Lord Petre’s Herbarium

Prunus pensylvanicus from the Lord Petre Herbarium at Sutro Library in San Francisco

Prunus pensylvanicus from the Lord Petre Herbarium at Sutro Library in San Francisco

In the Sutro Library at San Francisco State University, there is a 17-volume herbarium, the collection of Lord Petre (17), a noted British horticulturalist.  He was so avid to grow the latest plant finds that he served as patron to New World collectors, including John Bartram in Philadelphia and William Houstoun, who collected in the Caribbean.  Their plants are among those in his herbarium.  Unfortunately, for many of the specimens there is little information on the sheets.  The bulk of the Bartram material is in volumes 11 and 12.  I had an opportunity to examine them last summer, having read of the collection’s existence in an old article by the botanical historian Joseph Ewan (1970).  Since Ewan wrote, botanists from the Academy of Natural Scientists in Philadelphia have examined the Bartram material and annotated it.  This is the case for the specimen pictured above, which also has a note written by Bartram: “These I gathered on the Katskill Mountains it hath the appearance as of cherry like of european but smaller growing above 20 foot high.”  While such notes lack the type of information we normally expect on labels today, they are wonderful links to the mind and enthusiasm of Bartram, who collected wherever his travels took him.

Ewan, J. (1970). Plant Collectors in America: Backgrounds for Linnaeus. In Essays in Biohistory. Utrecht, Netherlands: International Association for Plant Taxonomy.

McLean, E. P. (1984). A preliminary report on the 18th century herbarium of Robert James, Eighth Baron Petre. Bartonia, 50, 36–39.

Schuyler, A. E., & Newbold, A. (1987). Vascular plants in Lord Petre’s herbarium collected by John Bartram. Bartonia, 53, 41–43.

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