was of Scots descent, his Grandfather John JACK having immigrated to that continent from Scotland in 1831.

His family were descended from the Jacks’ of Braco in Perthshire, Scotland, and as such, John George JACK’S family are very likely to have been related to David Jack, the famous Crieff born, Californian Land Baron, and Dairyman of the 19th Century, whose family also originated from Braco, and who is widely regarded as being the creator of the famous ‘Monterey Jack’ cheese. David Jack was no average Agriculturist himself, being amongst the first to introduce irrigation to the dry lands of the Salinas Valley in California. 1

John JACK’S ancestors are known to have farmed at ‘Middle Fedal’ Farm, Braco, Perthshire, from as early as 1700. The Braco Jacks were small farmers and indeed it would appear the family had a penchant for agriculture and horticulture coursing through their veins. 2

John George JACK was born in Chateauguay, Quebec, Canada on 15 April, 1861. His mother Annie L. JACK was a well-known horticulturist who produced a series of articles under the title of ‘Garden Talks’ and wrote a handbook on ‘The Canadian Garden’. John’s education was undistinguished and did not extend beyond high school level, but clearly he inherited his mother’s love of the subject and through long study and practical experience developed a thorough knowledge of plants. 3

He spent two winters studying entomology with a Dr H.A. Hagen, and he spent the summer of 1883 working in the experimental grounds of a Mr E.S. Carmen who was Editor of ‘The Rural New Yorker’ at River Edge, New Jersey. 4

In 1886, Jack went to the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University to work and study under Professor C.S. Sargent. As a working student he earned a dollar a day. However, he took full advantage of this opportunity, and in time became an acknowledged expert in detecting variations and species hybrids. His work gained the confidence of Sargent and Jack checked identifications of plantings on the grounds and contributed a column ‘Notes on the Arnold Arboretum’ which regularly appeared in the publication ‘Garden and Forest’. In 1891 Sargent recommended that Jack be appointed as a Lecturer in arboriculture. This was prompted in large part by Jack’s ability to communicate his knowledge of the subject to an interested audience, something which despite his academic eminence, Sargent had an aversion to doing. 5

Jack’s classes at the Arboretum were geared towards the interested amateur, which considering Jack’s own background in the subject, probably suited him well. Jack’s enthusiasm and friendly disposition made his courses very popular. Despite suffering from red-green colour blindness Jack was skilled at identifying and selecting the plants he saw. Jack’s lectures became an annual feature and helped raise the profile of the Arboretum and the work being carried out there. 6

Jack spent the summers of 1898 and 1900 as an agent of the Geological Survey and of the Department of Agriculture of the United States, in the course of which he explored the forests of central Colorado and of the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. He also served as an Instructor in Forestry at Harvard from 1903 to 1908, and was Lecturer in Forestry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1899 to 1908. He was appointed an assistant Professor of Dendrology at Arnold Arboretum in 1908. 7

Jack travelled extensively to study various species and this included trips within Canada and to the United States and the Far East. 8

In 1891 he paid visits to botanic gardens and nurseries in France, Germany, Italy, Denmark and England. 9

In 1904 he returned from a trip to Alberta, Canada with Professor Alfred Rehder, in possession of the dwarf white spruce, Picea glauca conic. 10

In 1905 he decided to take a trip to the Far East, such as his mentor Sargent had done earlier. Jack had to finance this trip on his own as the Arboretum had little money to devote to exploration. He financed his trips from outside sources as he only earned $500.00 a year. During this trip Jack did not venture into dangerous Mainland China but concentrated his efforts around Northern Coastal towns where he searched for outstanding cultivated species. 11

However, he spent the major part of his time in the Far East in Japan and Korea. At that time Korea had been little explored by collectors and he was unable to wander freely there due to the Russo-Japanese War. After spending about a year out East, Jack returned to North America with some 650 kinds of seeds and seedlings of both wild and cultivated plants, including some of which had never been grown in the United States. 12

Among other things, he brought back the only Winter – Hazel reliably hardy in New England, Corylopsis glabrescens, a new cork tree, Phellodendron lavallei, the Davidhemiptelea, Hemiptelea davidii, and a superior cultivar of the Siberian Crabapple, Malus bacata jackii. He also acquired seed of the Royal Azalea, Rhododendron schlippenbachii, and a compact single –flowered form of the Yodogawa azalea, Rhododendron yedoense poukhanense. Both of these Rhodeodendrons are now commonly found in gardens in North America. 13

