This and That: Remnants

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Pointed rush, Juncus oxymeris, collected in 1889 by Scottish-American doctor and botanist Anstruther Davidson in the herbarium of the California Botanic Garden.

In a recent post, I wrote about the California Phenology Project aimed at organizing and adding phenology data to online specimens in the Consortium of California Herbaria.  Project activities include a blog, ReCAP, with items that feature interesting specimens, including a piece entitled “What Specimens Reveal about LA History.”  The specimen highlighted was a pointed rush, Juncus oxymeris, collected in 1899 by Anstruther Davidson (1860-1932).  A Scottish physician who had emigrated to California and taught dermatology at the University of Southern California, Davidson was also an amateur botanist and entomologist.  He collected throughout the area and also spent time studying the plants of Arizona.  He contributed many articles to the Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences and wrote a Catalogue of the Plants of Los Angeles County in 1896.

The Juncus Davidson collected favors a wetland habitat, which at one time was abundant in the Los Angeles basin, with water flowing from the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers into the Pacific.  These waterways have since been tamed and the wetlands drained.  Juncus oxymeris hasn’t been found in this area for a century, though specimens were collected in the 1920s and 1930s in neighboring Orange County.  This example is a powerful reminder of what Los Angeles used to be like and joins many other specimens in linking us to the past.  When I visited the herbarium at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in 2011, when there was a herbarium at BBG, the curator Kerry Barringer showed me orchids collected on the south shore of Long Island, a few minutes from where I lived.  One was from the area where Aqueduct Racetrack now stands, and another from what is now JFK Airport.  I remember this experience vividly.  It was early in my herbarium obsession and caused a collage of images to flash through my mind:  jets taking off, the smell of jet fuel in the air, and delicate orchids in a wetland—a disturbing juxtaposition.  I had a similar experience years earlier on a visit to the Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis where one of their amazing dioramas portrayed a wetland scene full of birds, and with an explanatory text noting that the area depicted became the site of the Mall of America.

Kathryn Mauz, the author of An Agreeable Landscape: Historical Botany and Plant Biodiversity of a Sonoran Desert Bottomland, 1855-1920, describes another landscape, like most in the world, that has changed considerably over the past century.  The book’s frontispiece is striking (see above).  It is a photo montage of plates included in the book.  The background is a photo of the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve and onto this are placed historic specimens of the plants that used to be found there; it is, in a sense, a visual representation of  the habitat loss scenarios represented by the Juncus and orchid stories.  Here is a place that represents in the present day what is found in herbarium cabinets.

Another example also comes to mind.  Again, once close to my former home on Long Island.  In an area that includes a sports arena, a large mall, and two colleges, there are a few remnant acres of the Hempstead Plains that used to cover 38,000 acres of the island.  Adjacent to the local community college, the site managed to be preserved just as the rest of the area was being developed because it was, and is, home to a number of rare plants.  The preserve isn’t large enough for a visitor to forget adjacent urbanization, but still, it’s a refuge for plants, animals, and humans, one of many havens throughout the country that are small, damaged, and yet steadfast reminders of the landscapes of the past.

Preserving the land is meaningful in a way that a stack of herbarium sheets can never be, yet we need specimens both in documenting what is lost and what has been saved.  Works like Davidson’s Catalogue also contribute to this effort in recording what once flourished in what is now a botanically impoverished area.  One of his articles provides some context for the transformation.  Written in 1907, “Changes in Our Weeds” is a follow-up to an article he had published 14 years earlier on “immigrant” plants in Los Angeles county, an interesting term for a person to use who was himself an immigrant.  Davidson summed up his findings:  “None of those then observed have become extinct:  the relative frequency of the majority have remained unchanged.  Some have increased in numbers, and a few new ones have appeared” (p. 11).  Among the latter was Lactuca serriola, prickly lettuce, a European species.  He found it at one location in 1896, as a fellow botanist did in another area.  “Since that time it has spread so rapidly that it may now be considered the most troublesome weed in this district” (p. 12).  When cows ate it, their milk had a sour taste, but he balanced this observation with one on how chickens and turkeys were fond of it.  There are, of course, endless stories like this about non-natives from around the world, but sometimes it’s good to focus on just one of them, as was done in the blog post that triggered this stream of consciousness post.

References

Davidson, A. (1905). Changes in our weeds. Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences, 4, 11–12.

Mauz, K. (2011). An Agreeable Landscape: Historical Botany and Plant Biodiversity of a Sonoran Desert Bottomland, 1855-1920. Fort Worth, TX: BRIT Press.

This and That: Travels of Sophora toromiro

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Toromiro, Sophora toromiro (Phil.) Skottsb, collected 28 June 1800, H. Herrenhus. [possibly Hannover Herrenhausen Royal Gardens], Germany. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (SP107845)

As with most of the posts in this series of miscellanea (see last post), this story begins with a Tweet, one linked to a blog post and a research article connecting four countries over 250 years.  I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible, by starting in the middle.  In 1877, James Hector, director of the Colonial Museum in New Zealand (now the Museum of New Zealand: Te Papa), asked the British Museum (BM) for a collection of European plant specimens to compare with European plants colonists had brought into the country and were now flourishing, sometimes to the point of being nuisances.  Hector received 28,000 specimens collected by three British amateur botanists: a husband and wife, Silvanus and Bridget Thompson, and Thompson’s student, James Baker.  Most specimens were from cultivated plants gathered in German botanic gardens and the Cels nursery in France between 1764-1864.  Hector never got around to sorting through this gift from the BM; it remained in its original packaging until the 1950s; even today, the only vascular plants to be processed are the orchids.

Recently six specimens of Sophora were found in the collection.  Sophora is a small genus of 17 species in the Fabaceae family and native to the South Pacific.  With eight species, New Zealand is its center of diversity, hence the interest in these sheets that were dated from 1796 to 1822 and were presumably from cultivated plants.  This was surprisingly early for Sophora to be growing in Europe.  Until now, it was thought that the Sophora in Europe were all descended from seeds collected from the 1920-1950s.  There was little plant collecting in the South Pacific until the early 1800s, though Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander had gathered seeds of two Sophora species on Captain James Cook’s first round-the world voyage.  These were planted at Kew by 1772, and there were a few other early cultivations.

