Botany for Amateurs: The Decorative Arts

Leontodon autumnalis, Flora Danica, Tab. MDXXIII, 1816. Art Gallery of Ontario.

If “craft,” which I wrote about in the last post, can have a connotation of not being serious, then “decoration” is even less worthy of serious consideration.  Yet most of us have much more contact with the decorative arts—in our homes, our clothes, and daily encounters—than with “serious” art.  Years ago, I wrote an article called “Jellyfish on the Ceiling, Deer in the Den” (Flannery, 2005).  The title obviously signals that I produced it in my pre-botany days, but there were a lot of plants included.  My argument was that humans have a proclivity for surrounding themselves with living specimens including houseplants and pets, but even more with representations of flora and fauna.  Perhaps ultraminimalist homes are exceptions, but even there, a striking potted tree or orchid might emerge from the white walls and upholstery. 

            Most of us go much further than that, with botanical prints, animal figurines, and in the children’s room, dinosaurs.  My contention was that all this biota manifests what Edward O. Wilson (1984) calls “biophilia,” an innate human attraction to other living things.  He argues that such an adaption would be useful because until recently humans were immersed in the living world and needed to pay attention to it and appreciate it.  Even though many of us live in urban areas, we still feel that pull, and so create indoor lifescapes.  I’m bringing this up because it gives me a chance to mention the current trend, at least in certain circles, to used framed herbarium specimens in interior decoration. 

            During the pandemic I treated myself to a subscription to The World of Interiors, a glossy British magazine that presents homes from the ultramodern to the medieval.  There have been several articles over the past few years in Interiors and other publications with pictures of rooms with series of framed specimens hanging on the walls of living rooms, bedrooms, or even bathrooms.  Most of these sheets seem to be antiques, probably 19th century albums dismembered because they fetched higher prices when framed, otherwise the interior decorators might not know what to do with them.  Most are labeled at least with the plant name, but in some cases with more information.  Much as I believe in biophilia and think of specimens as works of art, I wouldn’t want them in my home.  I depresses me that these representatives of biodiversity have ended up where they will probably never be databased or used to further our knowledge of the natural world.

            But such examples do bolster the biophilia argument, and there is evidence that even representations of nature can improve a person’s mood and outlook (Kellert, 1997).  So why couldn’t a few herbarium specimens brighten a day?  And there are other connections between botany and the decorative arts.  The 18-volume Flora Danica (1761-1783) was lavishly illustrated, and the plates used as source material for the equally lavish dinnerware.  The set was created by the Royal Danish Porcelain Manufactory for the Danish royal family, not surprising since the business was owned by the Danish king (Ackers, 2010).  This is either a botanist’s dream or nightmare:  would food seem palatable with such botanical treasures peeking through the gravy?  Another example is the work of Christopher Dresser, a 19th-century British designer and professor of artistic botany.  He produced a series of articles on botany adapted to the arts, wrote a book on Rudiments of Botany (1859), and created botanical diagrams.   Another case is that of the botanical illustrator in the early days of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, William Kilburn, who left this work to create wallpaper and fabric designs (Nelson, 2008).  This turned out to be a much more lucrative business.

            Before I end, I have to get back to the jellyfish on the ceiling from my article.  It refers to Ernst Haeckel, famed for his Art Forms in Nature that was such an inspiration to artists and illustrators at the turn of the 20th century.  He was a zoologist who specialized in studying jellyfish.  He did in fact have jellyfish decorations on his ceiling and on tables, lamps, vases, etc.  Lest you think botanists are any less obsessed, the “botanical kitchen” in the Marie-Victorin Herbarium in Montreal is equipped not only with a toaster oven but wallpaper made from scans of specimens from the collection, in a 4 by 4 sheet repeat.  The Oxford Herbarium was once located in its historic botanic garden, which just celebrated its 400th anniversary.  It has been moved to larger quarters, but there is still an “Herbarium Room” with historical displays in the former herbarium at the garden.  The room is papered not with specimens, but the next best thing, prints from Hortus Elthamensis (1732) written by Johann Dillenius, the first botany professor at Oxford University who also created not only the illustrations, but engraved many of the plates as well.  This might be a homage to that great interior decorator Carl Linnaeus, who designed a famous piece of botanical furniture to store his specimens and papered his bedroom with prints from Georg Ehret’s work.  In fact one of the cabinets is now in the print-lined room at his Hammarby farm.  The 18th-century wallpaper has not fared well and needs restoration or conservation work.  However the paper is so fragile, there is difference of opinion on the damage that could be done by any intervention (Cullhed, 2008).  Maintaining a home is never easy.

References

Ackers, G. (2010). The ferns of Flora Danica—Plants and porcelain. Pteridologist, 5, 207–213.

Cullhed, P. (2008). The conservation of iconic objects and Linnaeus’ books and wallpaper. In The Linnaean Legacy (pp. 135–140). London: Linnean Society of London.

Flannery, M. C. (2005). Jellyfish on the ceiling and deer in the den: The biology of interior decoration. Leonardo, 38(3), 239–244. https://doi.org/10.1162/0024094054029056

Kellert, S. (1997). Kinship to Mastery: Biophilia in Human Evolution and Development. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Nelson, E. C. (2008). William Kilburn’s calico patterns, copyright and Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, 25(4), 361–373.

Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Botany for Amateurs: Craft

Paper cutout of Passiflora laurifolia by Mary Delany. In the collection of the British Museum

I ended the last post remarking that it’s hard to fit botanical work into neat categories; the same is true of art and craft.  They just can’t be separated any more than professionals are distinct from amateurs.  However, craft can have connotations of amateurism, implying that professionals have raised their work to an art.  Some of the examples of scrapbooks I discussed in the last post were definitely works of art; some of them less so.  In this post, I want to explore the relationship between botany and crafts like embroidery.  Maybe I’m being sexist when I say that the last sentence probably caused male readers to sign off.  But wait, professional embroidery in many parts of the world is a male bastion, and was in Europe for many centuries.  Those amazing Elizabethan clothes—for men and women—as well as elaborate furnishings were designed and sewn by men (Parker, 1984).  Only gradually did embroidery become a well-developed skill among elite women and part of their education.  Famously, Mary Queen of Scots embroidered elaborate emblems during her imprisonment in the home of Bess of Hardwick, the Countess of Shrewsbury and an accomplished needlewoman.  Among other sources for their designs was Mary’s copy of Pietro Andrea Mattioli’s herbal, but she also had the garden of Hardwick Hall as a source of inspiration (LaBouff, 2018). 