In 1907, Professor Jack married Cerise Emily Agnes Carmen, who was daughter of Elbert S. CARMEN publisher of the ‘Rural New Yorker’. They had no family of their own, but adopted two children. Cerise Jack died in 1935. The couple’s daughter Betty Wirth and her husband lived with the Professor in his later years at "Folly Farm" in East Walpole. 14

John Jack was as hardy as some of the specimens he was so interested in and aged 75 years was known to rise at 6am, work all day, often venturing into the countryside on horseback and working on until 11 or 12 o’clock at night. At age 85 years he still lovingly tended to his garden, but complained about being unable to work after supper. He published many hundreds of papers throughout the years and contributed many articles in various horticultural journals. He retired from full time employment in 1935. 15

John George JACK, by then Assistant Professor of Dendrology, Emeritus, at the Arnold Arboretum, died at "Folly Farm", aged 88 years. He had been confined to his bed since August 1948 having fallen and broken his hip while tending to his Orchard. 16

Jack’s enthusiasm for his work shone brightly, and all who knew him found him to be a friendly, interesting, and knowledgeable teacher of field classes who contributed significantly to the various fields of Natural History. In recognition of his work the following species were named for Professor Jack: -

Sinojackia Hu, a new genus with two species from China
Alnus Jackii Hu ( A, tuberculosa Hand.-Mazz).
*Amelasorbus Jackii Rehd.
*Betula Jackii Schneid.
Crataegus Jackii Sarg.
Juniperus communis var. Jackii Rehd.
*Populas Jackii Sarg.
*Quercus Jackiana Schneid.
Rosa Maximowiczii var. Jackii (Rehd.) Rehd. (R. Jackii Rehd.).
*Sorbaronia Jackii Rehd. (Pyrus Jackii [Rehd.]
*Viburnum Jackii Rehd.

Professor Jack discovered the hybrids marked with an asterisk. 17

Glossary of terms

Agriculturist – one versed in the art of agriculture/Farmer
Horticulturist - one versed in the art of cultivating gardens
Dendrology - the natural history of trees.
Entomology - the science of insects
Arboretum - a botanic garden of trees
Arboriculture - forestry; the culture of trees; especially timber trees.
Hybrid Species - an organism, which is the offspring of a union between different species or varieties.

Chambers - 20th Century Dictionary (1983).


  1. John JACK’S ancestors farmed at Middle Fedal, Braco, which is situated on the Braco to Kinbuck Road and is only a few miles on the Kinbuck side of Silverton Farm, Braco where David Jack’s ancestors farmed. The Register of Testaments of the Commissariot of Dunblane, 1535 – 1800 show families of Jacks at both farms for a considerable length of time.
  2. Norman Jack of Canada, John George Jack’s great nephew confirms that his ancestors left Middle Fedal and moved to the Alloa area following many decades of farming at Middle Fedal.
  3. Journal of the Arnold Arboretum, Vol. XXX, October 1949, Number 4.
  4. Footnote to page 105 of ‘Silva of North America’ by C.S. Sargent, Vol. 13, (1947)
  5. ‘Charles Sprague Sargent and the Arnold Arboretum, SB Sutton, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, (1970)
  6. Ibid.
  7. C.S. Sargent
  8. One of Jack’s findings around this time was ‘Crataegus Champlainensis’ which is referred to by C.S. Craigen – "a tree from fifteen to twenty feet in height, with a tall stem eight or ten inches in diameter covered with dark deeply fissured bark broken on the surface into thin loose plate-like scales, and stout wide-spreading branches which form a round –topped and often symmetrical head…Crataegus Champlainensis grows on heavy clay soil, and is a frequent inhabitant of the limestone ridges of the Champlain valley, from Middlebury, Vermont, and Crown Point, New York, northward, and of the valley of the St. Lawrence, where it has been found at Chateaugay, Adirondack Junction, and Caughnawaga in the Province of Quebec, and where it was discovered in September, 1899, by Mr. J.G. Jack.

  9. ‘Journal of the Arnold Arboretum’
  10. ‘Arboretum Explorers’, Vol. 22, Page 48, New York Botanical Garden, April 1972.
  11. S.B. Sutton
  12. Ibid.
  13. ‘Arboretum Explorers’
  14. ‘Journal of the Arnold Arboretum’
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.

The Author expresses his thanks to Library Staff at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, 125 Arborway, Jamaica Plain, MASSACHUSETTS for supplying materials used in the compiling of this Biography.



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