Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas Greeting From Ruth Ashton Nelson and Memoriam to Aven Nelson

The following 1952 Christmas card was found tipped in to a first edition (1909) copy of the New Manual of Botany of the Central Rocky Mountains (Vascular Plants) by John M. Coulter; revised by Aven Nelson.

Ruth Ashton Nelson, Aven Nelson's wife, was some 30 years his junior, and also a botanist who specialized in the flora of the Rocky Mountains.

Happy Holidays from Historica Botanica!

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Sunday, November 14, 2004

Charles Downing 1802-1885

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Charles Downing of Newburgh, New York, together with his younger brother Andrew Jackson Downing, was the author of the encyclopedic The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America. This important illustrated work, first appearing in 1845, went though numerous editions until even after the elder Downing's death in 1885. Although Andrew was given the primary credit by his reticent brother, Charles is generally acknowledged as having been the main architect of the book. After Andrew Jackson's untimely death in 1852 (in the fiery accidental sinking of the steamer Henry Clay on the Hudson River), Charles was the sole author responsible for its many revisions. The Downings owned the Downing Nursery in Newburgh. The 1847 and 1850 editions of the book are noteworthy for including some 70 beautifully chromolithographed plates (produced in Paris) of a wide variety of the fruits.

The photographer of the c. 1880 vignetted CDV was Abel Peck of Newburgh. The recipient had pasted some excerpts from Downing's letter to him on the verso.

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The same image (though reversed in the printing process) appears as the frontispiece to Ulysses Prentiss Hedrick's The Cherries of New York (1915)

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which includes this brief biographical sketch.

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A memoriam to Charles Downing by Marshall Pinckney Wilder, President of the American Pomological Society, and dedicatee of the Downing fruit book, appears in the 1885 Proceedings of the American Pomological Society.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Recumbent Feline by Anna Botsford Comstock, 1893

Anna Botsford Comstock (1854-1930) teamed up with Liberty Hyde Bailey to promote nature education in the primary schools of turn-of-the-century America. At a time when pedagogy consisted of the three R's and rote memorization, Comstock emphasized the importance of careful observation of one's environment and an appreciation for the ecological relationships between living things. Her 1911 Handbook of Nature Study has gone through numerous editions and reprintings, and is still a favorite among home-schooling families.

Professor Comstock was the first woman professor at Cornell University, and also partnered with her husband, entomologist John Henry Comstock, in forming the Comstock Press, and in illustrating his books and publications. She was an early conservationist, and her nature study principles had important influence on the education of Rachel Carson.

Anna Comstock had shown artistic talent in her youth, and developed this gift in the late 1880s by studying under John P. Davis, master wood-engraver at Cooper Union. Her prize winning artwork was typically of insects, and was used for illustrative purposes in texts and monographs. She was much sought after by Cornell faculty authors for her skillful renditions of nature subjects. She was justifiably proud to be only the third woman elected to the Society of American Wood Engravers. She was further honored in 1923 by being named one of America's 12 greatest living women in a survey by the League of Women Voters.

here is a recently discovered Anna Botsford Comstock engraving of a cat. The subject is unusual for her, but the detail is as astonishing as that seen in the moths, flowers, and insects for which she is so well known. The print is inscribed by Mrs. Comstock to a Mr. Butler in 1893. This is Mr. T.P. Butler of Cold Spring, New York, son of James Butler of Ellicottville. An original card on the rear of the frame further details the provenance as having passed to Flora I. Burger, the step-sister of T.P. Butler, both of whom were surely childhood friends of Anna, who hailed from nearby Otto, New York. This same card reveals the name of the cat - Al.

A bit of detective work has disclosed that Al was engraved for the occasion of the festschrift in honor of Professor Burt Green Wilder's 25th anniversary as an original faculty member at Cornell (1868-1893). In honor of this milestone, his most accomplished students prepared a series of original contributions for inclusion in a special 1893 publication of the Comstock Publishing Company -
The Wilder Quarter-Century Book. Dr. Wilder (1841-1925) was a medical doctor, neurologist, comparative anatomist, zoologist, physiologist and a most popular teacher. The house cat, Felis domestica, was one of his favored species for study, and it is surely for this reason that Mrs. Comstock depicted Al with this caption on the plate between pages 36 and 37 of this book.

Her art instructor, John P. Davis, engraved the pencil autographed
frontispiece of Professor Wilder, the actual print being tipped into copies of this book.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Number 10 - Name That Botanist


This physician botanist (December 22,1810- August 6,1877) studied with Amos Eaton, graduating from Rensselaer in 1831, and completing his medical degree in Castleton, Vermont in 1835. Thereafter he settled in Detroit, and then in Jackson, Michigan. He was placed in charge of the botanical and zoological work of the State Geological Survey in 1837. In 1842 he was appointed Professor of Botany and Zoology in the University of Michigan, taking over the position vacated by Asa Gray. He donated his herbarium to the University in 1866.

Click HERE for the ID on this 1864-1866 G.C. Gillett (Ann Arbor, Michigan) CDV.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Asa Gray's Earliest Publications

For readers interested in Asa Gray and his early publications, I highly recommend the article by Harold William Rickett and Charles Lewis Gilly in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, (Vol. 96, Number 6, June 1942; pages 461-470) Asa Gray's Earliest Botanical Publications. This article goes so far as to indicate the points which distinguish various states of the 1836 Annals of the Lyceum of Natural History of New York (which included Gray's article on the Rhynchospora of New York).