In the first post in this series, I mentioned a present-day embroiderer who goes to the garden for inspiration, and for information on the plants she renders (Aoki, 2017).  But there are also artists using plant material in less conventional ways.  Susanna Bauer, who is a German-born artist living in Britain, makes works by embroidering on leaves.  There are a number practitioners of this art, which also involves a great deal of craft.  As anyone who has worked in an herbarium knows, dried leaves can be very brittle, but Bauer chooses her materials carefully and works slowly and deliberately.  Her pieces are commentaries on human/plant interactions and human/human relationships as well.  Set against white backgrounds they become reminiscent of herbarium specimens where the intervention is artistic rather than scientific, yet both approaches invite close inspection. 

Imke van Boekhold, a Dutch artist, used machine embroidery on wire to create three-dimensional renderings of Scottish plants for her thesis presentation.  Years later, she returned to this theme, but instead, created herbarium specimens and used them as her models.  The first set of work was pretty, the second set awe-inspiring.  She exhibited the works and the specimens at the Natural History Museum, Rotterdam.  Meanwhile in New Delhi Sumakshi Singh has taken a related tack, machine embroidering depictions of plants in black thread on see-through white fabric.  Exhibited in white frames against white walls, they seem to float.  She also takes several other approaches, including three-dimensional pieces floating in glass containers.  Machine embroidery of this caliber requires at least as much skill as handwork and is also as time-consuming.  Like Mary Queen of Scots, Singh has time to think about the forms she is creating and how they present the living world—making the familiar strange so viewers will take note and spend time considering that world. 

I want to end my exploration of embroidery by jumping back to an earlier practitioner so I can also jump to a different craft.  The 18th century amateur botanist Mary Delany was a keen observer of plants and created highly realistic embroidery designs as well as using those created by others.  She is known for a gown decorated with 200 stitched flowers that she wore to be presented to the queen.  However, she is even better known for her collages of flowers made from pieces of colored paper.  She created nearly a thousand of these, beginning at age 72.  Meticulously done, each has a black paper background and each depicts a single species, as in botanical illustrations (Orr, 2019).

In her early pieces, Delany often added details in watercolor, but as she became more adept almost all features were made of paper pieces.  Her passionflower is incredible (see above).  Like herbarium specimens, these collages are not quite two dimensional; they have depth and texture and she used mottled papers to increase the perception of texture.  Delany was a dedicated gardener of the inquisitive sort who wanted to know as much about plants as possible.  This interest was shared by her good friend, Margaret Bentinick, the Duchess of Portland.  Together they took botany lessons with Bentinck’s chaplain, John Lightfoot author of a flora of Scotland.  They also worked on dissecting flowers and creating herbarium specimens.  All these activities require attention to detail and digital skill; they are related and cannot be totally separated—they enrich each other. 

After Delany’s death, a few tried to imitate her technique, including William Booth Grey, but these works were not as detailed and lifelike; they lacked the energy and enthusiasm that she put into her art.  Delany had for years done paper cutting, including silhouettes in black paper.  At the time and even earlier such paper art was commonplace, particularly in Germany where it was known as Scherenschnitt.  In the late 17th century Johann Christoph Ende created what could be called a paper herbarium, with cutouts of two hundred plants.  Beneath each he gave the German and then Latin name as well as a description of the plant and its uses.  Some are so intricate as to be lace-like.  Ende was a skilled craftsman indeed, and an amateur botanist as well (see below).

Scherenschnitt of Arum by Johann Christoph Ende in Sonderbares Kräuterbuch. Berlin State Library, Ms. germ. fol. 223

References

Aoki, K. (2017). Embroidered Garden Flowers. Boulder: Roost.

LaBouff, N. (2018). Embroidery and Information Management: The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick Reconsidered. Huntington Library Quarterly, 81(3), 315–358. https://doi.org/10.1353/HLQ.2018.0014

Orr, C. C. (2019). Mrs Delany: A Life. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Parker, R. (1984). The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine. New York: Routledge.

Botany for Amateurs: Pressing Plants

Dr. Priestley’s specimen of Carex depauperata, Natural History Museum, London (BM000059255)

Flow is a German magazine dedicated to the paper arts.  It had an English edition until the pandemic, and a friend of my sent me a section on plants from Issue 17, the last English-language number.  It was in three parts.  The first included a brief history of herbaria, a description of a Dutch stationery store’s line of herbarium-themed paper products, and of course, instructions on how to press plants between sheets of paper.  Next was a small Pocket Herbarium, a booklet pasted right onto on the magazine’s pages, ready for use in saving specimens.  It was created by Saskia de Valk who has already marketed a larger version.  The third section included three sheets of much heavier paper with reproductions of Maria Merian prints, suitable for framing as they say.  This entire feature, really the entire magazine, was definitely aimed at amateurs and women.  It could easily be dismissed as DIY fluff, but in the first section Luca Ghini is mentioned as an early champion of plant collections, and the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew is highlighted as the world’s largest.  Presenting Merian’s work provides exposure to some of the best botanical illustration.  In other words, these elements might just encourage some to explore plants, and herbaria, more avidly.

I was seduced by herbaria when I saw a couple of seaweed scrapbooks from 19th-century Rhode Island produced by local women, one the governor’s wife.  Anna Atkins was not a “professional” botanist, but she could be classified as a professional photographer, and her volumes of seaweed cyanotypes were the first published photography books.  Cyanotypes of plant material are still popular today, as is scrapbooking of all kinds.  I myself am not enamored of this medium, but as I discussed in the last post, there is a spectrum of approaches and levels of expertise in any endeavor.  It can be hard to tell at what point a herbarium morphs into a scrapbook or visa versa.  Leopold Grindon, who worked as a cashier for a Manchester textile company, donated 39,000 specimens to the Manchester Herbarium; this is one of its three foundational collections.   What makes it distinctive is that Grindon often attached illustrations, drawings, and entire articles to a specimen sheet, and in many cases, the accessory material was so extensive it needed a second or third sheet.  The texts included botanical journal articles as well as cuttings from magazines and newspapers.  It is an amazing archive, but there are many collectors who less vigorously augmented specimens.  The Harvard botanist Oakes Ames was one, often including drawings by his wife Blanche Ames (Flannery, 2012). 

Moving along the spectrum are those, mostly amateurs, who kept their specimens in books, and added either their own art or printed illustrations to the specimens.  There are many 19th-century scrapbooks with poems and other musings either printed or by the maker, along with cuttings; the language of flowers was popular at this time and often leaked into collections that also included scientific nomenclature.  In other words, amateurs ignored the borders between science and art, or science and life.  Even when the use of plant material was quite whimsical, as in a scrapbook of literary clippings with small plant cuttings—and feathers—as decoration, the attention to detail belies a great deal of observation.  Another notebook, the Bible Album of the naturalist Eliza Brightwen has only a few cuttings, but many drawings and prints of plants, along with religious art and texts.  Plants were woven deeply into the lived experience of women who documented them in these books.

The Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Yale Center for British Art has a few of these gems which were highlighted in a wonderful book Of Green, Bird, and Flower: Artist’s Books and the Natural World (Fairman, 2014).  One example is an herbarium created by a Miss Rowe apparently as an entry in an herbarium contest conducted by the Liverpool Naturalists’ Field Club in 1861.  Such competitions were relatively common in the 19th century and were akin to horticultural competitions for the best rose or geranium or flower arrangement.  There is no record of who won this particular contest but this entry should have.  Each carefully labeled specimen was enclosed in a blue envelope with a watercolor of the plant painted on it.  These were arranged in a wooden stationary box.  Miss Rowe was definitely someone who took her botany seriously, and her art as well. 

But lest you think that only women were careful in their presentation of plants, I have to mention a single specimen that I saw on the Twitter feed for the Natural History Museum, London (@NHM_Botany).  It is a Carex depauperata specimen collected by William Overend Priestley.  In the upper left hand corner, outside a blue sheet framed in gold there is a note: “Prepared by Dr. Priestley, and presented by him 1889.”  I don’t know if this sheet is unique, or if Dr. Priestley, whose Wikipedia entry describes him as an obstetrician and makes no mention of botanical interests, made a habit of creating such extravaganzas.  All I know is that this one sheet has everything:  not only the specimen, but illustrations of the flower parts, along with dissected parts (see above).  There are also seeds and even nature prints of seeds at the bottom.  The illustrations are very delicate, done with a fine hand.  And I have to say the gold trim is a nice touch.  This specimen is light on information, though it does give the date and location of collection and the plant’s scientific name.  It’s hard to see this as a serious scientific artifact, but it is, and illustrates just how hard it is to fit botanical work into neat categories.

References

Fairman, E. R. (Ed.). (2014). Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower: Artist’s Books and the Natural World. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Flannery, M. C. (2012). Blanche and Oakes Ames: A relationship of art and science. Plant Science Bulletin, 58(2), 60–64.

Herbaria: Specimens Get Around

Cover of Capitulum, Volume 2, Number 1

Years ago, my husband would attend meetings of the Popular Culture Association because he was interested in visual aspects of the popularization of science in 19th century magazines and books.  I of course tagged along, and soon discovered that the PCA was about much more than comic books and plastic toys.  There are dozens of sections and I found ones that dealt with material culture, the study of things—including two of my loves: natural history specimens and textiles.  Material culture deals with human-made artifacts and would seem to exclude specimens, but that’s hardly the case.  A specimen is an artifact.  A herbarium sheet is more than a plant.  It’s a piece of paper with at least one label, and the plant has been processed by humans to behave well in two dimensions.  The botanical artist Rachel Pedder-Smith wrote about herbaria and material culture in her dissertation that accompanied her spectacular painting of Kew specimens, Herbarium Specimen Painting.

Over time, a specimen accretes greater significance as more humans interact with it.  Deborah Harkness (2007) writes:  “Every time a dried plant specimen changed hands it became infused with new cultural and intellectual currency as its provenance became richer, its associations greater” (p. 31).  Often though not always, the transfer is noted physically on the sheet, making it easier to explain how a particular plant from, for example Germany, ended up in New Zealand, or why plants collected on a Captain James Cook expedition found a home in Philadelphia.  In the last three posts (1,2,3) I’ve discussed attempts to puzzle out the provenance of herbaria, now I want to take this down to the “microhistory” level and look at the travels of individual sheets. 

I got this idea from a lovely article I read in Capitulum, the recently revamped newsletter of The International Compositae Alliance (TICA).  Abigail Moore (2022) writes about a single sheet at Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University that has two gatherings of what is now Grindelia ciliata(Nutt.) Spreng.  The first was collected in 1819 by Thomas Nuttall, a British botanist who worked for many years in the United States and collected widely in the West.  The label just gives “Arkansas” as the locale, but in the species description, Nuttall (1821) added “on the alluvial banks of the Arkansas, and Great Salt River.”  The second gathering was from Samuel Woodhouse, who was like many collectors in the West, a U.S. Army surgeon/naturalist.  He was on the Sitgreaves Expedition 1849-1851 to map in the same region Nuttall had visited 30 years earlier.  The locale is “Cherokee Nation,” and Moore explains the technicalities of that term at the time, pointing to an area close to where Nuttall had found the first specimen.  She ends by going into the rather complex nomenclatural history of this species, explaining the various names on the labels.  It’s a lovely article and a reminder of how much can be learned from a single sheet.

In a very different example of the rich history that ANS specimens can reveal, Earle Spamer (1998) writes of 26 sheets there that were collected by Johann Reingold Forster and his son Johann Georg, naturalists on Captain James Cook’s second around-the-world voyage.  Spamer describes how much they collected and how broadly the specimens were distributed, in most cases to British or at least European herbaria.  The ANS specimens were given in 1834 by Thomas Nuttall, who apparently got them from Aylmer Bourke Lambert, an avid British botanist and collector (they are marked “Lambert Herbarium”).  Some Lewis and Clark specimens at the ANS were also once part of Lambert’s herbarium but arrived by a very different route—a story for another time (Spamer & McCourt, 2002). 

On the other side of the world, the herbarium of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa has a briefer history than ANS but none-the-less an interesting collection.  Eighty-four of its specimens traveled from Japan to Russian to Britain before arriving back in the Pacific.  The Russian botanist Carl Maximowich collected in Japan from 1860-1864 and returned to Saint Petersburg with 72 chests of specimens.  The Natural History Museum, London received 1500 from this hoard, and they sent 84 on to New Zealand.  At the time, New Zealand was a young colony, trying to develop its scientific infrastructure and the museum sought assistance from London.

These specimens were part of a much larger European collection of 28,000 specimens bought from NHM by the museum’s director James Hector in 1865.  He thought Australian botanists needed a reference collection to aid in identification of the many non-native plants spreading through the colony, either inadvertently or purposefully brought in by settlers.  As often happens in understaffed herbaria, most of this material lay in storage until the 1950s, and some of it has only recently been examined in detail.  The collection was put together by three British collectors, but within it were materials collected by others, including at least one specimen of an Easter Island plant (see earlier post).  There were also specimens gathered by a German botanist Johannes Flügge (1775-1816) who established a botanical garden in Hamburg.  It was destroyed by Napoleon’s forces in 1813, yet here is a record of what was growing on the other side of the globe when New Zealand wasn’t even an official colony.  That’s the wonder of herbaria and why I study them.  I bore easily, but I am confident that there is an endless supply of examples like this to keep me intrigued.    

