Loki Schmidt has not only lent her name to the Museum for Economic Plants. She also mentored and supported the Museum, and together with its staff, filled it with life.
Her ideas and goals for responsible interaction with nature will continue to form and determine the activities and content of the Loki Schmidt Haus.
As a child, Loki Schmidt learned to appreciate nature as a whole. She never saw plants and animals as isolated phenomena, but rather as intrinsic parts of their biotopes. She closely observed the changes over time in the biodiversity and abundance of various species.
In 1976, when Loki Schmidt began to go public with her commitment to nature conservation,
the issue was far from fashionable. Prescient and forward-looking, she emphasized the necessity of recording, documenting, and sustaining the diversity of plant species. Her patronage of natural history and natural science collections as archives of nature was part of her legacy.
Our name giver
Loki Schmidt always had an eye for nature. Even as a young child she knew the plants in her neighborhood. Her favorite picture books were the 15 volumes of Sturm’s Flora von Deutschland. Much of what she knew from the pictures she later found in the natural landscape.
Financial restraints prevented her from becoming a botanist. As a teacher, however, she instilled her joy of plant life in her students. As an honorary professor, she wrote seminal articles on various areas of biology and education. As Germany’s unofficial environmental ambassador, she advocated for the protection of plant life both regionally and internationally.
Loki Schmidt is an Honorary Citizen of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.
Loki Schmidt as a child
Eyes wide open
“Frau Mantel” was the first plant name that Loki Schmidt learned. The Frauenmantel (Alchemilla or lady’s mantle) with its pretty, serrated leaves covered in dewdrops caught her eye before she had even learned to speak. At the age of 8 she noticed that the dandelions between the sidewalk paving stones in front of her family’s house in Hamburg looked different than those in Hammer Park.
She began investigating with her first attempt at gardening.
Her family spent the summer holidays at her grandparents’ home on the heath outside of Hamburg. There, one of her father’s former teachers fostered her precocious eye for detail. Her school years offered more opportunities to observe, understand, and name the nature around her.
The Botanical Garden was Loki Schmidt’s magic garden, where she discovered something new every time she visited.
Experiencing nature at school
When she became a teacher, it was very important to Loki Schmidt to teach children about nature and to arouse their interest in it. She took them on walks through the school’s neighborhood.
Each child was allowed to dig up one wild plant and transfer it to a flower pot. The flower pots were conscientiously watered and observed every day. In this way the children learned to care for their plants and that each one had its own special needs.
Loki Schmidt was an early proponent of environmental education. Comprehending and grasping with all of the senses was of particular interest to her. The children learned to identify plants in many ways. They described and identified them in the classroom and later on field trips in and around Hamburg. They learned about biotopes, what threatens them, and how to protect them.
Loki Schmidt as a scientist
Loki Schmidt understood the complexity of the effects of human cultivation measures on natural vegetation. This knowledge prompted her to embark on her first basic research project.
Together with her husband, Helmut Schmidt, she took the initiative and began an early project in scientifically-founded experimental environmental research. She observed, examined, and documented how the flora in a closed-off area near a lake in Schleswig-Holstein developed over decades with no human interference.
Joining research groups all over the world, Loki Schmidt gained valuable international experience. She did intensive field and laboratory work on environmental research from Africa to Asia and from South and Central America to the polar regions.
Advocacy for endangered plants
After the Second World War, Loki Schmidt noticed that many of the plants she knew from her childhood had become rare. She founded the „Stiftung zum Schutz gefährdeter Pflanzen"
(foundation for the protection of endangered plants), campaigned for local environmental issues as a member of the Hamburg „Naturschutzrat" (advisory board for the protection of the environment), and was active internationally as a member of the Board of Trustees of the WWF. She was instrumental in the establishment of botanical gardens, developed an international gardener exchange program, and initiated a gene bank for native plants. With her „Blume des Jahres" (Flower of the Year) campaign, launched in 1980, she focused public awareness on wildflowers and their endangered habitats.
Loki Schmidt was a quiet missionary for personal, enduring commitment to the environment.
She hoped to teach people about their native flora, spark their appreciation for plants, and encourage them to protect their habitats.