Gray's first published article is often overlooked and very difficult to find- so much so, that is was overlooked in Sereno Watson and George Goodale's bibliography of Gray's works ( Watson & Goodale; American Journal of Science, Vol. 136; Appendix: 1-42; 1888). It is entitled A Catalogue of the Indigenous Flowering and Filicoid plants Growing within Twenty Miles of Bridgewater, (Oneida County) New York. It appeared in the Annual Report of the Regents of the University of the State of New York made to the Legislature, Feb.28, 1832 (Senate No. 70) published in Albany 1833.

Gray had graduated form Cental New York's Fairfield Medical College in January 1831 and for the remainder of the year practiced medicine in nearby Bridgewater, a village only 9 miles from his birthplace in Sauquoit. He had earlier taken his apprenticeship under Bridgewater physician Dr. John Foote Trowbridge, and upon graduation returned to practice with him. Notwithstanding this medical practice, Gray did not neglect the opportunities to study the flora of the region. After this tenure in Bridgewater, Gray taught natural sciences at the Utica Gymnasium from May to June 1832 and from these experiences came this first obscure publication.

The second of his "publications" was a very limited edition exsiccatae entitled North American Gramineae and Cyperaceae, Part I, issued in 1834, and offered primarily by subscription. I will not comment further upon it here, because other than the printed title page, dedication, foreward, descriptions, index, and labels, it cannot be regarded as a publication in the usual sense.

Thus the first of Gray's papers to receive widespread readership through a mainstream publication was an 1834 contribution to Benjamin Silliman Sr.'s journal, the American Journal of Science and Arts. This was a joint article with Dr. Ithamar Bingham (J.B.) Crawe of Watertown, N.Y. It comes as something of a surprise to learn that it was on a non-botanical subject: A Sketch of the Mineralogy of a Portion of Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties (N.Y.); (Am. Jour. Sci. 25:346-350). Dr. Crawe and Gray had wandered together through Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties during the Spring of 1833, studying the geology of the region. Dr. Crawe was fated to perish in a tragic boating accident.

Gray's prodigious botanical publishing career would truly commence shortly thereafter with his first major botanical publications, two papers read before the Lyceum of Natural History of New York in December, 1834:

  1. A Monograph of the North American Species of Rhynchosopora


  2. A Notice of Some New, Rare, or Otherwise Interesting Plants, From the Northern and Western Portions of the State of New York

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

An Upcoming Symposium - Saturday, November 6, 2004

An event to put on the "to do" list:

Inspired by Nature: The Art of The Natural History Book


in collaboration with


Saturday, November 6, 2004
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Rhode Island School of Design Auditorium
Canal Walkway at Market Square
Providence, RI

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Number 9 - Name That Botanist


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This next distinguished Cornell botanist (B. 1881; D. 1969) was a vascular plant anatomist and morphologist with a special interest in floral development and evolution. In 1926 he co-authored (with Karl McKay Wiegand) The Flora of the Cayuga Lake Basin, New York : Vascular Plants. His doctoral thesis at Harvard [and the subject of a 1913 paper by him in the Annals of Botany (Vol 27; p. 1-38)] was entitled "The Morphology of Agathis australis (Lamb.) Steud."

His most important books were:

  • An Introduction to Plant Anatomy, 1925 (with Laurence H. MacDaniels)
  • Morphology of Vascular Plants, Lower Groups (Psilophytales to Filicales), 1936
  • Morphology of Angiosperms, 1961.

HERE for the ID.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Number 8 - Name That Botanist


Click HERE for the ID on the verso of this Gustavus W. Pach photograph.

Our next American botanist (1849-1911) continues the series of Cornellians which is especially apropos in light of the upcoming (September 9-11) Agricultural History Society Symposium celebrating "A Century of Scientific Outreach" at Cornell University. Our subject sat for this portrait on the occasion of his 1874 graduation from Cornell University. He studied with Louis Agassiz on Penikese Island in 1875, and received his M.S. in 1876. He was the first cryptogamic botanist at Cornell, serving on the faculty from 1876-1892.

Upon entering Cornell as a freshman in 1870 he had become acquainted with fellow student (Cornell Class of 1872), future Penikese alumnus, ichthyologist, and President of both Indiana and Stanford Universities (first President of Stanford), David Starr Jordan, who was then an instructor in botany under Professor Albert N. Prentiss.

Prentiss was a graduate of the first (1861) class of the Michigan Agricultural College, and was chosen as Professor of Botany, Horticulture and Arboriculture on the first (1868) faculty at Cornell.

They became close friends and roommates, and our subject eventually succeeded Jordan as Prentiss' assistant. In 1880 he took a year's leave from Cornell to substitute for Jordan as acting professor of biology at Indiana University. Their common background was no doubt a factor in our man's 1892 appointment as Professor of Systematic Botany at Stanford, where he remained until his 1911 retirement. Jordan wrote his memoriam in Science [August 4, 1911, (N.S. Vol. XXXIV; No. 866) p. 143-145].