References

Harkness, D. E. (2007). The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Moore, A. (2022). Grindelia ciliata (Astereae), Thomas Nuttall, and the exploration of the American West. Capitulum, 1(2). https://doi.org/10.53875/capitulum.01.2.07

Pedder-Smith, R. (2012). Herbarium Specimen Painting. Rachel Pedder-Smith. http://www.rachelpeddersmith.com/Herbarium/Herbarium.html

Spamer, E. (1998). Circumventing Captain Cook. Lewisia, 2, 2–5.

Spamer, E., & McCourt, R. (2002). The Lewis and Clark Herbarium of The Academy of Natural Sciences. Part 1. Notulae Naturae, 475, 1–46.

Herbaria: Sorting Things Out

Specimen of Zollernia glabra from Brazil, Herbarium Wied [140], photo by P.L.R. des Moraes from article (2009)

It’s hardly news that the preponderance of type specimens are in Northern Hemisphere collections (Park et al., 2021).  To increase accessibility for countries in the species-rich Southern Hemisphere, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded the digitization of over two million botanical type specimens that are now available through JSTOR Global Plants.  Yes, for most of us there is a paywall to scale to fully use the site, but support is available for third-world institutions to gain access.  It is an impressive resource and botanists are using it for more than just finding type specimens of interest.  For two Latin-American botanists, Sandra Reinales and Carlos Parra-O. (2022), Global Plants was a major tool in “disentangling” the specimens of José Jerónimo Triana (1828-1890).  He was a Colombian botanist who collected plants from 1851-1857 for the Chorographic Commission set up by the newly organized government of Colombia.  After the survey was completed, he turned over to the commission a full set of the plants he collected along with a catalogue where the specimens were numbered and organized taxonomically.  This became the “Colombian Catalogue.” 

Triana then took his duplicates to Europe and worked at the Paris herbarium.  There he created a new list, renumbering the specimens.  It ended up in the Natural History Museum, London and so is the “London Catalogue.”  I think you can probably figure out where this story is going, but to add one more level of complexity.  In the listing of some species in the second catalogue is another set of numbers:  collection numbers for specimens gathered by Jean Jules Linden with whom Triana had a long collaboration.  These are designated “Linden numbers.”  The article includes photographs of pages from the catalogues; they are hand written neatly, with the information given in columns. 

The problem is how to relate these catalogues to the many collections containing Triana material.  Obviously the catalogue numbers and specimens sync for those that remain in Colombia.  However, there were multiple duplicates for many of his gatherings located in the NHM, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, and several other European and North American herbaria.  To attempt to figure out the location of type specimens, the authors searched for Triana specimens in JSTOR Global Plants and found over 5000 records.  They then searched in other databases for additional types and cleaned the data by reading the label information and removing those specimens that didn’t fit their criteria.  Obviously this was a lengthy and tedious process, and they were rewarded with some knotty problems to solve.  I can’t even scratch the surface of their detailed work, but I’ll give a brief summary of a couple of issues.  There were cases where the same Triana gathering was used to describe different species; the different numbers on the labels of duplicates was one of the issues.  There were also cases where Triana and other botanists collected in the same area at the same time. One of the specimens designated as a type for Meriania umbellata, a species collected and described by Karl Wilhelm Karsten, also has a Triana label and collection number on it.  To alleviate some issues, Reinales and Parro-O. present guidelines for lectotypification of some names of specimens that Triana described based on his specimens.

Now I soldier on to another herbarium, no less problematic (Moraes, 2009).  Again, it involves South American plants, this time collected by Prince Maximillian of Wied when he was in Brazil from 1815 to 1817.  He explored along the southeastern coast, a species-rich rainforest area.  In 1998  historians were searching family records in what had been his palace and rediscovered his private herbarium.  It had been missing for 20 years and was found when an intrepid researcher decided to investigate a difficult to get at cabinet.  In it were 22 parcels of plants collected over 26 years, so they obviously contained more than the Brazilian material.  In all there were 7000 plants including some from his trip to North America and his European collections, and there were 125 Brazilian plants.  Though this is modest compared to the 5000 specimens of 1000 species that he gathered in Brazil, it does contribute to knowledge of Wied’s work because there are still many of his specimens that haven’t been located.  As with a number of German collections, some might have been destroyed in the large-scale damage to the Berlin-Dalhem herbarium during WWII. 

To bring up the major issue with the Triana specimens of collection numbers, the situation is not as confusing here, though hardly ideal.  Wied didn’t used collection numbers, but he did number some specimens later as he studied them, and some were also numbered by others in the course of their work.  Of the 125 Brazilian specimens in his personal collection, there are 98 species represented, several of which are not found in other Wied material.  Unfortunately, he rarely gave location information on his labels.  Still, Moraes notes:  “Species kept in the private collection of Brazilian plants gathered by Wied represent a precious register of the flora of the Atlantic rainforest of the 19th century.  Its historical value is indisputable since Wied’s vouchers are among the first ones collected in Brazil that are still extant”(p. 46).  In other words, the contents of that cabinet were a pleasant botanical surprise.

References

Moraes, P. L. R. (2009). The Brazilian herbarium of Maximilian, Prince of Wied. Neodiversity, 4(2), 16–51. https://doi.org/10.13102/neod.42.1

Park, D. S., Feng, X., Akiyama, S., Ardiyani, M., Avendaño, N., Barina, Z., Bärtschi, B., Belgrano, M., Betancur, J., Bijmoer, R., Bogaerts, A., Cano, A., Danihelka, J., Garg, A., Giblin, D. E., Gogoi, R., Guggisberg, A., Hyvärinen, M., James, S. A., … Davis, C. C. (2021). The colonial legacy of herbaria. bioRxiv (p. 2021.10.27.466174). https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.10.27.466174

Reinales, S., & Parra-O., C. (2022). Disentangling the historical collection of José Jerónimo Triana from the República de la Nueva Granada between 1851 and 1857. Taxon, 71(2), 420–439. https://doi.org/10.1002/tax.12653

Herbaria: Two Views of the Zierikzee Herbarium

Specimen of common soapwort (Saponaria officinalis), Zierikzee Herbarium

As discussed in the last post, older herbaria are being given increased attention because they shed light on what plants were in growing in Europe and in European gardens at the time, and how botanists approached their work.  But as with any old documents, it is often difficult to unlock their secrets.  A case in point is a beautiful herbarium at the natural history museum in Zierikzee in the Netherlands with no information on who the collector might have been.  In 2021, two articles were published on its contents and provenance, each presenting different conclusions as to who created it and when.  The article by a team from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden came out first, and I read it first (Offerhaus et al., 2021).  Like the herbaria discussed in the last post, also studied by a Naturalis team, efforts were made to identify all the species and provide up-to-date names.  The organization of the sheets, the information on the labels, the type of paper used, and many other possible clues were presented. 

