S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Dinter, Mr Moritz Kurt (botany, insect collection)

Born: 10 June 1868, Bautzen, Sachsen, Germany.
Died: 16 December 1945, Neukirch, Sachsen, Germany.

M. Kurt Dinter, gardener and botanist, was the eldest son of Alwin Dinter, a teacher, and his wife Clara Lehmann. After completing his schooling and military service he was trained in horticulture and botany in the botanical gardens at Strasbourg and Dresden. He was interested mainly in exotic plants, particularly succulents. In 1894 he was appointed curator of the famous botanic garden at La Mortola, near Ventimiglia on the Italian Riviera, belonging to Sir Thomas Hanbury. There he compiled an Alphabetical catalogue of plants growing in the garden La Mortola... (Genoa, 1897). He spent six months at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, near London, to improve his command of English. In 1897, shortly after his return from England, he resigned his post and departed for German South West Africa (now Namibia), arriving at Swakopmund in June. For a year he was in the service of the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft, staying at Salem, on the Swakop River some 90 km east of Swakopmund, and collecting plants in the vicinity. He then travelled from Luederitz overland to Keetmanshoop. Along the way he spent some time with Ferdinand Gessert* on his farm Inachab, south-west of Keetmanshoop, helping him to select and plant trees and shrubs to stop the encroachment of sand dunes. He also travelled to Windhoek and from there as far north as Etosha Pan. A brief account of his travels, and his observations of Welwitchia plants at Salem, were published in the Gardeners' Chronicle in 1897 and 1898, followed by a short description of "Vegetation of South West Africa" (1900) in the same journal. He sent herbarium specimens to Dr Hans Schinz* at Zurich and Dr H.G. Adolf Engler* at Berlin, and sold collections of seeds, bulbs and succulents to the firm Haage und Schmidt of Erfurt, Germany.

In May 1900 the German authorities appointed Dinter as forestry officer and later as the first government botanist, a post he held until 1914. His brief was to establish a nursery for commercial timber and to study the grasses and poisonous plants of the territory. Initially he was stationed at Brakwater, north of Windhoek, where he started a forest nursery, but later moved it to Okahandja. During the Herero uprising of 1903 almost half of his herbarium was destroyed and he lost most of his possessions. He visited Germany in 1905 where he met Helena Jutta Schilde, whom he married in Swakopmund the next year. She accompanied him on many of his collecting expeditions throughout the territory. In 1907 H.H.W. Pearson* and E.E. Galpin* visited him at Okahandja, and in 1913 he accompanied Engler on a brief tour through the territory. Altogether he travelled some thousands of kilometers on foot in search of plants, particularly around Okahandja. His experiences, observations and plants were described in a number of well-illustrated books: Deutsch-Suedwest-Afrika, Flora, Forst- und Landwirtschaftliche Fragmente (German South West Africa, flora, forest and agricultural fragments; Leipzig, 1909, 189p), a study of selected plants, their ecological relationships and economic value, including botanical observations on the journey from Swakopmund to Windhoek; Die vegetabilishe Veldkost Deutsch-Suedwest-Afrikas (The wild edible plants of German South West Africa; Okahandja, 1912, 47p), a study of some edible indigenous plants, with 13 excellent photographs; Neue und wenig bekannte Pflanzen Deutsch-Suedwest-Afrikas (New and little-known plants of German South West Africa; Okahandja, 1914, 59p), a description of mainly succulent plants, with 64 excellent photographs; and Botanische Reisen in Deutsch-Suedwest-Afrika (Botanical travels in German South West Africa; Posen, 1918, 169p).