The title page of his first publication, The Cayuga Flora, is shown here. (His name appears as the author- don't click unless you want to reveal his ID.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Number 7 - Name That Botanist

Our next American botanist (1857-1945) sat for this portrait on the occasion of his 1880 graduation from Cornell University. His career continued as the first professor of botany at the University of Wisconsin (1885), the first Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden (1889), and professor at the University of Illinois (1912). He was one of the participants on the 1899 Harriman Alaska expedition.


Click HERE for the ID on the verso of this Gustavus W. Pach photograph.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Sir Sidney Frederic Harmer

Sir Sidney Frederic Harmer (9 March 1862 - 22 October 1950) was a prominent English zoologist. Among other institutional and academic appointments, he served as Superintendent of the University Museum of Zoology at Cambridge (1892-1908), Director of the British Museum (Natural History) (1909-1927), President of the Linnean Society of London (1927-1931), and Vice-President of the Royal Society (1922-1924). He was awarded the Linnean Gold Medal in 1934. He was created K.B.E. in 1920. Harmer was a specialist on the cetaceans.

He is included on Historica Botanica because of his achievement in botany as an undergraduate at University College, London. He attended that university on a mathematical scholarship. He obtained his B.Sc. in 1881. While there, he came under the influence of Ray Lankester in zoology and F.W. Oliver in botany.

Harmer was certainly a promising student as witnessed by the two medals which appear below. He took the third prize silver medals in both Botany and Zoology/Comparative Anatomy for 1879-1880. These medals both have the identical obverse (only one of which is shown) with the Roman date of 1877.

A lengthy memoriam to Harmer with a listing of his publications appears in the Obituary Notices of Fellows of The Royal Society for 1950-1951 (Volume VII, page 359-371)

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Harmer Zoology/Comparative Anatomy
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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Number 6 - Name That Botanist

This Swiss botanist (1806-1893), like Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu (see the posting of 8 August 2004 immediately below), was also the member of a family of distinguished French speaking botanists. Although born in Paris, he was Swiss and not French. At the International Botanical Congress of Paris in 1867 he drafted the Lois de la Nomenclature botanique which was adopted as the international rules of botanical nomenclature. This work stood without major revision until the "Rochester Code" of 1892, and still remains the basis of the current International Code of Botanical Nomenclature. A prolific author, he was Professor of natural history and Director of the botanic gardens at Geneva from 1835-1850.

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Click HERE for the ID on the matte of this Ernest Edwards photograph.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu

Jussieu to Molinos

This is a letter from the 18th century French botanist Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu in his post French Revolutionary position at the Jardin des Plantes/Museum Nationalle d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, to Jacques Molinos, the architect of the museum.

The Jussieu family were an important dynasty of botanists from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century. They were largely responsible for introducing the Natural System of plant classification which improved upon the Artificial (Sexual) System of Linnaeus. The text of the letter and a translation reads as follows:

"Paris 26 ventose an 7

Au Citoyen Molinos, architecte du museum

Je vous adresse, citoyen, copie de la lettre que je viens de recevoir du Ministre des finances en qui est le résultat de la conférence que nous avons eue hier avec lui. Il consent à recevoir en payement des acquisitions a l’enchère du Palais royal les ordonnances de nos entrepreneurs s'ils se vendent adjudicataires. Vous verrez par la lettre comment leur créance (credit?) peut ou doit constaté ----- en état de les servir sans compromettre ni vous ni moi.

Salut et fraternité,

"Paris 26th Ventose, Year 7

To citizen Molinos architect of the museum

Citizen, I am sending you a copy of the letter I just received from the Minister of Finances containing the results of the conference that we had
with him yesterday. He agrees to accept ordonnances in payment for the acquisitions from the auction at the Palais Royal provided they… (are sold adjudicated). You will see by the letter how their warranty can or should be stated…. In a position to serve them without compromising neither you nor me.

Health and Fraternity,

Some biographical notes about A-L de Jussieu (1748-1836):

  • Father of Adrien-Laurent-Henri de Jussieu (1797-1853) Cours élémentaire de botanique (1842–44).
  • Nephew of Bernard de Jussieu.
  • A-L obtained an M.D. degree in 1770 and was brought to Paris by Bernard. He became affiliated with the Jardin du Roi, and managed to keep his head during the Revolution, emerging as Director (1800) and Professor of botany at the renamed Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle (which included the Jardin Des Plantes). In 1773 he presented a paper to the Académie des Sciences on the crowfoot family (Ranunculaceae). This was followed by his most important publication, Genera Plantarum Secundum Ordines Naturales Disposita..... of 1789 which brought forth the Natural System. He resigned from the Museum in 1826.

The French Revolutionary calendar (Jacobin calendar) is used in the dateline of this letter. 26 Ventose an 7 corresponds to March 16, 1799. The letterhead, which is still used by the museum (see upper left of this page) is rich with symbolism. The beehive represents the industrious working class. The Phrygian cap was worn by rebelling slaves in Roman times, and French streetwives during the 1789 revolution. It became one of the Montagnards' symbols of liberty. Sheaves of wheat represent Nature's approval of France's situation (therefore providing abundantly). Grapes had been planted by the Romans, and hence might be a tribute to republicanism.