The six specimens of interest are in the herbarium of the descendent of the Colonial Museum, the Museum of New Zealand, with the Maori name, Te PapaCarlos Lehnebach, botany curator, and Lara Shepherd, research scientist specializing in DNA sequencing, decided to learn more about the genetics of these six specimens from the 19th-century BM gift.  When Shepherd got the results of her analysis, she was shocked:  one of the specimens, collected in 1800, had genes of Sophora toromiro, a species endemic to Easter Island, Rapa Nui.  It became extinct in the wild in the 20th century, though it is cultivated at several botanic gardens.  At first Shepherd couldn’t believe the results, but when she and Lehnebach looked at the specimen, they found that it did in fact have characteristics of the Rapa Nui plant.  But how did it end up growing in Germany in 1800?

The researchers speculate that seeds may have been collected during Captain Cook’s second round-the-world voyage (1772-1775), when the expedition stopped at Rapa Nui.  The botanists on that trip were Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Georg, with the Linnaean pupil Anders Sparrman as their assistant.   They were the first Europeans to collect specimens on the island, and Sparrman was known to have collected seeds.  He may very well have collected them from this plant, since it grew in thickets and was the only native shrub on the island.  If S. toromiro seeds were planted in the late 1770s, then the shrub would have been established enough to yield cuttings in 1800.  In looking for other Sophora specimens, Lehnebach and Shepherd have found one at the herbarium of the Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin-Dahlem that could be S. toromiro.  It has no collection date, but it is part of Carl Ludwig Willdenow’s (1765-1812) collection, and a large number of Forster specimens were included in it.  Willdenow had one of those bad habits that frustrates later curators:  he removed the old labels and replaced them with his own, often neglecting to transcribe what’s now considered essential information.

Admittedly, there are suppositions holding this story together, but further work, including analysis of chromosomal DNA from the Willdenow specimen, may make the picture clearer.  In any event, this case study presents a good argument for curating specimens that have been moldering in boxes for decades if not centuries.  This situation is not the result of bad management but of overworked curators without time to deal with the substantial work involved in mounting specimens and providing them with up-to-date identifications.  However, this example suggests the exhilaration that can result from the effort.  Though not every find is a jewel, that’s true of cleaning out any attic.  However, one never knows when a first edition book or a valuable art work might come to light.  My favorite statistic at the moment is that when the herbarium at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris was cleared out prior to renovations about 10 years ago, 830,000 unmounted specimens were found.  Most of them have since been mounted by an outside contractor called in for the massive job (Le Bras, 2017).  But the specimens still need to be curated and filed, a job that amounts to organizing a good-sized herbarium.

Reference

Le Bras, G., Pignal, M., Jeanson, M. L., Muller, S., Aupic, C., Carré, B., Flament, G., Gaudeul, M., Gonçalves, C., Invernón, V. R., Jabbour, F., Lerat, E., Lowry, P. P., Offroy, B., Pimparé, E. P., Poncy, O., Rouhan, G., & Haevermans, T. (2017). The French Muséum national d’histoire naturelle vascular plant herbarium collection dataset. Scientific Data, 4(1), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1038/sdata.2017.16

This and That: Ehrenberg’s Diatoms

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Images from E. César’s Tweet on the Ehrenberg Collection at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin.

Though I have more time to think deeply right now than ever in my life, I’m finding it difficult to do; everything is so different from usual that it’s unsettling.  That’s why I’m not focusing on one topic for a month’s worth of posts as I usually do, but flitting from one topic to another from week to week.  In part this is because of Twitter, my lifeline to the botanical world at the moment.  Thank goodness botanists are interesting people and post interesting ideas.  Most days I find at least one item worth bookmarking and then delving into more deeply.  That’s how I discovered Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg (1795-1876).  I must have come across his name in the past, especially when I was reading about Alexander von Humboldt because Ehrenberg accompanied the explorer on his trip to Siberia in 1829.

A Tweet on Ehrenberg by Edgley César, curator of diatoms at the Natural History Museum, London, included the image above.  It was the photo on the upper right that first caught my eye—obviously old data—and the illustration on the lower left was another lure.  César took the pictures at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin where he had spent a week examining specimens of a genus Ehrenberg had described and was amazed by how much work this “founding father” of diatom research had done and how well he drew.  As the thread continued, someone asked about Ehrenberg and César pointed them, and me, to a series of papers published in 1998 dealing with his life, work, and collections.

Ehrenberg was definitely productive throughout his life.  Born near Leipzig, he attended the university there, completing his doctorate on fungi in 1818.  His fungal herbarium is in the Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin-Dahlem.  From 1820-1825, Ehrenberg participated in an expedition to the Middle East, during which he and his friend Wilhelm Hemprich amassed 114 boxes with 46,000 plant and 34,000 animals specimens as well as seeds, fossils, minerals, and of course, mummies.  Yet the trip was grueling, with three-quarters of team dying, including Hemprich.  Ehrenberg published, Symbolae Physicae, a multivolume work on all aspects of the collection and including 800 plates, many based on his drawings.  He did not describe many of the plants he collected and left the world of higher plants to concentrate on microscopic work, on what were called infusoria, organisms found in decaying matter.  However, he did teach all his children to press plants and create their own herbaria.

A great deal of Ehrenberg’s research was on radiolaria and diatoms.  He considered them all tiny animals and carefully studied their internal structures, which he interpreted as digestive, reproductive, and muscular.  He thought that when better microscopes were developed, these organelles would be seen more clearly.  It is interesting that when diatoms were finally recognized to be more closely related to plants than animals, interest in their internal structures waned, and their taxonomy became based primarily on their elaborate silicate shells that come in a dizzying array of patterns.  The assumption became that there was little difference among these organisms internally; plant cell structures were just not that interesting.  Ancient shells found in diatomaceous earth have long been used in geological exploration, since they are related to oil deposits, but even present-day species are often dried, and just their shells examined.

Ehrenberg made extremely detailed and exquisite illustrations of these organisms and in 1838 published a book with 64 plates on Infusoria in all of their complexity.  He also kept detailed notes on his work, as well as retaining the specimens he’d examined.  Glass slides and coverslips were expensive, so he used small mica discs with a bit of Canadian balsam, a shorthand term for a thick liquid made from the tree’s resin that was a mainstay for 19th-century microscopists because of its optical properties.  Ehrenberg highlighted interesting organisms with small circles, and then with a little more balsam, stuck the discs to his notes.  These have been preserved for almost 200 years, though not without difficulties.

