Linnaeus in the Netherlands: George Clifford

3 Clifford Hypericum androsaemum

Hypericum androsaemum from the Clifford Herbarium, courtesy of the Natural History Museum, London

As I mentioned in the first post in this series, Carl Linnaeus had just begun work with Johannes Burman at the Leiden Botanic Garden when George Clifford (1685-1760) asked Linnaeus to write a catalogue of the plants in his garden at Hartekamp, near Haarlem in the Netherlands.  It took some convincing for Burman to release him, but it ended up well for Linnaeus.  He spent over two years at Hartekamp, where he had available to him a large collection of tropical plants from around the world.  Linnaeus had already sketched out his Systema Naturae (1735) before he left Sweden, but his knowledge of plant diversity was limited to northern Europe.  Then he met Jan Frederik Gronovius, who had studied plants that John Clayton had sent him from Virginia and Burman, who had Paul Herman’s specimen collection from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).  His horizons were broadening (see last post).

Clifford was a wealthy Dutch financier and a director of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) that oversaw a worldwide shipping organization making the Netherlands a mercantile power.  From the VOC’s creation in 1602, its captains and ship surgeons were given directions on how to make collections and transport specimens, seeds, bulbs, and cuttings back home.  The more exotics that reached home, the more the Dutch became avid gardeners hungry for still more plant novelties.  Because of his position, Clifford had first dibs on the plants that arrived in Holland, and he had the interest and knowledge to appreciate them.  To give a sense of the scope of his collection, he had four greenhouses, one each for plants from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.  At this time, gardening and sophisticated plant collecting were status symbols for the elite; Clifford’s Hartekamp was obviously a premier example.  Even his herbarium specimens reflected his status.  The sheets had elaborately printed labels, and the cut end of each plant was covered with a printed urn (Thijsee, 2018).  This became a fad at the time among the rich and botanically sophisticated (see figure below).

Among the living plants in Clifford’s unique collection was a banana tree, which was growing well but had never blossomed or produced fruit.  Linnaeus gave it special attention and took credit for inducing it into flower in four months with a regimen of restricting watering, and then watering generously.  This was one of the first times this feat had been achieved in Europe and was so noteworthy that Linnaeus wrote a short book on the plant, and Clifford had it published (Rutgers, 2008).  This added luster to both their names; it also indicated Linnaeus’s skills with living plants as well as with identifying specimens.

Another important event during this time was the arrival of the German artist Georg Ehret at Hartekamp in 1736.  Ehret had already produced a large portfolio of botanical watercolors for several patrons, none of whom paid very well.  He had come to the Netherlands after doing some work in England and called on Clifford in the hope of finding further employment.  Clifford was indeed interested in Ehret’s work and even paid his asking price for a number of paintings.  Ehret remained at Hartekamp for a month, working on illustrations for Clifford’s catalogue.  Linnaeus explained to Ehret his plant classification system based on the reproductive structures in flowers.  He had worked out 24 classes simply by counting the number and arrangement of the stamens or pollen-producing male organs, with the 24th class reserved for those without visible stamens.  Within each class were subclasses depending up on the number of female organs.  The beauty of the system was its relative simplicity, grounded in traits that were usually visible and countable.

Ehret illustrated the system with a chart that has become famous, a simple visual representation of the 24 classes (see figure below).  He published it shortly after leaving Hartekamp and Linnaeus also published it much later, but not crediting Ehret.  Working in close proximity together, even for a month, must have been important to them both during this early formative period in their careers.  Ehret, who had already developed the practice of dissecting flowers and illustrating their parts, often with magnification, learned from Linnaeus the pivotal importance of these structures in identifying species.  On the other hand, Linnaeus was able to see the artistic and intellectual work that went into creating first-rate botanical art.  In their book Objectivity, Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison (2007) write of four-eyed sight, which results from an artist and a scientist working and looking together, resulting in an image that satisfies both.  Linnaeus and Ehret could very well have collaborated in this way.  After he left Hartekamp, Ehret had a long career in England producing illustrations for many major botanical works including those of Philip Miller and Christoph Jacob Trew, who had been an early patron of Ehret’s in Germany.

3 Ehret
Georg Ehret’s diagram of Carl Linnaeus’s classification system, courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Most of the illustrations in the Clifford catalogue were done by Ehret and the remainder by Jan Wanderlaar, who also engraved the plates.  It took Linnaeus nine months to write the text (Blunt, 1971).  The species descriptions were organized according the classification system Linnaeus had laid it out in his Genera Plantarum, which was also published during this time (1737).  While he was in Hartekamp, he published early versions of other works as well.  Clifford also afforded him the time and the resources to become better educated in botany.  Besides his herbarium and garden, Clifford also had a substantial library, with all the leading botanical references of the day.  Hartekamp must have been a difficult place to leave.  However, after spending almost three years in the Netherlands, Linnaeus’s thoughts were of Sweden.  Yet he didn’t go directly home.  His further wanderings will be examined in the next post.