In the case of the Zierikzee Herbarium, there was an analysis of the ornate printed labels and vases found on all but 21 of 348 plants.  Their use seems to have been a primarily Dutch fad in the first half of the 18th century.  They definitely perk up a specimen, giving it a bit of class or status, showing the taste of the collector.  Carl Linnaeus’s patron in the Netherlands, the wealthy merchant and horticulturalist George Clifford used them; they befitted someone with a large garden, and a greenhouse each for Asian, American, European, and African plants.  Historians of botany have studied them and in some cases identified the printers and the years when they were produced.  In the case of the Zierikzee, the Naturalis group focused on labels with a putto on each side of a frame with the species information using pre-Linnaean nomenclature written, in the blank space between them. 

Both articles also researched old auction catalogues to attempt to find the answer to who created this work.  There is not direct evidence in the herbarium itself, which is the major mystery at the center of this controversy.  In the second article, Gerard Thijsse (2021) found a resemblance between an herbarium auctioned in 1790, that of Martin Wilhelm Schwencke.  It consisted of 10 volumes, and Thijsse thinks that six of them make up the herbarium in Zierikzee and that Schwencke collected the plants early in his long career.  Thijsse gives a detailed explanation as to why this makes more sense than the Naturalis team’s hypothesis, which links the herbarium to Jacob Ligtvoet  described in a 1752 auction catalogue shortly after his death.  Reading these two reports reminded me of opposing lawyers carefully laying out their arguments, using a variety of different kinds of evidence, some of it scientific some of it textual.

Both articles also discussed evidence from computer analyses of similarities between the information given in published botanical sources and the label data, which included references to several authors.  The two studies significantly diverge.  The Naturalis group sees some resemblances between the label data and the information in Herman Boerhaave’s two catalogues of the plants in the Leiden botanical garden, one published in 1720 and the other in 1730.  They suggest that the herbarium began to be put together between these two dates and consider the likely creator to be the gardener at Leiden, Jacob Ligtvoet who helped Boerhaave with the second catalogue.  They note that along with the preponderance of the plants from the Netherlands but there are exotic species that Boerhaave obtained from those associated with the Dutch East India Company

On the other hand, Thijsse found that the herbarium contains a “virtually” complete set of the plants mentioned by the unknown author of the 1738 Pharmacopoea Hagana.  He also argues that one of the vases used is similar to one the Georg Ehret designed in 1734, so that the Naturalis date for the herbarium is too early.  Since Thijsse’s article appeared later than the Naturalis one, he had the luxury of questioning some of its findings.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Naturalis is now working on a rebuttal.  Of course, there is much fertile ground for argument here.  Many pharmacopoeia of the time included similar species, and the plants could have been mounted earlier and then the vases added later as a decorative afterthought.  That’s the problem with history, it is impossible to know everything about the past, information is always limited and open to interpretation. 

This is very reminiscent of scientific controversies, where researchers ask similar questions but use different protocols or methods of attack and come up with opposite conclusions.  Is that because one of them is wrong or because they are really not looking at the same phenomenon?  Only more research will provide the answer, which may very well be the case here, or there will be a stalemate.  I’ve just finished rereading these articles, and my head hurts.  For once I have reached my herbarium saturation point.  I think there is more here than I want to know about this one collection.  One the other hand, I am not sorry that I spent time on this because it helped me to see how historians work.  Like scientists, they have to be creative in how they approach their problem, asking different kinds of questions so that eventually they may perhaps find a niche that opens up a new world of answers.

References

Post 2

Offerhaus, A., de Haas, E., Porck, H., Kardinaal, A., Ek, R., Pokorni, O., & van Andel, T. (2020). The Zierikzee Herbarium: Contents and origins of an enigmatic 18th century herbarium. Blumea, 66, 1–52. https://doi.org/10.3767/blumea.2021.66.01.01

Thijsse, G. (2021). The four W’s of two 18th century Dutch herbaria: The “Zierikzee Herbarium” and the herbarium of Simon D’Oignies. Blumea, 66, 263–274. https://doi.org/10.3767/blumea.2021.66.03.09

Herbaria: Pre-Linnaean

Specimen of Helichrysum arenarium from Breyne’s 1673 herbarium, Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Jong et al., 2022)

As I‘ve previously mentioned, older herbaria particularly pre-Linnaean ones are receiving increased attention.  In the past, the fact that they were of little use in investigating nomenclatural issues and often had scant label data meant they weren’t of much interest.  But historians are now finding them rich sources for studies on botanical inquiry in earlier centuries.  In addition, these collections are gold mines of information about the ecology of the areas where the plants were gathered and in some cases about agricultural and horticultural practices.  Historical research is often about solving mysteries of the past, and herbaria are full of clues.  This set of posts will deal with a few interesting collections.  The first is pre-Linnaean, that of the Prussian merchant and collector Jacob Breyne (1637-1697). 

In a previous series of posts on early modern herbaria (1,2,3,4) I discussed several in the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands.  This institution not only has an outstanding collection but has supported a great deal of research on pre-Linnaean herbaria under the direction of Tinde van Andel, who holds appointments at both Leiden and Wageningen Universities.  She and her colleagues examined Jacob Breyne’s two book herbaria in Naturalis and set them in the context of what has been uncovered about his life (Jong et al., 2022).  With every personal herbarium there is an interplay between the plants and the maker in terms of where that person lived, where they might have traveled, and who else they knew in the botanical world.  In this case, Breyne was from a Dutch family that had moved to what is now Gdansk, Poland where they were traders in raw materials for medicines and dyes.  He learned botany in school and collected around Gdansk.  He then spent time in the Netherlands while he trained as a merchant with this uncle.  He also visited botanical gardens and studied botany at Leiden.  After returning to Gdansk he continued his interest in plants and corresponded with Dutch botanists and collectors connected to the Dutch East India Company, giving him access to plant material from South Africa and Asia.

