Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria
Lea Wassell was the first of the Cape York Peninsula orchid collectors to send specimens to the south. He lived in Coen from 1952 to 1955 and then from 1955 to 1965 lived on Silver Plains station. During these years he developed a passionate love for the rugged rainforest-clad Mellwraith Range and undertook frequent, usually solitary, expeditions of several days in the jungle. Equipped only with a watch, shorts and collecting bag, he was the epitome of the skilled bushman.
His major scientific interest was in insects but he also acquired a good local knowledge of the plants and in particular of the orchids of the area. He guided several scientists on trips to the Range.
Dr E. N. Marks in writing of his contributions to natural history says:
'In 1958 he undertook a commission for the Royal Botanic Gardens and National Herbarium Melbourne. Mr. J.H. Willis writes:
"During 1958 he sent us 89 diferent orchid plants (and a few others) that he had collected in the Rocky River region of the McIlwraith Range, in June and July of that year. Most of these Cape York orchids have done well and several of them have flowered thus enabling us to make identifications. Among them were some apparently new records for Australia (including the New Guinean Dendrobium d'albertisii) and two genera that are quite new to Australia - viz. Robiquetia and Thelasis, represented by what are almost certainly undescribed species. Together with an undescribed Sarcochilus these were the highlights of his consignment. His habitat notes accompanying the various numbers are helpful. e.g. Found on fallen tree at edge full sunlight. Also originally found on top of of river, boulder in Massy Cr. in full sunlight many years ago." '
Wassell's 1958 collections were not recorded as new discoveries at the time and it was not until Malcolm Brown specimens of these species to Alick Dockrill a decade later that they were published as new records or described as new species.
Wassell is commemorated by the Australian endemic orchid species Dendrobium wassellii and Robiquetia wassellii named by S.T. Blake and A.W. Dockril respectively. As well as these two species, Wassell was the original Australian collector of Vanda whiteana, Thelasis carinata, Sarcochilus hirticalcar. Saccolabium rhopalorrachis (now known as Parapteroceras speciosum) and Dendrobium antennatum.
Source: Extracted from: Laverack, Bill (2013) 'With Strange Device: A history of the discovery of Tropical Australia's Orchids', (Australian Orchid Foundation), Peter S. Laverack, Buderim, Qld
Marks, Elizabeth N.(1968) 'Joseph Leathom Hole Wassell and his contribution to Australian natural history'. Australian Zooligist, vol. 14, pt. 3, 1968.