I once did a presentation on “Guess Who Had a Herbarium?” This was in the early days of my herbarium infatuation, and I was fascinated by the number of non-biologists who collected plant specimens. Jean-Jacques Rousseau not only was very interested in plants, but also tutored others in how to create their own plant collections. Paul Klee kept an herbarium, though it was not very botanically correct: the plants were pasted onto black paper and were unlabeled. As a teenager, Emily Dickinson wrote to a friend and asked if she were collecting plants because “everyone is doing it.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had a collection, which isn’t so surprising because he wrote about plant morphology, and it is seems only fitting that Henry David Thoreau collected plants. Two of his specimens were found a few years ago at the University of Connecticut’s George Stafford Torrey Herbarium stored unnoticed among their several hundred thousand specimens until the collection was digitized.
Since that original presentation, I’ve come across several more collectors, including John Stuart Mill, who had a herbarium of thousands of plants, and John Cage who collected mushrooms and even taught a mycology course at the New School.