Breyne’s two bound herbaria, one dated 1659 and the other 1673, indicate he had a sustained interest in plants.  In the two are a total of 105 specimens, some with original labels.  However there’s evidence of many missing specimens, often with the labels missing as well:  60 from the first, which only has 48 remaining, and 10 from the second, from which 10 pages were also cut out.  Most of the plants in these volumes are European species, many from the Gdansk area.  They give a picture of what was growing there at the time and how the flora has changed.  Breyne noted that the frog orchid Dactylorhiza viridis was abundant, though it’s now designated as regionally extinct for Gdansk and its vicinity.  Though there are few exotic specimens included, most plants in these collections are from this area.  Breyne may have collected them on his travels or gotten them from others; the labels contain little information on provenance.

There is another collection of Breyne specimens at Naturalis as part of the large Van Royen Herbarium, which was compiled by Adriaan van Royen (1704-1779) director of the Leiden botanic garden and his nephew David (1727-1799).  Van Andel and her colleagues examined the 89 specimens designated as from Breyne, but found that only 59 had labels with his handwriting, and some of the remainder had nothing indicating a connection to him (Jong et al., 2021).  They studied the 59 with the aim of finding specimens that might have been removed at some point from the two bound herbaria.  However, it became clear that there was probably no such link.  Most of unbound plants were from southern not northern Europe and specifically from the area around Montpelier in southern France, site of a university with a long tradition of botanical inquiry.  There are a couple of possibilities of how Breyne acquired this material since he was not known to have traveled that far.  Historians sift through a collector’s life experience to attempt to find links to collection specimens.  A contemporary of his, Ernst Gottfried Heyse, studied at Leiden and Montpelier before returning to Gdansk to teach and direct the botanical garden there.  Also Breyne corresponded and traded specimens with the French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort.

There are limits to how many questions old collections can answer.  There is no good explanation as to why or when so much of Breyne’s older herbaria was removed.  Also, there’s no convincing hypotheses to explain how some of his specimens ended up in the van Royen Collection.  Breyne died several years before the elder van Royen was even born, but specimens do have a tendency to be passed from botanist to botanist.  The specimens in question appear to have been cut from larger sheets, perhaps from a bound volume.  After his father’s death, Breyne’s son was known to have sent parts of his collection to other botanists, and Leiden was a likely place to send them because of the family’s Dutch heritage.  Perhaps more information will turn up in the future, but even now a great deal has been learned recently about Breyne and his collections.  In the next post in this series, even deeper mysteries surround another old herbarium, and the results of the latest investigations are still open to debate.  

Reference

de Jong, M., Duistermaat, L., Stefanaki, A., & Andel, T. van. (2022). The book herbaria of Jacob Breyne (1637-1697) in the collection of Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Leiden, the Netherlands). Blumea, 67, 77-96.https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-885416/v1

de Jong, M., Stefanaki, A., & van Andel, T. (2022). Mediterranean specimens of the Prussian Botanist Jacob Breyne (1637–1697) in the Van Royen Herbarium, Leiden, The Netherlands. Botany Letters, 169(2), 294-301. https://doi.org/10.1080/23818107.2022.2038667

More Books: Biltmore

When I began to delve into the herbarium world, I was surprised at the variety of people and institutions that collected plants.  The 19th century British writer and artist John Ruskin pressed plants from Chamonix in France, the philosopher John Stuart Mill’s family had a room built to house his extensive collection (Pearce, 2006), and the Nobel-Prize-winning physician Baruch Blumberg (1998) had one at the Fox Chase Cancer Center to archive plants tested for antiviral agents.  It fascinates me when people and places I associate with other fields, also had plant collections.  Take for example George W. Vanderbilt II’s Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina with its huge and magnificent home surrounded by gardens to match.  I’ve never been there, but visitors describe it in superlatives.  So I was tickled to discover that there was an herbarium at Biltmore and distraught to learn that a great deal of it was destroyed by a flood in 1916. 

That’s all I knew about this collection until Nina Veteto, who lives in Asheville and visits Biltmore regularly, told me about a book on the estate’s botanical activities during its heyday in the late 19th century:  The Biltmore Nursery: A Botanical Legacyby Bill Alexander (2007).  Vanderbilt had originally come to the area with his ailing mother since this mountain region was becoming a health resort for wealthy Northerners.  At 26, he began buying parcels of land, including rather degraded property that had been overgrazed or deforested.  He envisioned building a house and also devoting some of the thousands of acres he acquired to forestry, along with an arboretum.  Like many seeking to lay out estates or parks at that time, he turned for direction to landscape architect Frederick Olmsted, the creator of Central Park.

Olmsted did more than just design a plan for the gardens and arboretum.  He also proposed development of the forest as a business and of a nursery to serve the massive needs of the estate.  Once it was established and production became robust, the nursery generated revenue by offering a large variety of trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants for sale.  Alexander’s book includes a reprint of the entire 1912 nursery catalogue, which runs to 177 pages.  Everything at Biltmore was on a large scale.  Olmstead also recommended the creation of an herbarium to document the plants that grew on the estate before development as well as the many species introduced from around the world.  He even suggested tracking plants that flourished after coming in with other plants, often as seeds.

For the herbarium to be useful it would need a broad collection of reference specimens, so many duplicates were produced and trades made with herbaria around the world.   Frank Boynton was hired as a collector for both the herbarium and the nursery at the recommendation of Charles Sprague Sargent.  Collections were made in many areas of the east and a collector was even sent out west.  Chauncey Beadle was director of the nursery, as well as the herbarium.  He worked to create a xylarium with collections of with seeds, nuts, and examples of diseases along with wood sections showing bark.  Obviously, Olmstead also saw a botanical library as a must, and book buying began in 1890 at the same time the nursery was set up.  Alvan Chapman, a well-known Florida botanist nearing the end of his life, sold some of his books and specimens to Vanderbilt.  And in 1896, records show a shipment of 9 cases of books from London; others came from a book seller in Philadelphia. 

The heyday for collection at Biltmore was over by about 1901.  Though the library and herbarium continued to function, they were no longer actively enlarged.  In its heyday, the herbarium had about 100,000 specimens.  Three quarters of them were lost in the 1916 flood that also destroyed the nursery.  However, by this time the herbarium’s future was already uncertain since George Vanderbilt had died of appendicitis two years earlier, and his widow was seeking a new home for the collection.  The remaining specimens, including most of Chapman’s, were given to the Smithsonian.  However, as Alexander notes, so many Biltmore specimens were exchanged with other institutions there are Biltmore sheets in a number of collections in the United States and Europe.  One indication of the extent of exchange is that in 1897 5,000 copies of the Biltmore herbarium exchange catalogue were printed.  Many were sent to collectors and institutions around the world including in Russia, Austria, Australia, and of course, Britain. 