The recipient of this letter, Jacques Molinos (1743-1831), was appointed architect to the Museum in 1794. His work on the dome over the Halle au Blé was admired by Jefferson.

The letter indicates a confidential tone. It is written by Jussieu in the wake of the sale by auction of the personal property of the Duc d'Orleans. The Duc had been guillotined and the government had chosen to auction off the contents of his ancestral home, the Palais Royal. Jussieu informs Molinos that the Minister of Finances would accept government "funny money" as payment for purchases, so long as it was properly "adjudicated".

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Amos Eaton as Teacher and Promoter of Botany

Amos Eaton has received prominent recognition as an inspiring educator who introduced many future leaders of natural science to the field. Most of these pupils came under his tutelage at the Rensselaer School where he was the senior professor from its origin in 1824. Among his notable students at Rensselaer were James Hall, J.C. Booth, Asa Fitch, Ebenezer Emmons, G.H. Cook, Abram Sager, E.S. Carr, Douglass Houghton, John Leonard Riddell, and Eben Horsford. Eaton also was progressive in women's education. With Eaton's oversight, two of his students, Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps (younger sister of Emma Willard) and Laura Johnson wrote successful textbooks of botany aimed at a female readership. Mary Lyon, the founder (1837) of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) studied with Eaton in 1824/1825.

But these were developments of the 1820s. A much neglected fact in need of emphasis is that Eaton's pivotal role in botanical education had already begun in the years 1815-1820. This was a time of transition in American botany.

Prior to 1815, Philadelphia had been the center of botanical study. It was there that the American Philosophical Society and (by 1812) the Academy of Natural Sciences were located, and it was home to the prestigious University of Pennsylvania and its medical school. The Bartrams and Bartons, Nuttall, Pursh, Baldwin, Muhlenberg, and Darlington were all drawn to Philadelphia and its environs.

It is true that during the first decade and a half of the 19th century there was a smattering of activity in New York (David Hosack, Samuel Mitchill), Charleston (Shecut, Stephen Elliott), Lexington, Kentucky (Rafinesque), and Boston (Bigelow). However, it would not to be until the mid-1820s that New York was to unseat Philadelphia as the center for scholarly botanical activity, and fully another decade before Boston would supplant New York. During the transition years from approximately 1815 to 1825 Amos Eaton looms large as one of the key figures in American science.

Following completion of his Yale studies with Silliman and Ives in early 1817, Eaton moved to Western Massachusetts to accept a teaching position in mineralogy and botany at Williams College. Upon completion of those duties in September 1817, he published the first edition of the Manual of Botany. Armed with favorable endorsements, he began a peripatetic life, giving series of successful botanical lectures in neighboring villages. He had enthusiastic audiences at Northampton, Belchertown, Worcester, Monson, and Brimfield in the short interval between September 1817 and April 1818. He then settled in the Albany-Troy area of New York but continued the life of a nomadic lecturer in New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont for several more years.

Lest one conclude that the attendees of these talks, which were aimed at the general populace, did not also make their mark, it is important to note that several Deerfield, Massachusetts citizens who had listened to Eaton in 1817 must be added (along with John Torrey) to the list of prize students who had early on been inspired by Eaton:

Rev. Edward Hitchcock (future Amherst College President and Professor of Chemistry and Natural History), Dr. Stephen West Williams and Dr. Dennis Cooley all began to collect plants, and arrange herbaria after hearing Eaton (well before his ascendancy at RPI).

Hitchcock wrote:
"...I always regarded him [Amos Eaton] as the chief agent of introducing a taste for these subjects in the Connecticut Valley. ... Dr. Stephen W. Williams, Dr. Dennis Cooley and myself, all of Deerfield, took hold of mineralogy and botany with great zeal. Dr. Cooley and myself collected nearly all the plants, phenogamous and cryptogamous, in the Valley. Dr. Cooley became an excellent botanist and even to his death in Michigan pursued the subject with zest."

Dr. S. W. Williams recalled ("Report of the Indigenous Medical Botany of Massachusetts"; Deerfield, 1819):
"...I became enamoured with the study of botany, and about the year 1816, in connection with Edward Hitchcock, now President of Amherst College, and Dennis Cooley, now of Michigan, who was then a student in the office of my father and myself. Nearly one thousand species were found within the borders of this town (Deerfield) in a single season, including those which were naturalized. Extensive herbariums were formed from these and those of Dr. Cooley and Dr. Hitchcock were among the earliest and most valuable in the country. ..."

Dr. Cooley's botanical pursuits continued lifelong, and in 1849 he published a Flora of Lake Superior (Catalogue of Plants Collected by W.A. Burt on the Primitive Region South of Lake Superior in 1846; in Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress at the Commencement of the First session of the Thirty-First Congress, Pt.iii; Washington, 1849).

His herbarium was donated in 1863 to the Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University). He will be the topic of a future posting here on Historica Botanica.

