(16 March 1888 – 30 April 1964)
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU) curates 19 fungal specimens and 3 vascular plant specimens collected by Eugène Poilane. As our vascular plant collection continues to be inventoried, it is likely that more specimens collected by Poilane will be found.
According to the Harvard Herbaria database of botanists, other herbaria curating Poilane’s specimens include Harvard University Herbaria (A), Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum Berlin-Dahlem (B), National Botanic Garden of Belgium (BR), Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada (DAO), Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (E), Field Museum (F), Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève (G), Nationaal Herbarium Nederland (L), NY (New York Botanical Garden (NY), Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris (P, PC), and the United States National Herbarium (US).1
“Khe Sanh village existed as a result of the presence of French coffee planters. It began with Eugène Poilane, a son of peasants, born at Saint-Sauveur de Landemont, France, on March 16, 1888. Poilane, by profession an “artillery worker,” arrived in South Vietnam, then the French protectorate of Cochinchina, in 1909. He worked at the naval arsenal for some years, until he chanced to meet naturalist Auguste Chevalier, who after the First World War appointed Poilane as a prospector for the Botanical Institute. In 1922 Poilane became an agent of the Forest Service of Indochina.
Eugène Poilane first passed through what became Khe Sanh village in 1918, when it consisted of only one house, that of the engineer supervising construction of Colonial Route 9, the first metaled road to Laos. Like the Americans who followed, he was captivated by the lush vegetation and thought the red soil as fine as anything in Tuscany. He returned in 1926 to start a coffee plantation, importing chiari coffee trees and tending them for the ten years they need to become productive. His plantation extended throughout the area subsequently occupied by Khe Sanh combat base. In fact, the access road from the base airfield to Route 9 was Poilane’s private thoroughfare. His motorcar was the first vehicle in the region.
Not only did Poilane establish the first plantation, he fulfilled his avocation of botanist with aplomb, traveling throughout Indochina, even to the borders of China and Burma, in behalf of the Forestry Service. Poilane collected specimens that he sent to the museum at Saigon. Until 1947 his submissions numbered between fifteen hundred and five thousand a year, for a total of more than thirty-six thousand, and he was credited with having discovered twenty-one species of plants and producing the second known specimens of nineteen others. The [genera] Poilania [in the Asteraceae] and Poilaniella [in the Euphorbiaceae] will forever give homage to this venturesome man. Poilane began an experimental orchard, attempting to introduce numerous types of fruit trees native to tropical and even temperate climates. He imported grafts from France, Japan, and other countries.
As the trees grew, so did the Poilane family. Madame Bordeauducq, Eugène’s formidable first wife, who bore him five children, kept her maiden name to show her independence. Indeed, when Poilane divorced her, Bordeauducq merely moved a kilometer down the road and started a plantation of her own. Poilane then married a Nung woman and sired five more children.
… Another planter [in the Khe Sanh area] was M. Rome, whose land lay east of the village along Route 9. His wife and gardener, both Japanese, reportedly lived pretty high during the Japanese occupation of Indochina in World War II. According to Madeleine Poilane, the wife of Poilane’s son Felix, the three spied on French positions for the Japanese and Viet Minh and were later killed, “some say by the VC [Viet Cong], others say by the French.”
The Rome plantation then went to a renter, M. Llinares, who lived in Tonkin but had lost almost everything at the end of the Franco-Vietnamese war, when he abandoned his property in what became North Vietnam. Llinares had no love for the North Vietnamese, but his Vietnamese wife was said to have had contacts with the Viet Cong, and a VC network was discovered in a village at the edge of the Llinares plantation. After that, Bru tribesmen inhabiting that village were resettled and any who had pro-VC sympathies left. Nevertheless, two workers were murdered in the Llinares house, after which the wife left Khe Sanh to demand protection from the Quang Tri province chief. She never returned.