The Ehrenberg Collection at the Museum für Naturkunde consists of 40,000 microscope preparations, 5,000 raw samples, 3000 illustrations, and 800 letters.  It is the combination of different kinds of information that makes it so impressive and valuable, but also daunting.  Most of Ehrenberg’s vascular plant herbarium was at the Berlin-Dahlem botanic garden and was lost when its herbarium was bombed during World War II.  The infusoria, on the other hand, were at the museum and survived but in what would become East Berlin.  The collection was not curated or organized until after German reunification when new resources became available.  It was in light of this that the 1998 article collection was published to showcase Ehrenberg’s work and how the collection could be used, just as César is now using it.  The notes are now beautifully curated (see below), but this required a great deal of work.  The balsam has become brittle, and the mica discs are fragile and difficult to handle.  Over the years some had become unstuck, shifted, and were crushed.  Conservation was necessary because the records contain many type specimens, though as David Mann notes in the last article in the collection, types can present difficulties in terms of hunting them down in a compilation this vast and with all the vagaries it has been through.

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Photo of portion of conserved Ehrenberg Collection at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin.

As someone who is fascinated by diatoms, the Ehrenberg Collection is definitely a treasure (see video), along with the diatom collections at the Academy of Natural Sciences herbarium in Philadelphia (see earlier post) and at the Natural History Museum, London.  If you are interested in these beautiful organisms that are classified as algae, you might want to look at Martyn Kelley’s long-running Microscopes and Monsters blog where he deals with microscopic algae and environmental monitoring.

Botanists in South Carolina: Francis Peyre Porcher

 

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Title page of Francis Peyre Porcher’s Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests from the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Francis Peyre Porcher (1824-1895) was born on his grandfather’s plantation in St. John’s Berkeley outside of Charleston in 1824.  His great-grandfather was Thomas Walter, a Charleston businessman, plantation owner, and botanist who wrote Flora Caroliniana (1788), the first flora of a North American region using Linnaean classification (see earlier post).  Porcher’s parents were also interested in botany.  His father, a Charleston physician, died when he was eight years old.  This left his wife to manage their plantation and raise six children, yet she still found time to satisfy her interest in plants.  Porcher often went botanizing with his mother and uncle.  They were sometimes accompanied by Henry Ravenel, a young man from a neighboring plantation who also had an interest in botany (see last post).  He was ten years older than Porcher, and they remained lifelong friends even after Ravenel moved to Aiken in western South Carolina (Haygood, 1987).

Porcher went to South Carolina College and then to South Carolina Medical College, graduating in 1847.  His thesis, “A Medico Botanical Catalogue of the Plants and Ferns of St. John’s Berkeley, S.C.,” was considered so valuable it was published by the College.  Two years later, this became the basis for his Sketch of the Medical Botany of South Carolina (1849); Henry Ravenel had assisted him on this project.  After graduation, Porcher studied in Europe for over two years at leading medical institutions in France and Italy.  Then he returned to Charleston, where he partnered with Dr. Julian John Chisholm in a practice that included treating the slaves of wealthy plantation owners, many of whom Porcher knew through his family’s plantation (Townsend, 1939).

Since slaves were property, owners wanted to keep them in good health, so it paid them to seek expert care when needed.  In 1855, Porcher and Chisholm founded a hospital for treating enslaved people, since there had never been such a facility in Charleston.  Porcher and Chisholm were being less humanitarians than smart businessmen in establishing a separate medical facility, one that could provide services for difficult cases.  Porcher also visited plantation infirmaries, which were effective for many of the health needs of the enslaved and were usually staffed by enslaved women with expertise in herbal medicine.

When the Civil War began Porcher joined the Confederate medical corps serving first in South Carolina and then at Fort Nelson in Portsmouth, VA where he was stationed until the area was taken by Union troops.  Then the Confederate Surgeon-General, Samuel P. Moore, granted Porcher leave to complete what became Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests in support of the war effort.  Moore had originally asked Porcher to write the book at the beginning of the war, but as the Confederacy’s situation deteriorated, the book was more urgently needed.  Because of his previous publications on South Carolina plants and his medical experience before and during the war, Porcher had already laid the foundations for this text. Besides his own botanico-medical expertise, Porcher had another key advantage in preparing his manuscript:  his life on plantations and his treatment of slaves gave him access to the knowledge of enslaved healers.

Martia Graham Goodson (1987) begins her article on the medical-botanical contributions of African enslaved women to American medicine:  “That the daughters of Africa were a rich source of medical knowledge was not lost on the professional doctors of the Slave South, whose livelihood came from tending sick slaves” (p. 198).  She uses Francis Porcher as an example, noting his sophisticated medical background, including his European studies.  She argues that his education in materia medica began on the plantation where he grew up and depended on his contact with enslaved women working in plantation infirmaries.  For many entries in Resources Porcher mentions how particular species were used by enslaved healers, though no one is referred to by name.  As Goodson notes:  “’Used extensively’ by ‘the negroes’ is a phrase that permeates Porcher’s descriptions of the medical wealth of the plants of his native state.  In fact, nearly one-third of the plants are described as being ‘used extensively on the plantations’ or ‘used by the negroes’ or ‘used in domestic practice’” (p. 200).

Porcher’s 600-page text was published in 1863.  He often went into great detail describing where and when a particular plant was likely to be found, how it should be harvested, and not only what it could be used for, but how it should be prepared for use.  From the number of plants mentioned as valuable in producing soap, curing diarrhea, and treating fever these were obviously critical needs—and very basic ones.  This book was not just for the military, though it was distributed to all Confederate physicians.  Since the South could no longer rely on the Northern states or foreign trade for the medicines and other goods they needed, everyone had to become self-sufficient and utilize local resources as much as possible.

In a sense, Porcher was attempting to make all Southerners practical botanists who could maximize their use of what was available to them, even if they hadn’t hitherto paid much attention to plants in the past.  The book remained popular and was reprinted after the war, when Porcher returned to his medical practice.  Though life in Charleston was difficult as it was throughout the South, he had a needed expertise, a good reputation in his practice, and social connections that still counted for something, with many of these extending well beyond the South because of his service in the American Medical Association.  He resumed teaching at the Medical College, did research on yellow fever, and died in Charleston in 1895.