References

Blunt, W. (1971). The Compleat Naturalist: A Life of Linnaeus. New York, NY: Viking.

Daston, L., & Galison, P. (2007). Objectivity. New York: Zone.

Rutgers, J. (2008). Linnaeus in the Netherlands. TijdSchrift Voor Skandinavistiek, 29, 103–116.

Thijsse, G. (2018). A contribution to the history of the herbaria of George Clifford III (1685–1760). Archives of Natural History, 45(1), 134–148.

Advertisements

Natural History in 17th-Century Britain: John Evelyn

3 Evelyn tree

Plate from Sylva of collecting birch tree sap, Biodiversity Heritage Library

While John Ray, the subject of the first post in this series, is an important figure in the history of botany, this post’s subject would be considered more a horticulturalist than a botanist and is best remembered for Sylva, his book on trees and how to grow them.  However, John Evelyn (1620-1706) published a number of other books, including several translations.  After studying at Oxford, he trained in the law, but the disruption of the English Civil War led him to spend several years on the Continent, visiting botanical gardens in Paris, Leiden and Padua, where he purchased a herbarium.  Twenty years later, he showed his own to his friend, the diarist Samuel Pepys, who had never seen one before and was taken with the way a plant’s characteristics were so clearly preserved.

While in Europe Evelyn also toured private gardens to broaden his understanding of horticultural design.  This need for information led him to translate two French works, The French Gard’ner by Nicolas de Bonnefons (1658) and later, Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie’s The Compleat Gardner (1699)  Translation was a way to not only disseminate ideas, but to understand them better.  As was common, Evelyn added commentary and in the case of the latter work, also other writing by Quintinie not in his original book.  Publishing at the time was looser than today in that authors used the opportunity to pack as much into a book as possible and were less concerned about cohesiveness.  Evelyn also translated books from the French on other subjects including painting and architecture.

Evelyn returned to England with the restoration of the monarchy and the convening of a new parliament in 1661.  He was also relieved that the Church of England, of which he was a devote member, was again legitimized.  Evelyn became involved in several government projects at the behest of the king.  In addition, the spirit of renewal led to plans for the creation of the Royal Society of London (RS) for the advancement of science based on the writings of Francis Bacon.  They aimed to promote empirical studies, the collection of information on a subject thorough enough to allow for analysis and firmly based conclusions, in other words, inductive reasoning.  Evelyn was engaged in the organization of the society and delivered a paper on forest trees at an October 1662 meeting.  This became the first formal publication of the society, Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest-trees.  He presented descriptions of a number of species, but since the society was interested in practical outcomes from science, he also argued for restoration of forests in Britain where they had been drastically retracting over the centuries.  If the country was to remain economically viable and become a world power then its navy and its industry required timber.

As part of his involvement in the RS, Evelyn was a member of the “Georgical” Committee, named after Virgil’s horticultural text, the Georgics.  This group worked for the improvement of English agriculture, horticulture, and landscape.  At the same time, Evelyn was improving his own garden on property he leased from his father-in-law.  This involved extensive reworking of the garden’s organization with the planting of allées of trees.  He was also interested in the kitchen garden and was particularly taken with salads, even writing a book on the subject.  He also wrote a book on fruit trees (1706) and another on what seems a 21st-century topic:  the use of plants to deal with air pollution.  Called Fumifugium, it dealt with among other topics fragrant plants whose scents would compete with the stench of the city.

With all this endeavors, Evelyn never completed his largest project, an encyclopedia of British gardening, Elysium Britannicum.  By the late 1650s, he already had an outline for the work and sent it to several friends for their comments.  All urged him to continue with it, but it was a huge undertaking.  He wanted to cover every aspect of the subject from garden design, to how to manage its development and maintenance.  Evelyn was a member of the upper class so he focused on large-scale gardens, not those surrounding a cottage.  In the 17th century, the interest in plants that had emerged in the previous century developed into an industry, with professional gardeners and nurserymen providing services to wealthy landowners.  Evelyn took this into account, but he was still a hands-on gardener interested in the growth habits of individual species as well as larger issues.  He even planned a chapter on why and how to create a herbarium as a reference for what was growing in the garden.