The herbarium project at Biltmore lasted about 25 years, but its impact continues through the many specimens at the United States National Herbarium at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.  It recently announced that its entire collection of over 5 millions sheets has now been digitized and is available online, so at least some of what was documented on the Biltmore estate can now be used in studies on habitat change over the past 100 years.  But the story of the Biltmore herbarium also speaks to how much a wealthy individual valued nature in the late 19th century.  Yes, Vanderbilt saw plants as a source of further wealth but he also valued information about them in the form of specimens and publications, and he saw the value of connections to the broader botanical community as valuable for learning more about them.

Note: I am very grateful to Nina Veteto for our discussion on Biltmore, herbaria, and plants in general as well as her post on the Biltmore Herbarium.

References

Alexander, B. (2007). The Biltmore Nursery: A Botanical Legacy. Charleston: Natural History Press.

Blumberg, B. S. (1998). Case Study of Plant-Derived Drug Research: Phyllanthus and Hepatitis B Virus. In T. R. Tomlinson & A. Olayiwola (Eds.), Medicinal Plants: Their Role in Health and Biodiversity. (pp. 3–10). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Pearce, N. R. (2006). John Stuart Mill’s botanical collections from Greece (a private passion). Phytologia Balcanica, 12(2), 149–164.

Mark Catesby at 300

In the last post, I discussed Henrietta McBurney’s (2021) presentation at the University of South Carolina, Columbia on Mark Catesby’s art.  This was followed several weeks later by a symposium to accompany the University’s Catesby in the Carolinas exhibition running through August and sponsored by its Mark Catesby Centre.  These events celebrate the 300th anniversary of Catesby’s arrival in South Carolina on his second trip to North America.  (There is more on Catesby in earlier posts: 1,2,3).  Catesby’s two-volume Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands covers so much ground not only geographically but scientifically and culturally, that the symposium took a broad view.  It began with Chris Judge’s presentation on South Carolina’s indigenous people in the early 18th century.  Assistant director of Native American Studies at the University of South Carolina, Lancaster, Judge remarked on the rich information Catesby included on the people he met, their customs and their uses for plant and animals. 

Then came two presentations by affiliated faculty of the Catesby Centre who work in the Bahama Islands.  A botanist at the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve on Eleuthera,  Ethan Fried, spoke on the plant life in the Bahamas, commenting on what Catesby discussed.  Krista Sherman, a marine biologist at the Perry Institute for Marine Science, presented on the rich sea life around the islands, particularly the reefs.  This first session of the meeting ended with Suzanne Hurley, an expert on South Carolina history, describing what Charleston was like when Catesby arrived.  It was an important port, a center for the slave trade and for export of the rice and indigo grown on nearby plantations as well as for the importation of products, particularly from Britain.  The city had a few residents interested in natural history and gardening; they were able to orient him and suggest areas to explore and how to go about navigating the terrain.

The second session began with Herrick Brown, director of the A.C. Moore Herbarium at the university.  Several of those who volunteer at the herbarium were there, myself included, but he really didn’t need to pack the audience.  He presented Catesby’s botany in the context of the biodiversity of the southeast, and tied it to Catesby’s over 2000 herbarium specimens now at British institutions and to his art.  While most of Catesby’s renderings of plants and animals are very accurate and make it easy to recognize the species, there are lapses.  Some experts like the botanist Robert Wilbur (1990) complain that there is not enough detail for taxonomists.  Brown tackled a case where Catesby presents as one species, what is really two, with one not accurately pictured.  He speculates that the artist might have been working from a defective or mislabeled specimen.  He also noted that it’s important to keep in mind the many years that lapsed between Catesby’s trip from 1722-1725 and when he finally completed publication of his opus in 1743.

Next came Leslie Overstreet, curator of natural history rare books at the Smithsonian, who spoke on Catesby in London, his life after his return to England.  She is an expert on the history of publication of the Natural History, which went through three editions.  She discussed how Catesby learned to etch, where he sourced his paper, and how he found subscribers.  Since the other speakers had focused on the content, it was interesting to hear about the books as physical objects.  Catesby produced the work in sections or fascicles of 20 plates with descriptions.  Subscribers were instructed not to bind them until they had all five for the first volume.  Binding was the owner’s, not the publisher’s responsibility; this explains the heterogeneity in the bindings, some much more opulent than others.  However, when Catesby sent out the fifth fascicle, he instructed recipients to wait on binding because he wanted to add an introductory essay.  It took years to complete and a number of owners didn’t wait, explaining why some copies of the first edition do not include the essay.  Information like this makes book history fascinating.

The last presentation of the day was the keynote by John Rashford, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the College of Charleston and a distinguished ethnobotanist.  He spoke on a species of strangler fig Ficus citrifolia pictured in the Natural History and native to the West Indies.  He described why it is revered there as a sacred tree because it begins life as an epiphyte on the branches of other trees.  Then it sends out long roots that dangle down as if from heaven and eventually take root and produce trunks that can strangle the host.  However, Rashford began his talk not with the fig but with the African baobab Adansonia digitata, a tree obviously not pictured by Catesby.  However its seeds were brought to the Americas by enslaved African people, and he showed images of several in Brazil and the West Indies that date back to around the time Catesby arrived in Carolina.  Like the fig this is a tree associated with heaven because of the life-giving water it stores in its massive trunk and because of its many uses as food and medicine.  Rashford brought the two species together with a photograph of a Brazilian baobab festooned with ficus growing down from its branches.  He then went on to describe how important it is to value plants culturally as well as scientifically if we are to preserve into the future the biodiversity that Catesby catalogued.

References

MacBurney, H. (2021). Illuminating Natural History: The Art and Science of Mark Catesby.  New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Wilbur, R. L. (1990). Identification of the plants illustrated and described in Catesby’s Natural History of the Carolinas, Florida and the Bahamas. Sida, 14(1), 29–48.

Note: I would like to thank David Elliott and everyone involved in the Mark Catesby Trust at the University of South Carolina, Columbia for allowing me to be part of this great project.

Aesthetics as Suspect

Gentiana ligustica, photo Botanical Garden of Fribourg

An article published last year deals with bias in the selection of plants for botanical studies (Adamo et al., 2021).  A survey of 280 investigations published between 1975 and 2020 on a well-studied alpine flora found that “morphological and colour traits, as well as range size, have significantly more impact on species choice for wild flowering plants than traits related to ecology and rarity” (p. 574).  Specifically, plants with blue flowers, those that were relatively tall, and those with larger flowers were more likely to be selected along with plants with wider ranges.  None of this is really news since a number of studies using digitized herbarium specimens have found spatial, temporal, and trait biases (Daru et al., 2018; Troudet et al., 2017).  However, the emphasis here on what the authors term “aesthetic” traits drew attention, with Nature (“Flower Power: Pretty Plants Are the Most Studied,” 2021) and Scientific American (“A Flashy Focus,” Kramer, 2021) running news stories including a photo of a blue gentian flower from the journal article.