Yet other notable early (pre-Rennselaer School) botanical students of Eaton were:
  • Dr. Zina Pitcher (1797-1872), an army surgeon who practiced medicine in Detroit after 1836 following his military career in Michigan, Virginia, and Arkansas. He was elected President of the American Medical Association in 1856, edited the Peninsular Medical Journal (1855-1858), served as President of the Michigan State Medical Society (1855-1856) and authored 41 medical papers. Together with Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and General Lewis Cass, he founded the Michigan Historical Society in 1828. His large herbarium, acquired in 1880 by Isaac C. Martindale, was purchased in 1964 by the USDA for the National Arboretum. His botanical activities are memorialized in several species including "Pitcher's Hog Peanut" (Amphicarpaea bracteata var. comosa), "Pitcher's Thistle" (Cirsium pitcheri) and "Pitcher's Sandwort" (Arenaria patula).

  • Dr. Edwin James (1797-1861), who was naturalist and surgeon on Stephen Long's expedition to the Rocky Mountains. He attended lectures by Eaton in Albany and Troy.

For further information:

  • Botanical Beachcombers and Explorers: Pioneers of the 19th Century In the Upper Great Lakes by Edward G. Voss; Contributions from the University of Michigan Herbarium; Volume 13, 1978

  • Some American Medical Botanists Commemorated In Our Botanical Nomenclature by Howard A. Kelly, M.D.; The Southworth Company, 1914.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Number 5 - Name That Botanist

This Massachusetts botanist (1841-1927) was instrumental in founding Harvard's Arnold Arboretum in 1872. He served for over 54 years as its first director. He published extensively, including the Manual of the Trees of North America (Exclusive of Mexico) and the short lived (1888-1897) periodical "Garden and Forest". He is shown here next to Vitis bicolor at the Arboretum. The photograph was probably taken by Arthur G. Eldridge circa 1912. I printed it from the original glass plate negative.


Click HERE for the ID.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Number 4 - Name That Botanist

This English botanist (1799-1865) was the first Professor of Botany at the University of London, and later Professor at Cambridge. Known also as a horticulturist and orchidologist, he was a Fellow of the Royal, Linnæan and Geological Societies.

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Click HERE for the ID on the matte of this Ernest Edwards photograph.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Amos Eaton's Manual of Botany- A Magnificent Association Copy

Amos Eaton (1776-1842) was one of the early 19th Century American naturalists who contributed to several branches of science at a time when specialization was in its infancy. He authored texts in botany, chemistry, and geology. He was one of the founders of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and was the mentor of more than a few scientists who would achieve prominence in the following generation. Included among these was John Torrey.

Eaton's Manual of Botany For the Northern and Middle States went through eight editions between 1817 and 1840. Because no publisher was willing to undertake the risk, the first edition of June, 1817 was issued "in a contracted form" of 164 pages by Eaton's 61 students at Williams College. The 500 copies sold out within six months. Not surprisingly, Eaton had a better reception when he approached Websters and Skinners publishing house in Albany in 1818 with the enlarged (524 pages) second edition. This edition, also believed to be a run of 500 copies, sold out in less than two years.

In August 1817, Eaton's former pupil, John Torrey, one of the founders of the newly formed Lyceum of Natural History of New York, proposed him as a corresponding member. (The constitution of the Lyceum of Natural History of New York had been signed by the twenty-one charter members at the first meeting of the society, held on February 24, 1817. It is the fourth oldest existing scientific society in America, preceded only by: The American Philosophical Society [1743], The American Academy of Arts and Sciences [1780], and The Academy of Natural Sciences [1812].) On September 22, 1817 Eaton was elected and presented with this Diploma of membership. Eaton apparently took significant pride in this accolade, because he notes the fact under his name on the title page of the 1818 edition of the Manual of Botany.

It does not come as a surprise, therefore, that Eaton would have presented a copy of this book to the Lyceum, which was just then beginning to form a library. As it turns out, the library was comprised largely of books loaned by members and subsequently withdrawn, so that even after seven years, in 1824, the number of books actually owned by the society was still less than two hundred. Whereas all of the Lyceum's cabinets of natural history were ultimately lost by fire in 1866, the library, which had been housed elsewhere, survived. In 1876 the Lyceum was renamed The New York Academy of Sciences. In 1903 the Academy donated the library to the American Museum of Natural History.

Here is the title page of the presentation copy of the second edition of the Manual of Botany, inscribed by Amos Eaton to the fledgling Lyceum of Natural History of New York. It also bears the stamp of the successor Library of The New York Academy of Sciences, but then somehow traveled to Eastern Europe where it became part of the library (knihovna) of Prague geobotanist, taxonomist and morphologist Karel Domin (1882-1953), bearing his stamp (using his Latinized name, Karla Domina). The circular stamp of the Department ("Odd." = oddělení) of Botany of the National ("Narod." = národní) Museum of Prague is also on the page.

Eaton held steadfast to the archaic artificial sexual classification of Linnaeus long after his protege, John Torrey, had introduced the Natural System of Jussieu and De Candolle to America in 1831. This led to a direct confrontation between Asa Gray and Eaton in November, 1835 when their paths crossed at John Torrey's home in New York City. The 69 year old Eaton was left very nearly speechless by the harsh criticism and ridicule levelled at him by the upstart Gray, only age 25 at the time. How ironic that Gray was soon to have charge over this copy of the book when he was appointed Librarian of the Lyceum in February, 1836.