References

Goodson, M. G. (1980). African Slave Contributions to Medicine. The Western Journal of Black Studies, 11(4), 198–203.

Townsend, J. F. (1939). Francis Peyre Porcher, M.D. (1824-1895). Annals of Medical History, 1, 177–188.

Note: I want to thank Herrick Brown and Lauren LaFauci for discussions on Francis Porcher that were very helpful to me.  Also, I am grateful for the assistance I received in assessing the Porcher papers at the South Caroliniana Libary at the University of South Carolina, Columbia.

Botanists in South Carolina: Henry Ravenel

 

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Specimen of Limnobium spongia from the Ravenel Herbarium at the A.C. Moore Herbarium, University of South Carolina, Columbia

Henry Ravenel was born in 1814 in an area outside Charleston that had been settled by French Huguenots in the 17th century.  They had fled religious persecutions by Catholics in France.  Many had first gone to Protestant England and then sought greater freedom and economic advantage in the British Colonies.  The Ravenels were plantation owners and had the money to send their son to a nearby academy and then to South Carolina College, now the University of South Carolina, Columbia, where he received his degree and where his herbarium resides.  While he was always interested in plants and went botanizing with those similarly inclined on nearby plantations, he did not go into medicine, as did others of that time with a botanical bent.  Instead he took up plantation life, inheriting land from his father.

Ravenel also pursued his study of botany, collecting specimens, seeking information from such experts as Asa Gray, Edward Tuckerman, and George Engelmann, and eventually becoming particularly interested in cryptogams.  When William Henry Harvey, the British botanist, was in Charleston on a lecture tour in 1849, he met Ravenel and was impressed by his knowledge.  Writing to William Jackson Hooker afterwards, Harvey bemoaned the fact that Ravenel was moving away from studying vascular plants and focusing on fungi.  Ravenel and Moses Ashley Curtis, a North Carolina clergyman/botanist decided to collect specimens for a fungal exsiccati.  Curtis eventually bowed out of the project, but continued to provide assistance, and Ravenel eventually published five volumes of Fungi Caroliniani Exsiccati between 1852 and 1860.  He also contributed to Fungi Americani Exsiccati (1872-1880) along with the British mycologist M. C. Cooke.

In 1853, Ravenel made a major change, selling his plantation and moving his family to a farm in Aiken, South Carolina, just east of the border with Georgia, near Augusta (Haywood, 1987).  He hoped the change to a drier and somewhat cooler area would improve his failing health.  Perhaps he also hoped that the land would be healthier too, because as early as 1843 he had banded together with other low country farmers to form an agricultural society to investigate ways of improving the diminishing fertility of their plantations.  His new property, Hampton Hill, provided him with a good income from the peach trees and grape vines he planted that were tended by about 80 slaves.  Then the Civil War changed everything.

One reason there is so much known about Ravenel’s life is that, besides the evidence of his broad correspondence with John Torrey, Asa Gray, and others, he kept a diary from 1859 until his death in 1887.  An edited version was published by Arney Childs (1947), a history professor at the University of South Carolina.  It is a fascinating book for someone like myself who is trying to learn Southern and botanical history at the same time.  Ravenel began with several entries on family and visiting relatives for Christmas, and on December 31, 1859 he decided “to record a few words upon political affairs. . . .  The future is now wrapped in uncertainty” (p. 4).

After war was declared Ravenel put nearly all his money into Confederate war bonds, something that was common among Southerners with means.  They saw it as a way to ensure the victory of their cause.  Since the bonds proved worthless, the ultimate outcome for Ravenel and many others was no financial reserve to fall back on after the war.  Fruits like peaches and grapes became luxury items in the South and were difficult to ship to Northern markets.  Ravenel sought several times to sell his land, but repeatedly turned down offers that were far below what the land had been worth before the war.  Eventually he did sell it for less than half what he had been offered right after the war.

He turned to botany as a way to earn some money, arranging to collect for others and also to write for agricultural and botanical publications.  He sold his botany books, many of them precious like 12 volumes of de Candolles’s Prodromus that netted $40.  He also eventually sold his microscope and the remaining issues of his exsiccati that he had.  He was pleased that his northern correspondents got in touch as soon as communication became possible, and he asked Gray for advice on starting a nursery.  When he put the same question to Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan, he received seeds and cuttings as a gift, and later a $50 “loan” that Meehan made clear didn’t have to repaid.  Ravenel’s friend from his youth, Dr. Francis Peyre Porcher, who is the subject of the next post, tried to find employment for him in Charleston but there just wasn’t anything to be had.  This is when Ravenel wrote in his diary that he regretted not having had enough resolve to go into medicine.

Through all this he continued to collect, but after his death his widow had a hard time selling his herbarium for what she considered its worth.  She ended up splitting it, with the cryptogams going to the British Museum (now the Natural History Museum, London).  A Ravenel relative bought the vascular plant collection and gave it to Converse College in Spartanburg, SC.  Eventually, the college transferred it on permanent loan to the A.C. Moore Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, where it has been carefully curated and digitized.  The herbarium also collaborated with other university departments in the digital humanities project, Henry Ravenel: Plants and Planter, producing a website where Ravenel’s correspondence, journals, and specimens are all available and searchable.

References

Childs, A. R. (Ed.). (1947). The Private Journal of Henry William Ravenel 1859-1887). University of South Carolina Press.

Haygood, T. M. (1987). Henry William Ravenel, 1814-1887: South Carolina Scientist in the Civil War Era. University of Alabama Press.

Note:  I want to thank John Nelson and Herrick Brown of the A.C. Moore Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, Columbia for introducing me to the world of Henry Ravenel, teaching me so much about him, and helping me to decipher his handwriting.