In John Evelyn: A Life of Domesticity, John Dixon Hunt (2017) explores several possible reasons for why Evelyn never finished the project.  All that remains are manuscripts of the original outline as well as parts of the first of three projected sections.  Not surprisingly, Hunt sees the size of the project as so massive it discouraged Evelyn who was occupied with family issues as well as his work with the government and the RS.  Though he was a man of means, he would have needed financial as well as technical support in completing the manuscript and producing the illustrations.  Hunt also conjectures that Evelyn felt a sense of guilt about his preoccupation with gardens which seemed such a worldly pursuit for a man whose religious beliefs led him to focus on the otherworldly.  Despite this failure, Evelyn remains a symbol of love of gardening, and especially love of trees.

References

Bonnefons, N. de & Evelyn, J. (1658). The French Gardiner. London, UK: John Crooke.

Evelyn, J. (1706). Pomona. London, UK: Scot, Chiswell, Sawbridge and Tooke.

Hunt, J. D. (2017). John Evelyn: A Life of Domesticity. London: Reaktion.

La Quintinie, J. de, & Evelyn, J. (1699). The Compleat Gard’ner. London: M. Gillyflower.

Book Tour: Gardens

1 mellon library

Looking out on Oak Spring from the Oak Spring Garden Foundation Library (photo by author)

In December I headed north to visits relatives and friends in New York and Connecticut.  I had only reached New York when my sister called from a hospital (never a good sign) to say that she had broken her wrist and shoulder.  To make a very long story short, I spent the next ten days visiting her in the Connecticut hospital where various complications kept her.  We definitely had time for good conversations, and when I wasn’t with her, I had time to read at the hotel.  I had brought a couple of books with me and acquired a few along the way.  This series of posts will be on some of what I read.  Though none of these works are about herbaria, they all have links to them in various ways.  My sister is back home and so am I.  Now I have time to consider what I learned about gardens, botanical history, tropical plants, and taxonomy.

This post deals with The Gardens of Bunny Mellon, a large tome filled with photographs by Roger Foley and a relatively brief text by Linda Jane Holden (2018).  I bought this the day I visited the Oak Spring Garden Foundation Library in Virginia, at the start of my trip.  I have been there before, and it is the closest thing I know to botanical heaven.  Rachel (Bunny) Mellon loved gardening from a young age and was able to indulge her interest because she came from a wealthy family and then married the philanthropist Paul Mellon.  The book deals with the gardens she created at their homes in Manhattan, Cape Cod, Nantucket and Antiqua, but most of all, with the gardens surrounding the house the Mellons built in the 1950s at Oak Spring, and adjacent to which they added a library in the early 1980s.

The first time I visited the library, Nancy Collins gave me a tour of the garden which has been maintained by the Foundation since Rachel Mellon’s death in 2014.  The photographs in the book do a great job of communicating the atmosphere of the garden as well as the plants growing there.  The word I would use to describe it is homey rather than palatial, but there is definitely a sense that everything is planned, from the allée of crab apple trees to the herbaceous beds to the vegetable garden.  It is simply a wonderful place to be.  Mellon created her library in support of her passion for plants.  She studied the great gardens and garden writers of the past.  Holden lists Mellon’s “Pentateuch” of books that informed her designs (p. 160):  The Compleat Gard’ner by Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie (1693), Phytographia curiosa by Abraham Munting (1714), The Flower-Garden Display’d by Robert Furber (1734), Le Jardin Fruitier by Loise Claude Noisette (1821), and Flower Guide: Wild Flowers East of the Rockies  by Chester Albert Reed (1920).

These reside in the library along with 16,000 other books, manuscripts, and art works; there are even a few herbaria.  They include a scrapbook made as a Christmas gift for the Mellons from horticulturalists Charles and Katherine Pecora.  The plants were collected at Oak Spring and the adjacent Rokeby Farm in 1968.  Katherine worked as a secretary at the farm for many years, and this collection is very much in the tradition of creating a presentation volume for patrons.  Other herbaria include one of algae assembled by Eliza French during the 19th-century seaweed craze, and one of New Zealand Ferns by George Davenport, again a product of a fad of the time.  There is also a printed herbarium catalogue produced by the 19th-century German nurseryman Carl Jeppe that lists those who subscribed to the volume, beginning with the local gentry.  Another is a sumptuous 18th-century herbarium of medicinal plants attributed to Carlo Sembertini and described in one of four volumes on the library collections published by Oak Spring (Tomasi & Willis, 2009, pp. 334-339).