It is puzzling that Eaton, who was so progressive in advocating a new nomenclature for the strata and secondary rocks of New York, should have so stubbornly refused to adapt to the improved system of botanical taxonomy.

Of the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh editions of the Manual, 2000 copies each were sold. The eighth edition of 1840 was a printing of 2500. The total number (13,500) of copies of Eaton's Manual surely ranks it as one of the most successful of early American botanies.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Ferdinand I.X. Rugel - 19th C. Southern botanist

Click HERE for an entry in the online Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture about 19th C. Southern U.S. field botanist and physician Ferdinand Rugel. His collections are the earliest from a resident botanist of the Southeastern States and some exsiccates have been preserved in the herbarium of Isaac C. Martindale, now at the U.S. National Arboretum (Click HERE).

See the link to the left for an article by George Ellison about 19th C. Appalachian botanising.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Number 3 - Name That "Botanist"

Number 3 in the series concerns a man who, although not a botanist, was of the greatest importance through his munificence in creating one of the leading centers for botanical study in the United States. Born in Sheffield, England in 1800, he brought more than a bit of Chatsworth (the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire where Joseph Paxton was head-gardener) which so impressed him, to his adopted midwest city.

Click on image to enlarge

  • Click HERE for the ID on the matte of the July 4, 1877 stereoview.

  • Still can't read it? Click HERE for the ID (Image #34) on the verso of the BOEHL & KOENIG (Emil Boehl & Lorenz H. Koenig; working dates 1861-1878) stereoview.

  • HERE is an 1871 signed letter by the person pictured. The Missouri Botanical Garden's archivist has been unable to find any information regarding the addressee (Dr. Barnum), or Mr. Fern, the florist mentioned in the letter. Click HERE for a BOEHL & KOENIG stereoview (Image #7) of Tower Grove mansion, the residence (built in 1849) of our subject, from where this letter was written.

  • Click HERE for a biography of our subject.

  • Sunday, July 11, 2004

    Bicentennial of the Burr-Hamilton Duel. The Historica Botanica Connection

    Today marks the bicentennial of the Aaron Burr - Alexander Hamilton duel. As a reader of Historica Botanica, you may ask, "So what?".

    Dr. David Hosack (1769-1835) served as physician in attendance at this duel, and treated Hamilton for his mortal wound. It is in this role that Hosack is probably best remembered today. However, the world of botany recalls Hosack not for his medical renown, but as the founder of the Elgin Botanical Garden in Manhattan, a 20 acre parcel on the site of today's Rockefeller Center.

    He purchased the property on September 1, 1801. The garden was the first public botanical garden in the country. It was modelled after those of England, and was intended, in part, for the teaching of medical students at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia College in New York. From 1809-1811 Frederick Pursh served as gardener at Elgin. The Garden eventually passed to the State of New York, thence to Columbia University, and is now on long term lease to the owners of the Rockefeller Center property. Its $4800 initial cost has been well repaid!

    Dr. Hosack may be credited with having given Amos Eaton his early botanical instruction. And a linear descent follows from Eaton to the two major figures of 19th century American botany- John Torrey, the precocious pupil of Eaton during his (Eaton's) unfortunate incarceration, and Asa Gray, the young rising star under Torrey's tutelage and employ in the early and mid-1830's. Hosack's influence was even more directly applied to Torrey who began his medical studies in 1815 (completing his degree in 1818) at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Hosack was a professor there at the time.

    Hosack was also the founder and first president of the first American horticultural society, the New York Horticultural Society.

    See a David Hosack medical class ticket below [June 24, 2004 entry].

    The following references are highly recommended:

    Brown, Addison; The Elgin Botanical Garden; New Era Printing Company, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1908 (originally published in the Bulletin of the New York Botanical Garden; Vol. 319, p. 372)

    Robbins, Christine Chapman; David Hosack, Citizen of New York; Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 62; American Philosphical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1964

    Wednesday, July 07, 2004

    Number 2 - Name That Botanist

    Here's Number 2 in the series. Born in 1785 in Norwich, he came under the influence of another renowned Norwich botanist- James Edward Smith. He wrote widely on the cryptogamia, but was by no means limited to this group. He died in 1865. Can you name him?

  • Click HERE for the ID on the verso of the CDV.

  • Click HERE for another image ID (This lithograph by Thomas Herbert Maguire, circa 1850, printed as one of the series of "Portraits of honorary members of the Ipswich Museum" by M. and N. Hanhart; George Ransome, publisher).

    Click on image to enlarge
  • Wednesday, June 30, 2004

    History in the Making

    A little off topic, but worth mentioning just the same. The University of Connecticut's titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) "Corpse Flower" appears ready to bloom today or tomorrow. There is a live webcam on the plant. Witness this special event by keeping an eye on THIS LINK for the next few days.

    Monday, June 28, 2004

    "Name That Botanist" Series

    Join the fun! I will periodically post photos or other likenesses of bygone botanists (both famous and not-so-famous) from my collection. There will be a link under each image identifying the subject. See how many can you get recognize! As always, feel free to email me for comments, suggestions, criticisms etc. Number 1 in the series starts today. Give it a try!

    Number 1 - Name That Botanist

    Believe it or not, both of these photographs are of the same man. Can you name him?
  • Click HERE for 1858 ID.
  • Click HERE for 1872 ID.