Botanists in South Carolina: Thomas Walter

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Specimen of Hydrangea arborescens subsp. radiata from the Walter Collection at the Natural History Museum, London Herbarium

In the last post, I described the work of Mark Catesby who traveled to the colonial South backed by patrons who were anxious for him to collect interesting plants, in part to adorn their English gardens.  This trend continued and a later visitor, John Fraser, arrived in Charleston after the American Revolution, in September 1786.  He was hunting for plants for British gardeners, most notably William Forsyth, Master of the King’s Garden in Kensington.  After meeting with the French botanist, André Michaux, who had a nursery near Charleston, Fraser headed north to visit the plantation of Thomas Walter.  An Englishman who settled in South Carolina around 1769, Walter eventually owned 4500 acres on the Santee River.  He occupied himself with business interests in Charleston and running his plantation, which in the South meant owning slaves.  In addition, he studied the botany of the region.  By the time Fraser visited, Walter had completed a flora of the Carolinas that included over 600 species.  Needless to say, he was a great help to Fraser in learning where to find interesting species.

Fraser traveled northwest to Augusta and spent the winter of 1786-87 collecting in northern South Carolina, some of the time accompanied by Michaux and his son.  While Fraser did not note localities for his collections, some are suggested by notes in Michaux’s journals.  In the fall of 1787 Fraser again visited Walter, who helped him identify his collections and write descriptions of new species, nearly 200 of them, that were added to Walter’s manuscript.  Fraser then packed up his 30,000 specimens as well as seeds and cuttings, and headed back to England in January 1788.  Walter entrusted his flora to Fraser, who arranged for its publication as Flora Caroliniana.  Because so many of the plants Fraser had collected were described by Walter and the specimens annotated by him, this collection became known as the Thomas Walter Herbarium.  But in a Taxon article entitled “The Thomas Walter Herbarium Is Not the Herbarium of Thomas Walter,” Daniel Ward (2007) makes it clear that this collection is of Fraser not Walter specimens.  Fraser saw Walter’s collection and received portions of specimens from him, but essentially the herbarium he brought to England was his own and is now at the Natural History Museum, London (NHM).

This provenance has some significance because many of the plants are type specimens for species first described by Walter, particularly for the ones that were collected by Fraser.  Ward’s article was written as he was preparing a book on Walter (2017) and involved in a project he called the “Walter Typification Project,” similar in its aims to the much larger Linnaeus Typification Project which spanned several decades and resulted in the publication of Order Out of Chaos (Jarvis, 2007).  Ward was very careful in his work.  Since the herbarium at NHM is not Walter’s, he assumes that these specimens weren’t used in writing species descriptions, so there are no holotypes in the collection.  However, where there is clear evidence that Walter saw and used Fraser’s material, then these are considered lectotypes.  For Walter names that do not have types, Ward chose recent collections as neotypes.

It is significant that Walter’s Flora Caroliniana was the first book on North American plants to use Linnaean nomenclature and to arrange species according to the Linnaean sexual system of classes.  It is obvious from the species descriptions in the Flora that Walter was well versed in Linnaeus’s work.  He owned copies not only of Species Plantarum, but also Systema Naturae and Genera Plantarum.  Ward thinks that the only plant that Walter included without having seen it, is the Venus flytrap, Dionaea muscipula, described by the British botanist John Ellis in 1768 from specimens sent him by John Bartram.

Walter died soon after the Flora was published at a relatively young 49 after being in ill health for some time.  One of his granddaughters became the mother of another prominent South Carolina botanist, Francis Peyre Porcher, who will be the subject of a future post.  William Fraser began a nursery business in England and specialized in North American plants.  He and his son traveled several times to the United States and also to Cuba and Russia.  They started a nursery in Charleston in 1791 and continued to ship plants from there back to England for 20 years.  It was Fraser’s son who gave his father’s herbarium to the Royal Horticultural Society, and when the Society got into financial trouble in the 1850s, the collection was sold to what was to become the NHM.

As with so much of the South’s past, there is little physical evidence of Walter’s life along the Santee.  Near his home, he had created one of the first botanical gardens in North America, shortly after those of John Bartram and his cousin Humphry Marshall in Pennsylvania.  This disappeared soon after his death, as eventually did his home and herbarium.  However, 25 years after his death two of his daughters had a marble slab, still extant, laid near the house site in his memory.  The dedication noted:  “To a mind liberally endowed by nature and refined by a liberal education he added taste for the study of Natural History and in the department of Botany, Science is much indebted to his labours” (Rembert, 1980, p. 12).

References

Jarvis, C. E. (2007). Order Out of Chaos: Linnaean Plant Names and Their Types. Linnaean Society.

Rembert, Jr, D. H. (1985). William Pitcairn, MD (!712-1791)—A biographical sketch. Archives of Natural History, 12(2), 219–229.

Ward, D. B. (2007). The Thomas Walter Herbarium is not the herbarium of Thomas Walter. Taxon, 56(3), 917–926.

Ward, D. B. (2017). Thomas Walter and His Plants: The Life and Works of a Pioneer American Botanist. New York Botanical Garden.

Botanists in South Carolina: Mark Catesby

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Plate 67 from the second volume of Catesby’s Natural History: Annona glabra

After a lifetime in New York, I moved to Aiken, South Carolina nearly three years ago, lured by family and a chance to retire into a different environment.  I’ve discovered a great deal in my time here, including the enchantments of shrimp and grits.  I’ve also tried to learn something of the botany of the state, thanks to my friends at the A.C. Moore Herbarium at the University of South Carolina (USC), Columbia, Herrick Brown, the curator, and John Nelson, the curator emeritus.  I’ve absorbed some botanical history and been lucky enough to have a small role in the new Mark Catesby Centre, part of the USC University Libraries.  This is a great time for the Centre to launch since 2022 marks the 300th anniversary of Catesby’s arrival in South Carolina on his second trip to North America, the one on which he did much of his observation, drawing, and specimen collecting for his two-volume The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, a tour-de-force of science and art.

The Centre’s director, David Elliott, has had a long attachment to Catesby, having created the Catesby Trust, which has now morphed into the Centre.  Elliott led a week-long tour/conference on Catesby in 2012 and with Charles Nelson coedited The Curious Mister Catesby (2015), a book based on many of the presentations given that week.  I was on that trip and will never forget:  seeing the Smithsonian’s Catesby volumes in Washington, DC, listening to experts in Richmond discuss the background to Catesby’s work, attending a candle-light reception in Charleston, and seeing a host of waterfowl on a boat tour off Kiawah Island.  When I think of this amazing week, the images that come to mind are of Catesby’s etchings, the flora and fauna of the South Carolina coast, historical architecture, and amazing presentations.  The Curious Mister Catesby captures all these and helps to keep them fresh in my mind.  Catesby, of course, saw a very different South Carolina, though even then Charleston was a hub of commerce.  Plantations were already well established, sending rice, indigo, cotton, and tobacco to England and receiving manufactured goods and African slaves.  All this has permanently marked South Carolina and thanks to books like South Carolina: A History (Edgar, 1998), Down by the Riverside (Joyner, 1984), and In the Shadow of Slavery (Carney & Rosomoff, 2009), I am developing a better sense of the complexities of the South.