Gardens also covers a number of other Mellon homes, each site’s plants and design adapted to its particular location.  Besides these Mellon also created several for friends including two at the White House.  John F. Kennedy asked her to redesign the Rose Garden outside the oval office.  Working with the President and the National Park Service she managed to develop an environment that has pleased White House occupants for decades and served as a backdrop for many important governmental events.  The garden was so successful that Jacqueline Kennedy invited Mellon to also remake the East Garden on the opposite side of the White House, a more private space.  This wasn’t accomplished until Lady Bird Johnson was First Lady.  She also worked with Mellon and the result was called the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden.

Mellon was a Francophile and a good friend of her favorite fashion designer, Hubert de Givenchy.  She developed gardens for his Château du Jonchet and then worked with him on a much more public project, recreation of the Potager du Roi, the king’s kitchen garden at the Palace of Versailles.  It was originally designed between 1678 and 1686 by one of her favorite garden writers, Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, to provide fruits and vegetables for the royal table.  Givenchy was the head of the World Monuments Fund France, which wanted to revive the garden that was in decay, and he brought Mellon to see the “plot,” much larger than an ordinary kitchen garden.  She collaborated with him on the design, and the Mellons paid for the entire project including an irrigation system, basin and fountain, and the King’s Gate.

Rachel Mellon is in the tradition of the great garden designers and plant lovers who have enkindled fervor for plants and contributed so much to our knowledge and appreciation of them.  Her passion lives on in the Oak Spring Garden Foundation and its wonderful library.  The Foundation is now expanding its mission to reach a broader community of plant lovers.

References

Holden, L. J. (2018). The Gardens of Bunny Mellon. New York, NY: Vendome.

Quintinie, J. de Le, & Evelyn, J. (1693). The Compleat Gard’ner: Or, Directions for Cultivating and Right Ordering of Fruit-gardens and Kitchen-gardens; with Divers Reflections on Several Parts of Husbandry. In Six Books. London, UK: Gillyflower.

Tomasi, L. T., & Willis, T. (2009). An Oak Spring Herbaria: Herbs and Herbals from the Fourteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries. Upperville, VA: Oak Spring Garden Library.

Seeking Plants in Seattle: Biotopia and Seeds

4 Seed Bank

Webpage for Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Seed List

To complete this series of posts on my trip to Seattle for the History of Science Society meeting (1,2,3), I’ll discuss two presentations dealing with 20th and 21st century botany.  Jim Endersby  of the University of Sussex in Britain spoke on “A Visit to Biotopia: Genre, Genetics, and Gardening in the Early Twentieth Century,” based on his recently published article (Endersby, 2018).  He began with E.T. Brewster’s 1908 essay in The Atlantic Monthly, “Nature against Nurture” in which the author wrote about the wonders that would be coming soon from the new science of genetics.  This was only seven years after Hugo de Vries published his work on primrose genetics and introduced Gregor Mendel’s research to a large audience.  Brewster cited work on breeding experiments with cattle, insects, and plants to show how fast the field was developing.

Endersby moved on from there to discuss more literary utopian visions that also featured plants prominently.  These include Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1979) and H.G. Wells’s Men Like Gods (1923).  In both novels, farming was important to sustaining these futuristic communities, and genetics was used to create better crops.  Endersby’s point was that genetics quickly entered the public imagination, and writers sensed this and augmented to the trend.  There was a definite optimism about the possibilities:  a better world based on better plants was indeed possible.  He returned to the more scientific end of the topic by taking up the work of Luther Burbank and its public reception.  Here was someone who wasn’t just writing about possible futures but was helping to create them.  Endersby noted that the public saw Burbank, as Gilman herself did, as someone who could bring about human control over nature.  Burbank still has some botanical name recognition, but most of us would be hard put to remember more about him than that he was a plant breeder.  Endersby’s presentation was a useful reminder of how important Burbank was in shaping 20th century American horticulture and agriculture.

In some ways, Xan Chacko’s (University of California, Davis) presentation was closely related to Endersby’s in that she, too, discussed a rather utopian project, or at least one that has been described in those terms.  Her paper, “Post-Colonial (bio)Prospects: Founding a Seed Bank for Kew Gardens,” dealt with the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB), established by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 2000, hence its name.  For this endeavor, which aimed at banking seeds for 25% of the world’s plant species, Kew received substantial support from the Wellcome Trust.  Chacko’s research at the MSB was part of a larger project on how Kew was able to recast itself from an arbiter of colonial plant knowledge under people like Joseph Dalton Hooker to defender of the world’s biodiversity.