  • Thursday, June 24, 2004

    19th Century Class Tickets

    The modern day practice of registration for medical courses did not exist as such in the nineteenth century. Rather than a registrar, the professor at a medical school issued each of his students an admission ticket for his class upon payment of the fee. The more popular professors commanded higher tuitions. As can be seen, this was the practice on both sides of the Atlantic. Because botany was of such importance to materia medica and therapeutics, many botanists had been trained as physicians and often taught at medical schools. Some of their tickets survive to remind us of their academic careers. They often bear the professor's signature as well as the name of the student - occasionally a young scholar destined to achieve future prominence in his own right. Here is a sampling of such tickets which I have been able to acquire. Professor Hadley's ticket is included for two reasons. Hadley, who was at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Western District of the State of New York in Fairfield, was Asa Gray's mentor and is credited with having promoted Gray's development in natural history during his early years as a medical student at Fairfield. This ticket was issued by Hadley to Gray's close chum, botanizing companion and medical school classmate (one year Gray's junior), Nathan Wright Folwell of Ovid, New York.

    John Torrey
    Click on image to enlarge

    John Lindley
    Click on image to enlarge

    John Hutton Balfour
    Click on image to enlarge

    David Hosack
    Click on image to enlarge

    James Hadley
    Click on image to enlarge

    Theodric Romeyn Beck
    Click on image to enlarge

    John Lang Cassels
    Click on image to enlarge

    Tuesday, June 22, 2004

    Bookplates of Botanists

    Bookplates of notable botanists can be fascinating to study as well as being miniature works of art. They can be a pictograph of the interests and experiences of the individual. Here is a sampling of some bookplates of important figures in the history of botany that were found in books I have collected.

    I want to acknowledge Ed Cobb and Professor William Crepet at Cornell University for their expertise and assistance in identifying the plants depicted.

    Professor Crepet recognized the Ceropegia in Arthur Allman Bullock's plate. He is associated with this genus; his first asclepiad paper was the publication of the East African species Ceropegia filicalyx (1933). He dealt with the entire genus in the 1955 Kew Bulletin. My "thank you" to Dr. Peter Bruyns who has identified the spiecies as C. stapeliiformis.

    Ed observes jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) with some fern crosiers at the bottom on Billington's.

    If you can translate the Naxi hieroglyphs on Professor Rock's, please let me know. The central Chinese characters translate simply to "Dr. (in the Ph.D. sense) Rock; his stamp". They are embossed and palpable on the surface of the paper.

    Probably Yosemite with Sequoia gigantea on Harvey Hall's, who, with wife Carlotta, wrote A Yosemite Flora (1912).

    Plants on Bessey's plates are a bit more stylized and generalized, but good suggested bets (by Ed Cobb again) are as follows: At eleven o'clock position -Robinia ?pseudoacacia (black locust); At one o'clock position - Gleditsia tricanthos (honey locust); At five o'clock position - Carya laciniosa (shellbark hickory); At seven o'clock position - Aristolochia macrophylla (Dutchman's pipe); At nine o'clock position- Fagus grandifolia (American beech). I don't find that Bessey had any special interest or publications on these, but if you have further suggestions please email me!

    Hugo De Vries

    Friday, June 18, 2004

    The Frost Flower

    Here is a fun exchange between Dr. Edwin Moses Hale, M.D. (1829-1899) and Asa Gray. Based upon the dateline, it must have taken place sometime after 1863, the year in which Hale came to Chicago (from Michigan). The "A.G."-initialled, one sentence comment at the bottom is in Asa Gray's hand. I found both the letter and newsclipping in Hale's copy of Matthias Jakob Schleiden's Poetry Of The Vegetable World (1853), edited by Alphonso Wood (Moore, Anderson, Wilstach & Keys, Cincinnati). This book is of some interest in the history of American textbooks of botany. Emanuel D. Rudolph has studied it (see pages 48-58 of Emanuel D. Rudolph's Studies in the History of North American Botany edited by Ronald L. Stuckey and William R. Burk, SIDA, Botanical Miscellany, No. 19, Botanical Research Institute of Texas, 2000; ISBN 1-889878-05-7).

    Edwin Moses Hale to Asa Gray
    Click on image to enlarge

    124 Clark St.
    Chicago, June 13

    Prof. A. Gray:

    Dear Sir:
    I cut the enclosed from a newspaper a month or two ago. I have a suspicion that it is a hoax *, but my curiosity is such that I would like to have you give me your opinion or knowledge concerning it.
    Yours truly,
    E.M. Hale,
    Prof Med. Bot. et Mat. Med.

    * Yes, and a neat and amusing one!

    The Frost Flower Newspaper Clipping
    Click on image to enlarge

    The Frost Flower.