On his first to North America, Catesby sailed to Virginia in 1712, accompanying his sister who was married to a physician in Williamsburg.  He stayed for 7 years, meeting William Byrd II, who discussed natural history with him and allowed Catesby to use his library.  Catesby did some collecting and drawing, but not in a very organized way.  However, when he returned to England, he developed the idea of publishing a work on the natural history of this fascinating new world.  He seems to have known enough and displayed enough evidence that he convinced the avid natural history collectors of London of his plan’s viability.  Coming from a well-educated but not very affluent British family, he definitely moved in impressive circles.  He knew the great collector Hans Sloane (see earlier post) who amassed the most impressive herbarium of his time (Delbourgo, 2017), as well as James Petiver, perhaps the most zealous collector in the sense of having a worldwide network of ships captains, colonists, merchants, and clergymen gathering specimens (Stearns, 1952).  In terms of assisting Catesby financially and botanically, there was William Sherard at Oxford, who identified many plants for Catesby.

On his second trip to America, Catesby landed in Charleston and traveled through what is known as the low country, along the coasts of North and South Carolina.  He journeyed up the Savannah River, which marks much of the border between South Carolina and Georgia, as far inland as what is now Augusta, which I might add in only a half hour from Aiken.  This was territory with a few colonial outposts and where Catesby and his companions would have encountered indigenous peoples, pine forests, and rolling hills.  This is now my country and I enjoy having some small tie with Catesby, and also with Pennsylvania nurserymen John Bartram and his son William who also visited this area forty years later, followed still later by the French botanist André Michaux.  Catesby eventually visited coastal areas of Florida and then spent almost a year in the Bahama Islands, explaining why there are so many tropical plants, fish, and birds in the Natural History.

In 1726, Catesby returned to England and worked for nearly 20 years producing his magnus opus.  He found it too costly to have his watercolors engraved, so he learned the process, producing what are considered by many to be masterpieces.  He even oversaw the coloring of the engravings in the first edition.  He worked as a nurseryman to provide needed income and as a way to observe some of the species he had first seen in the colonies.  He also received specimens and seeds from John Bartram, sending him and also Carl Linnaeus copies of his books.  This is how a number of his engravings have become lectotypes for 14 species named by Linnaeus (Jarvis, 2015).  There are Catesby specimens today in the Hans Sloane collection at the Natural History Museum, London, and at the Oxford University Herbarium, the home of Sherard’s specimens.  I am happy to note that the USC Libraries have the first and second editions of both Volumes I and II of the Natural History, as well as a copy of Hortus Europae Americanus, containing descriptions of 85 North American trees and shrubs, that Catesby had been working on when he died and was published posthumously.

References

Carney, J. A., & Rosomoff, R. N. (2009). In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World. University of California Press.

Delbourgo, J. (2017). Collecting the World: The Life and Curiosity of Hans Sloane. Harvard University Press.

Edgar, W. (1998). South Carolina: A History. University of South Carolina Press.

Jarvis, C. E. (2015). Carl Linnaeus and the influence of Mark Catesby’s botanical work. In E. C. Nelson & D. J. Elliott (Eds.), The Curious Mister Catesby (pp. 189–204). University of Georgia Press.

Joyner, C. (1984). Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community. University of Illinois Press.

Nelson, E. C., & Elliott, D. J. (Eds.). (2015). The Curious Mister Catesby: A Truly Ingenious Naturalist Explores New Worlds. University of Georgia Press.

Stearns, R. P. (1952). James Petiver: Promoter of natural science, c. 1663-1718. Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 62, 243–365.

Note: I am very grateful to David J. Elliott, director of the Mark Catesby Centre in the University Libraries of University of South Carolina, Columbia for inviting me to participate in the Centre’s work.

Art and the Herbarium: On and Off the Wall

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Herbarium display at London hotel coffee shop

In the last post, I discussed recent trends in botanical illustration, scientifically correct renderings of plants that can also be aesthetically magnificent.  Though he sometimes questioned its use, especially in writings on genera (Reeds, 2004), even Carl Linnaeus agreed about its beauty.  He papered the bedroom of his country home in Hammarby with hand-painted illustrations from Christoph Trew’s Plantae Selectae.  These were done by one of the greatest botanical artists, Georg Ehret.  While the prints are still in place, they pose a problem for art historians and restorers, as Per Cullhed (2008) notes in an essay written for a Linnean Society symposium marking the 300th anniversary of Linnaeus’s birth.  Restoration would be difficult because the paper has been severely damaged in places and may not survive an intervention.  However, doing nothing means that deterioration will continue.  Cullhen likens the problem to the dilemma of preserving Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper without making it look very different from how it appeared before restoration.

Several years ago I wrote an article on the biology of interior decoration (Flannery, 2005), which, I argued, stems from biophilia, defined by E.O. Wilson (1984) as an innate urge to connect with other species.  Yes, this includes having house plants and owning dogs and/or cats, but it also means dried flowers—sort of a 3-D herbarium—and sitting on a couch with a floral chintz print.  Then there are the botanical prints that grace many people’s homes and seem to be perennial favorites.  Recently, I’ve seen a different though less widespread trend.  On my first morning in London on a visit in 2018, I planned to go to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  But first, of course, I needed breakfast.  As I sat down to order my coffee and scone, I was amazed to see an array of framed herbarium specimens on the restaurant’s wall (see image above).  It was quite a display, and on closer examination turned out to be from an unnamed collector who pressed them in Italy in the early years of the 20th century.  They made a beautiful display.  A friend told me of a restaurant in New York with a similar presentation, and The World of Interiors magazine featured the bathroom of a stately home with framed specimens hanging over the tub (Shaw, 2019).  I am of two minds about this trend, if it can be called that.  It does get herbaria seen by a wider audience, but unaccompanied by a museum-like descriptive card, viewers might not even realize what they are seeing.  The restaurant’s wait staff had never given them a second glance until I swooned over the display, and then they did look more closely, a tiny victory for the herbarium world.