Dinter became a member of the South African Philosophical Society in 1902 and remained a member for some years after it became the Royal Society of South Africa in 1908. In 1907 he presented a collection of Coleoptera (beetles) from South West Africa, including some new species, to the South African Museum in Cape Town. He returned to Germany for a visit in March 1914, but had to remain there when World War I (1914-1918) broke out. Eventually he was able to return to Namibia in 1922, accompanied by his wife. He helped to lay out a succulent garden on the farm Lichtenstein, some 25 km south-south-east of Windhoek, belonging to his friend Ernst J. Rusch*. In 1923 he sold his private herbarium to the South African Museum. From 1922 to 1925 he undertook further plant collecting expeditions, for which he was granted free rail transport by the authorities and provided with an ox-waggon. Three sets of his plants were bought by the National Herbarium in Pretoria, the Bolus Herbarium in Cape Town, and by Dr. H.W. Rudolf Marloth*. He also sent many succulents, bulbs and seeds to the Division of Botany in Pretoria. In 1925 he returned to Germany. Several of his publications based on this visit appeared in the Reportorium specierum novarum regni vegetabilis, edited by F. Fedde: "Succulentenforschungen in Suedwestafrika..." (Succulent research in South West Africa; 2 volumes, 1923 and 1928); "Beitraege zur Flora von Suedwestafrika" (Contributions to the flora of South West Africa; 1923); "Kurzer Bericht ueber meine Reise in die Kuestenwueste Suedwestafrikas, speciell in die Buchuberge" (Short report on my journey in the coastal deserts of South West Africa, especially in the Buchuberg; 1931); and "Index der aus Deutsch-Suedwestafrika bis zum Jahre 1917 bekannt gewordenen Pflanzenarten" (Index of the plant species from German South West Africa that have become known since 1917; 1917-1928).

Dinter visited South West Africa twice more. From December 1928 to October 1929 he collected plants in the diamond area of the coastal desert and from December 1933 to March 1935 between Grootfontein and the Okavango River in the north and between Aus and the Orange River in the south. This last visit was particularly successful as heavy rains had produced a great variety of plants. Back in Germany he continued working on his index of the territory's plants, but was unable to complete it as a result of failing health. He was the most important botanical researcher in the territory up to his time, travelling some 40 000 km to collect thousands of herbarium specimens and living succulents. His scientific publications number about 35, in which he described over 100 new species, including many succulents. Many more new species collected by him were described by other botanists. He and his wife were commemorated in the names of the plant genera Dintera, Dinteracanthus, Juttadinteria and Dinteranthus, and in numerous species names. The journal Dinteria was also named in his honour in 1968.

In his later years Dinter wrote three literary and biographical works: Funfzig jahre deutscher dichtung... (Priebatsch, 1931, 99p), Gerhart Hauptmann; leben und werk eines dichters (Berlin, 1932, 78p), and Adolf Hitler, des Volkskanslers leben und werk... (Erfurt, 1933, 31p).

List of sources:
Bullock, A.A. Bibliography of South African botany (up to 1951). Pretoria: Department of Agricultural Technical Services, 1978.

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the trustees of the South African Museum, 1907.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 2, 1972.

Dinter, K. Deutsch-Suedwest-Afrika: Flora, Forst- und Landwirtschaftliche Fragmente. Leipzig: T.O. Weigel, 1909.

Giess, W. Kurt Dinter. Dinteria, 1968, No. 1, pp. 5-7.

Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981.

Herre, H. The genera of the Mesembryanthemaceae (pp. 47-48). Cape Town: Tafelberg, 1971.

Herre, H. Erinnerungen an Professor K. Dinter. Dinteria, 1972, No. 7, pp. 9-12.

Kienetz, A. Nineteenth-century South West Africa as a German settlement colony (2 vols). PhD thesis in Social Geography, University of Minnesota, 1976. Ann Arbor: Xerox University Microfilms, 1976.

Logan, R.F. Bibliography of South West Africa: Geography and related fields. Windhoek: SWA Scientific Society, 1969.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Professor Moritz Kurt Dinter. Desert Plant Life, May 1947, Vol. 19(5), 69-71.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

Royal Society of South Africa. Transactions, 1908-1910, Vol. 1, list of members.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

South African Philosophical Society. Transactions, 1906-1907, Vol. 16 and 17: Lists of members.

Compiled by: C. Plug