Llinares has been quoted as telling visitors to the village that he wanted only one thing of God: “I ask to die at Khe Sanh.” On April 30, 1964, Llinares was a passenger in Eugène Poilane’s well-known yellow Citroen when the two were ambushed by the Viet Cong. Llinares survived, but Poilane died. “ 2
There are many animals & plants named in Eugène Poilane’s honor, including the plant genera Poilania Gagnep. (Asteraceae; now considered to be in the genus Epaltes Cass.) and Poilaniella Gagnep. (Euphorbiaceae). Here are a few:
Garra poilanei Petit & Tchang – a freshwater tropical carp of Vietnam
Gecinulus grantia ssp. poilanei Deignan – “Pale-headed Woodpecker” native to Southeast Asia
Limnonectes poilani Bourret – a frog found in eastern Cambodia & southern Vietnam
Pareuchiloglanis poilanei Pellegrin – a sucker catfish
Leptoseps poilani Bourret – a skink
Pseudocalotes poilani Bourret – Laotian False Bloodsucker
Aeschynanthus poilanei Pellegr. – Gesneriaceae, found on tree trunks in forests 900-100 m. elevation, Vietnam
Boea poilanei Pellegr. – Gesneriaceae, now considered to be a synonym of Boea philippensis C. B. Clark, found on shady & damp rocks in forests at 100-800 m. elevation in Philippines & Vietnam
Primulina poilanei (Pellegr.) Mich. Moller & A. Weber (synonym = Chirita poilanei Pellegr.) – Gesneriaceae
Deinostigma poilanei (Pellegr.) W. T. Wang & Z.Y. Li (synonym = Hemiboea poilanei Pellegr.) – Gesneriaceae According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014.2, Deinostigma poilanei “is only known from two collections from Nha-trand and Tourane, Vietnam, made in the 1920’s. Field surveys are required to relocate this species and to gather more information on its status.”
Lilium poilanei Gagnep. (Liliaceae) endemic to NW Vietnam & NW Laos, described in 1934 by Francois Gagnepain. (Bulletin de la Société Botanique de France 81(7–8): 619. 1934.) Holotype collected by Poilane (#12811): Tonkin: near Chapa, Km 8 to Lo-qui-ho hill. Syntype: Poilane #16929: Laos: between Muong-het and Hung-send. Both of these may be in P, Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris.
Dendrocalamus poilanei (Poaceae) named by Aimee Antoinette Camus in 1925 (Bulletin du Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle 31: 205. 1925.) Holotype collected by Poilane (#8463) Annam: Cana, pr. Phanrang and is held by P, Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris.
Amentotaxus poilanei (Ferre & Rouane) D.K. Ferguson Adansonia ser. 4, 11 (3): 316. 1989. (Cephalotaxaceae) Type: Vietnam, Kon Tum Prov., Ngoc Pan Massif, Mt. Ngoc Linh. Collected by E. Poilane #32686 (Holotype at P). “Poilane’s catkin yew” “De tung Nam,” “Sam bong Nam” in Vietnamese “This species is apparently a large tree occurring in high montane close evergreen rainforest, at an altitude around 2300 m a.s.l. It is locally common but scattered, mixed with broad-leaved (angiosperm) trees and perhaps Nageia wallichiana as the only other conifer present. Rainfall is very high, at least over 3000 mm per annum and cool temperatures prevail due to almost continuous cloud cover. This species is still only known with certainty from a single mountain, where it was discovered in 1946 [by Poilane]. Reports from other localities need confirmation by taxonomists who know the gens Amentotaxus well. The primary forest in this locality is still present and the total population probably consists of fewer than 1000 mature trees. The status of A. poilanei was assessed under the IUCN Red List criteria of 1994 as Vulnerable, assuming a modest decline due to forest fragmentation at lower altitudes, approaching or encroaching on the population. More recent visits have indicated that there are no direct threats at present and that the species should be classified as Vulnerable on the basis of its small population size along, using the revised 2001 criteria. There are protected forest areas on the mountain which include this species.” 3
A notice of Poilane’s death was printed in the Bulletin de al Societe de biologie du Viet Nam 2(1): 3-8. 1964. This article includes a candid photo of Poilane.
1. “Eugene Poilane”. Index of Botanists. Harvard University Herbaria & Libraries. https://kiki.huh.harvard.edu/databases/botanist_search.php?mode=details&id=6549 accessed on 20 August 2021.
2. Prados, John and Ray W. Stubbe (1991) Valley of Decision: The Siege of Khe Sanh. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. p. 25-26.
3. Aljos Farjon (2010 ) A handbook of the world’s conifers, Vol. II. Leiden, Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV. Pp. 174-175.