Over the centuries, most people took a different approach to surrounding themselves with flowers:  they used wallpaper.  In the case of William Kilburn, a botanical illustrator for William Curtis’s Flora Londinensis, branching out into commercial floral designs for wall coverings and fabrics turned out to be more lucrative (Nelson, 2008).  He gave up the exacting scientific work, but his designs still revealed his attention to detail.  The 20th-century botanical artist Anne Ophelia Dowden also designed fabric.  In the 21st century, individuals sometimes moved in the opposite direction.  A number of those enrolled in the Certificate Program in Botanical Illustration at New York Botanical Garden were fabric designers who had lost work when the industry moved to digital art.

There is also another aspect of floral fabric design, and that’s the use of embroidery.  This is an old tradition that began with embellishment of religious vestments in the middle ages and then became common on the clothing of wealthy men and women and in home decorations.  This work was done by professionals, usually men, but then in the Renaissance, embroidery began to be taken up by upper-class women, with several pieces even attributed to Mary Queen of Scots (Parker, 1984).  Embroiderers used patterns books that were filled with floral illustrations to be copied onto fabric.  Jacques Le Moyne, who produced exquisite flower paintings, came out of the floral fabric design tradition of the French Huguenots.  A pattern book of plants and animals for embroidery was based on his work.

Today, there are a number of fiber artists who do beautiful floral embroideries, sometimes for high-end fashion designers, sometimes as works of art.  Karen Nicol’s work is one example of these approaches.  In addition, there is one artist whose work I find particularly intriguing because it is definitely in the herbarium tradition.  Susanna Bauer presses fallen leaves and then adds embroidery to them:  in some cases “repairing” insect damage with crochet, in others carefully adding stitches to the leaves without causing them to crack.  Her pieces definitely make the viewer look more carefully at the leaf.  They provide a different dimension to our relationship with nature, something more intimate than simply pressing plant material between sheets of paper.

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Sarah Herzog modeling the labcoat she embroidered for her graduate adviser, Dr. Maribeth Latvis

Other artists use machine sewing to represent plants in intriguing ways, such as Sumakshi Singh’s black thread sketches on thin fabric, creating a cloth herbarium collection of ethereal plant drawings.  In addition, there are two embroiderers whose work I found on Twitter.  One is the textile artist Charlotte Lade who volunteers at the herbarium of the Natural History Museum, London and creates work based on the specimens.  Also, Maribeth Latvis, who teaches at South Dakota State University and directs the Taylor Herbarium there, tweeted that her student had asked to decorate her lab coat and returned it festooned with embroidered flowers (see above).

References

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

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

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

Reeds, K. (2004). When the botanist can’t draw: The case of Linnaeus. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 29(3), 248–258.

Shaw, R. B. (2019). Tack’s exempt. The World of Interiors, April, 218–227.

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

Art and the Herbarium: Botanical Illustrations

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Watercolor of witch hazel seed pods by Dr. Dick Rauh, courtesy of the artist

Over three years ago, I began this blog with a series of posts on the relationship between art and herbaria (1,2,3,4).  This is such a rich subject that I want to return to it here and explore areas that I hadn’t discussed previously.  One topic is probably the most obvious and that’s botanical illustration.  Defined narrowly, this is art in the service of botany, documenting plants as accurately as possible either in pen-and-ink drawings or in watercolor.  These artistic traditions extend back at least to the mid-16th century, though there are accurate renditions of plants much older than that, for example in the sixth-century Juliana Anicia Codex, named for the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Carrara Herbal produced in Italy at the end of the 14th century.  The Linnaean era brought an informal codification of what a botanical illustration should include:  details of flower structure sometimes with dissections and enlargements as auxiliary to the main image, fruit might also be pictured (Nickelsen, 2006).  What didn’t change was the tradition of presenting a single species against a blank background, though in print, several individual species might be pictured on the same page to save space.

While some thought that photography would replace illustration in botanical publications, that substitution is hardly complete.  There is still a place for illustration in part because, as the zoological artist Jonathan Kingdon has noted:  “Contemporary research on the human brain shows that it does NOT process images as a neutral camera does.  The brain finds edges and builds constructions that are at least partially based on previous experience—possibly including past contacts with artifacts such as ‘drawings’ as well as previous knowledge of natural objects” (Kingdon, 2011, p. 137).  From this he concludes that:  “If the brain is unlike a camera in actively seeking outlines, there is a strong implication that ‘outline drawings’ can represent, in themselves, artifacts that may correspond more closely with what the brain seeks than the charts of light-fall that photographs represent” (p. 139).

Today, most illustrations are in pen and ink because watercolors are much more expensive to produce and publish.  However, in the late 20th and into the 21st century there has been a renaissance in botanical painting fueled by several factors.  Among these was the development of exhibitions and prizes.  The International Exhibition of Botanical Art & Illustration has been sponsored by at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation in Pittsburgh since 1964.  This is a juried show with artists from many nations represented and is now usually held every two years.  The Royal Horticultural Society in London mounts a yearly Botanical Art Show and awards prizes in several categories.  I am proud to say that I’ve taken a number of classes with an artist who has been in the Hunt Show and also won RHS prizes.  Dick Rauh has taught for many years in the botanical illustration certificate program at New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) (see image above).  Such programs have done a lot to spur interest in botanical art and have produced many exceptional artists.  The best way to get a sense of the field is to look at the website of the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA), and at their journal, The Botanical Artist, which is full of wonderful articles about the field.

If there is one name that is synonymous with botanical art in the 21st century, it is that of Shirley Sherwood, who is not an artist but a generous patron of the field.  I first learned of her through her books on botanical art that feature pieces from her collection as well as other works (Sherwood, 1996, 2001, 2005).  These are fascinating to read, and her artistic taste is superb.  Sherwood has funded a gallery in her name at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew where contemporary botanical art as well as historical collections are exhibited.  Her husband James Sherwood, a well-known businessman, supports her interest in botany, and it’s a credit to them both that botanical art—and more broadly interest in plants—have flourished thanks to them.