In their conclusion, the authors came down quite heavily on the problems associated with this bias.  If researchers were attracted by color, form, and size rather than the conservation status particularly of rare plants, then the species that need the most attention would not be getting it:  “This apparently superficial preference has implicit and undesired effects as it translates into an aesthetic bias in the data that form the basis for scientific research and practices.”  They continue, “. . . it would be desirable to develop measures to counteract it, given the potentially negative impact on our understanding of the ecology and evolution of plants and the conservation of vital plant biodiversity” (p. 576). 

In their introduction, Adamo et al. write:  “These biases should be taken into account to inform more objective plant conservation efforts “(p. 574), thus juxtaposing science as objective and aesthetics as subjective.  I take umbrage with this and their implication that “aesthetic” is superficial and undesirable, therefore antithetical to scientific research.  My dissertation was on the aesthetic of biology, so I admit to my own bias, but this work taught me that the aesthetic is an integral part of scientific inquiry and cannot be expunged.  The two are not in opposition in part because the standard mind/body dichotomy is simply wrong.  There is more and more evidence that brain function is intimately interwoven with the physiology of the rest of the body, and so therefore are thinking and feeling.  Feelings generate thoughts and vice versa (Damasio, 2000). 

As far as attraction to large, brightly colored flowers is concerned, as Adamo et al. admit, this bias may be part of our biology.  We are a species that relies a great deal on sight, so in scanning a green landscape, a contrasting color is likely to stand out (Arnheim, 1969).  In studies of collection bias based on herbarium specimens, some researchers found that there was a bias toward collecting white flowers (Panchen et al., 2019) and more than one study has found a bias against collecting plants with green or brownish inflorescences, described as “unattractively colored” in one article (Schmidt-Lebuhn et al., 2013, p.  905).  There are biases for tall plants in one article (Williams & Pearson, 2019) and perennials over annuals in another (Daru et al., 2018).  There are also biases against collecting spiny plants:  this might also be seen as aesthetic in nature:  getting stuck repeatedly is not pleasurable (Schmidt-Lebuhn et al., 2013).  Spatial collecting biases are well-documented and myriad, with sites near roads or railroads, populated areas, and research institutions being more often visited than those that are remote and difficult to access (Haque et al., 2017).  This may also be seen as at least partially aesthetic in origin.  Botanists are human beings who like their creature comforts.

But not all biases are driven by aesthetics.  Colonial powers directed a great deal of collecting in the past, as witnessed by the large Asian, African, and Latin American collections in Europe (Brockway, 1979).  Collection today can often be influenced by a collector’s or an institution’s research interests for a particular family or class.  Since the early modern era, useful plants have been sought after, and this trend continues with quests for crop wild relatives and medicinal plants.  Mark Nesbitt (2014) of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew notes that useful plants are over-represented in herbaria worldwide.  What digitization of specimens on a large scale has done is to make these biases much easier to discover because large data sets can be analyzed without actually examining each specimen.  Now all types of biases are more identifiable and therefore more addressable. 

What is important to me about the study on alpine plants is that is brings aesthetics front and center into a discussion of scientific research, something that doesn’t happen very often.  Many scientists will discuss their attraction to certain topics or species or types of research, but it doesn’t usually get written about in journal articles.  This perpetuates the assumption that science is an “objective” activity.  It neglects what Gerald Holton (1973) calls the “private side of science:”  how science is really done—with all its joys, mistakes, brilliant insights, and wrong turns that get edited out of publications.  John Dewey (1932) argued that any deeply lived experience, and research is definitely that, is an aesthetic experience.  This is the topic I want to explore in the next three posts in this series on the role aesthetics play in collecting and preparing specimens, studying them, and communicating about them.

References

Adamo, M., Chialva, M., Calevo, J., Bertoni, F., Dixon, K., & Mammola, S. (2021). Plant scientists’ research attention is skewed towards colourful, conspicuous and broadly distributed flowers. Nature Plants, 7(5), 574–578. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-021-00912-2

Arnheim, R. (1969). Visual Thinking. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Brockway, L. B. (1979). Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanic Gardens. New York: Academic Press.

Damasio, A. (2000). The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. San Diego: Mariner.

Daru, B. H., Park, D. S., Primack, R. B., Willis, C. G., Barrington, D. S., Whitfeld, T. J. S., Seidler, T. G., Sweeney, P. W., Foster, D. R., Ellison, A. M., & Davis, C. C. (2018). Widespread sampling biases in herbaria revealed from large-scale digitization. New Phytologist, 217(2), 939–955. https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.14855

Dewey, J. (1934). Art as Experience. New York: Minton, Balch.

Flower Power: Pretty plants are the most studied. (2021). Nature, 593, 317.

Haque, Md. M., Nipperess, D. A., Gallagher, R. V., & Beaumont, L. J. (2017). How well documented is Australia’s flora? Understanding spatial bias in vouchered plant specimens. Austral Ecology, 42(6), 690–699. https://doi.org/10.1111/aec.12487

Kramer, J. (2021). A flashy focus. Scientific American, 325(2), 24.

Nesbitt, M. (2014). Use of herbarium specimens in ethnobotany. In J. Salick, K. Konchar, & M. Nesbitt (Eds.), Curating Biocultural Collections: A Handbook (pp. 313–328). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Panchen, Z. A., Doubt, J., Kharouba, H. M., & Johnston, M. O. (2019). Patterns and biases in an Arctic herbarium specimen collection: Implications for phenological research. Applications in Plant Sciences, 7(3), e01229. https://doi.org/10.1002/aps3.1229

Schmidt-Lebuhn, A. N., Knerr, N. J., & Kessler, M. (2013). Non-geographic collecting biases in herbarium specimens of Australian daisies (Asteraceae). Biodiversity and Conservation, 22(4), 905–919. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-013-0457-9

Troudet, J., Grandcolas, P., Blin, A., Vignes-Lebbe, R., & Legendre, F. (2017). Taxonomic bias in biodiversity data and societal preferences. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 9132. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-09084-6

Williams, J., & Pearson, K. D. (2019). Examining collection biases across different taxonomic groups: Understanding how biases can compare across herbarium datasets. American Journal of Undergraduate Research, 15(4), 47–53. https://doi.org/10.33697/ajur.2019.005