    A Boston journal describes an extraordinary “frost flower” of Russia, which has been produced, it is said, in Boston in a temperature of artificial cold, in the following words: This wonderful plant, or rather flower, is found only on the northern boundaries of Siberia, where the snow is eternal. It was discovered in 1853 by Count Swinoskoff, the eminent Russian botanist, who was ennobled by the czar for his discovery. Bursting from the frozen snow on the first day of the year, it grows to the height of three feet and flowers on the third day, remains in flower for 24 hours and then dissolves itself into its original element – stem, leaves and flowers being of the finest snow. The stalk is about 1 inch in diameter; the leaves, three in number, in the broadest part are an inch and a half in width, and are covered with infinitessimal cones of snow; they grow only on one side of the stalk, to the north, curving gracefully in the same direction. The flower when fully expanded is in shape a perfect star; the petals are three inches in length, half an inch wide in the broadest parts, and tapering sharply to a point. These are also interlaced one with another, in a beautiful manner, forming the most delicate basket of frost work that the eye ever beheld; for truly this is a frost-work the most wonderful. The anthers are five in number, and on the third day after the birth of the “flower of snow” are to be seen on the extremities thereof, trembling and glittering like diamonds, the seeds of this wonderful flower, about as large as a pin’s head. The ??? botanist says that when first he beheld this flower “I was dumb with astonishment; filled with wonderment, which gave way to interest (?) most ecstatic on beholding this wonderful work of nature, this remarkable phenomenon of snow, To see this flower springing from the snowy desert – born of its own composite atoms. I touched the stem of one lightly, but it fell at my touch, and a morsel of snow only remained in my hand.” Gathering some of the flowers in snow, in order to preserve the little diamond like seeds, he hied to St. Petersburgh with, to him, the greatest prize of his lifetime. All through the year they were kept in snow, and on the first day of the year following the court of St. Petersburg, were delighted with the bursting forth of the wonderful “frost flower!” Our friend in Boston succeeded in obtaining several of the seeds, and all through the summer and autumn they have been embedded in snow brought at great expense from the White mountains and the coast of Labrador; and they have the most unbounded satisfaction and pleasure in announcing that all signs are favorable to the realization of their fondest hopes, the production of the “flower of snow.” The snow and ice are in a large glass refrigerator, with the thermometer 45 degrees below zero, and the solid bed of snow has already begun to show little fissures and a slight parting (?) in the centre; unmistakable evidence of the forthcoming of the phenomenon.

    A Historica Botanica "Who's It"

    Click on image to enlarge

    Who is the subject of this CDV? Possibly with Ficus elastica (India rubber plant) at left upper arm. Thanks to Ed Cobb for the plant ID!

    If you know anything about the person, place or date, please email me at Historica Botanica

    Thursday, June 17, 2004

    Fungal Valhalla Link Added- Portraits of Mycologists

    Portraits of some of the great mycologists of yesteryear are shown in the newly added Cyber-Truffle link. "Professor N.J. McGinty" was a pseudonym of Curtis Gates Lloyd. I would like to see Captain Charles McIlvaine and Moses Ashley Curtis added to this pantheon.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2004

    Asa Gray and Charles Loring Brace

    The relationship between Asa Gray and Charles Loring Brace (1826-1890) deserves additional study. Brace was a first cousin of Gray's wife, Jane. Although most remembered as a philanthropist and social worker to the poor, the orphans and the underprivileged classes of New York City, Brace was also an amateur naturalist who corresponded with, and was even a house guest (on one occasion) of Charles Darwin. He engaged in spirited dialogue with Gray on the subject of evolution and religion. Scribner's Sons published the hagiographic Life of Charles Loring Brace Chiefly Told in His Own Letters (1894) edited by his daughter Emma, which together with Gray's correspondence would be a fruitful starting point for further research. This would be especially interesting for the insights it might provide about Gray as a philosopher of science. It may be argued that Gray's highest intellectual achievement was in transcending systematic botany to struggle with the profound questions opened by Darwin's theory as represented in his two 1879/1880 lectures to the Theological School of Yale College(subsequently published in the 1880 book Natural Science and Religion). I hope, one day, to focus on Gray's correspondence with Brace (and George Frederick Wright).

    Monday, June 14, 2004

    Josiah Gregg's diary

    I have added a link today ("Who's In a Name") by Larry Blakely (Professor of Botany, Plant Physiology, Cal. State Polytechnic Univ., Pomona)which includes a brief biography and bibliography of Josiah Gregg. His biography was published in the 1941/44 2 volume Diary and Letters of Josiah Gregg by Maurice Garland Fulton. This was based upon manuscript diaries found in the possession of Gregg descendants. I have vigorously searched for the diaries, writing to most of the institutions which have Gregg archives, and to the scholars and rare book dealers most likely to know their whereabouts; and I have been unsuccessful in locating them. It's unfortunate that they have apparently been once again "lost" because they warrant further study.

    Saturday, June 12, 2004


    Welcome to Historica Botanica. This is the place to visit and and read about the history of natural history with a special focus on botany. My inspiration comes from the work of some of the great American historians of botany including Andrew Denny Rodgers III, Joseph and Nesta Ewan, Emanuel D. Rudolph and A. Hunter Dupree. I hope to include new information here based upon primary source material which is not otherwise available on the web or in print.

    As a start, I have added a number of links for valuable reference webpages including a series of chapters about the Torrey Botanical Society.

    I have also provided a link and this unsolicited testimonial to Fred Jordan, Bookbinder/Conservator who for upwards of 5 years has provided me with expert archival restoration/repair/conservation of historic papers, fine bindings, and books.