Three other trends in botanical art worth noting include the focus many botanical artists have on picturing endangered species.  There have been several exhibits with this theme in botanical gardens in different countries, including one at NYBG sponsored by the ASBA.  Also, artists have been invited to participate in a number of florilegia projects.  Perhaps the best known was sponsored by Britain’s Prince Charles and focused on plants grown at his Highgrove estate.  His foundation also supported the publication of The Transylvania Florilegium picturing Romanian plants.  The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is continuing to sponsor its on-going project, a florilegium of plants in the garden.

The final trend I want to mention is the broadening of subject matter for botanical art.  Besides what would be considered traditional subjects and formats, some artists have been daring in taking on subjects such as dying and decaying foliage.  This may not seem particularly interesting, yet some of these pieces are remarkable, such as the work of Jessica Shepherd.  Not only are they beautiful, but they focus attention on a portion of the plant life cycle that we often neglect.  A decaying leaf with its myriad colors and lacy structure is a wonder that we usually just rake up and throw in the compost pile.  Also, more botanical artists are taking on ecology by presenting plants in context, as they grow in nature.  Margaret Mee, the British artist known for her works on the Brazilian flora, was a master of this genre but many others use this approach such as Jenny Hyde-Johnson of South Africa.  In other words, there are more and more wonderful things to look at in the botanical art world.

References

Kingdon, J. (2011). In the eye of the beholder. In M. R. Canfield (Ed.), Field Notes on Science and Nature (pp. 129–160). Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Nickelsen, K. (2006). Draughtsmen, Botanists and Nature: The Construction of Eighteenth-Century Botanical Illustrations. Springer.

Sherwood, S. (1996). Contemporary Botanical Artists. New York: Cross River Press.

Sherwood, S. (2001). A Passion for Plants: Contemporary Botanical Masterworks. London, UK: Cassell.

Sherwood, S. (2005). A New Flowering: 1000 Years of Botanical Art. Oxford, UK: Ashmolean.

Sadie Price in the Herbarium

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Sadiee Price’s drawing of Asplenium spinulosum in the library archives, Missouri Botanical Garden.

Since I am interested in the relationship of science and art, I am intrigued by the connections between drawings and herbarium specimens, as in the case Blanche Ames’s watercolor sketches attached to Oakes Ames’s sheets of orchid specimens (see earlier post).  There are also many instances where loose drawings and botanical prints were stored in folders along with specimens in herbarium cabinets.  In other words, they were seen as works of science more than of art.  This practice is less common today, when the same items are considered more as artworks that need to be protected from the chemicals in plant material that could discolor or damage them.  At the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, many illustrations are still housed in the herbarium but in separate boxes from the specimens.  At the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh former curator Henry Nolte acidulously went through the herbarium folders removing illustrations and then attempted to reorganize them according to artist or to the collector who had created a particular collection.

Such separation is now common practice.  At the Field Museum, Christine Niezgoda showed me a file of illustrations she has found amid herbarium folders.  She said she was more likely to find them in folders from plant groups that are not under intensive studies by museum botanists—these just aren’t accessed often.  She discovered a beautiful collection of prints filed with Japanese specimens.  At the Missouri Botanical Garden (MOBOT), Doug Holland, director of the library, told me a similar story.  While their tropical collections are heavily used, this is less true of American plants.  However in preparing a flora of Missouri, George Yatskievych, then at MOBOT now at the University of Texas, came upon a number of drawings by a Kentucky amateur botanist and botanical illustrator, Sadie Price (1849-1903).  Most were the size of a herbarium sheet, and some even had herbarium labels.  Since the sheets had acquisition numbers, Yatskievych was able to track down hundreds of them, that are now kept in the MOBOT archives along with Price’s beautiful drawings of insects and other animals.

When I visited the Sachs Museum at MOBOT (see last post), I then went over to the library and looked at some of the Price botanical illustrations.  She had done a book on ferns as a guide for collecting, and for most of the species presented there, matching drawings can be found among her artwork.  Usually there are two per species, one a preparatory sketch and then a finished drawing.  The sketch is often almost as detailed as the drawing, though the latter has a herbarium label giving the Latin name and order of the fern, the date and place of collection and the collector’s name (see image above).  In many cases, the labels are printed with room for the information to be written in.  At the top there is a line for “Herbarium of . . . ” and there Price wrote in the county where the plant was found.  This is an interesting way to present a drawing.  It is useful because it indicates that a living plant was used as the model and provides information relating to it.  If the plant were a new species, this would be particularly important.  And in fact, Sadie did discover more than one new species of flowering plant, for example, Apios priceana, Price’s groundnut.

None of the fern drawings are in watercolor, but many flowering plants are.  Usually it is not the entire drawing, but portions—including the flower and/or fruit to striking effect (see figure below).  The rest of the drawing is done in pencil; Price rarely used ink except for her initials.  When I met Doug Holland at a meeting last year, he told me about the Price collection, and I was intrigued by her use of the herbarium sheet format.  I became more interested after I went through many of her drawings.  Even when she didn’t paste on labels, she often replicated the label format either on a handwritten scrap pasted to the sheet, or else she drew a rectangular box in pencil and filled the information in there.

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Sadie Price’s drawing of Aesculus octandra in the library archives, Missouri Botanical Garden

Price was determined to have her drawings look like specimen sheets, yet this wasn’t because they replaced specimens for her.  She also collected plants, and many of her specimens are now at MOBOT, in some cases of the same plants she drew.  All her natural history materials along with a scrapbook were given to the garden by her sister after her death.  The scrapbook is filled with interesting letters, newspaper cuttings, notes, etc., including an article from the Bowling Green Advocate announcing Price’s gold medal for her herbarium display, the best among 100 entries at the Chicago World’s Fair.  This suggests that her specimens were as elegant as her drawings, and also that creating herbaria was still a common pursuit among natural history buffs at the end of the 19th century.

The Advocate article proudly noted that the award was an indication that “Miss Price is in the first rank of scientists in the nation.”  I am not sure that university-trained botanists would have agreed, but Price would have been pleased with the compliment.  I think that her use of specimen labels on her illustrations was an attempt to both increase their scientific value and also to suggest that the artist knew enough botany to understand why identification of place and time as well as species was important.

Note:  I would like to thank Doug Holland for sharing information about Sadie Price with me and showing me so much of her art.