The MSB is located at Wakehurst, a Sussex garden Kew manages.  While I knew about it and its work from Kew blog posts (1,2), I did not know much about how it came to be.  Though in Kew literature 2000 was its official start, Chacko explained how its origins could be traced back to around 1970, when a new science director looked critically at Kew’s seed program.  Essentially, it consisted of saving seeds for about 4-5,000 species, most collected from plants growing at Kew and used primarily for propagating more plants on site.  Some were also shared with other botanical gardens.  However, there had been complaints of low germination rates and inaccurate labeling.  Needless to say, the proposed solution involved more funds and more personnel; to justify such support a plan was drawn up to expand the bank.

While the seed unit had been part of the plant physiology department, it gained more autonomy when it moved to Wakehurst in 1974.  Over the years, it expanded and set the goal of saving seeds from all United Kingdom species.  In the meantime, conserving biodiversity had become more urgent as the 20th century came to a close.  In looking for a project to fund that would address this issue, the Wellcome Trust was attracted to the infrastructure Kew had already built and the expertise it had developed, and so supported the building of a dedicated facility for banking seeds.  A big occasion was celebrated in 2010 when 10% of the world’s plants were represented in the MSB.

Chacko cast a questioning eye on what does this really mean, what has been saved at MSB, how viable are the seeds, and what is Kew doing with them?  She compared the MSB to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway that has the mission of primarily bank seeds for food crops and for crop wild relatives.  Another difference is that Svalbard is a backup to seedbanks around the world; countries send portions of their own seed reserves as a way to insure survival.  This is one of the requirements for Svalbard accepting seeds.  Also, there are projects to test seed viability and to renew the “deposits” as needed.  The MSB is less concerned with these issues, though it is carrying out research to earmark seeds from certain species as being particularly important to store.  These include work with the UK National Tree Seed Project to collect and store seed from the country’s woodlands.  There is also a crop wild relatives project to save the genetic diversity of species closely related to crop species.  It’s interesting to think of such endeavors as growing out of the Kew bureaucracy that was once headed by Joseph Banks who saw plants as sources of wealth for the future of his nation (see last post).

References

Brewster, E. T. (1908). Nature against nurture. Atlantic Monthly, 102(1), 120–125.

Endersby, J. (2018). A visit to Biotopia: genre, genetics and gardening in the early twentieth century. The British Journal for the History of Science, 51(3), 423–455.

Perkins, C. G. (1979). Herland. New York, NY: Pantheon.

Wells, H. G. (1923). Men Like Gods. London, UK: Cassell.

Where the Herbaria Are: All Over the Place

4 Wilton

A portion of the Marybeth Wheeler Herbarium at Wilton Library

Before I knew them, my stepsons lived in Wilton, Ct.  Many years later, when they had long left the area, I came upon a book called Ferns and Flowering Plants of Wilton at a book sale.  For a dollar, I was willing to check out their old stomping ground.  The book was put together by the local garden club, and in it was mention of a herbarium they had created that was housed at the Wilton Library.  A little digging led me to the library’s history room, and there it was, a collection numbering over 1,000 sheets.  The collection’s foundation was the donation of 200 sheets by Anna Carpenter (1833-1933) to the Wilton Garden Club.  Carpenter had spent the last 42 years of her life in Wilton and often collected in the area, which at the time was rural but is now definitely suburban.  She presented the rest of her collection to the Connecticut Botanical Society herbarium now housed at the Yale Herbarium in the Peabody Museum of Natural History.  There are 665 of her specimens listed in the herbarium’s online database.

In 1981, the Wilton Garden Club moved the collection into the Wilton Library History Room to make it more accessible.  This was part of a larger herbarium project, which had begun in the 1960s and which resulted in several hundred sheets being added to the collection.  Most of the collectors were members of the Wilton Garden Club, most notably Marybeth Wheeler, for whom the herbarium is now named.  When I visited in 2012, Scotty Taylor of the Wilton Historical Society showed me a well-cared-for collection stored in archival boxes.  She said that it was little used, but since then the library has mounted an exhibit of some of the sheets to make this treasure better known in the community.  I use the Wilton herbarium as an example of herbaria that are not in the usual places for such collections—botanical gardens, educational institutions, museums—the places I’ve described in the last three posts (1,2,3).  This last post in the series is sort of a catch-all for collections, large and small, that live in a variety of settings.

Unlike the one in Wilton, many herbaria that end up in libraries are in bound volumes.  One of my favorite examples is the 16-volume collection of Lord Robert Petre in the Sutro Library at San Francisco State University.  Petre was an avid gardener and one of the early patrons of John Bartram who sent Petre plants, including seeds and cuttings, through Peter Collinson the great British plant broker.  This connection is what makes the Petre herbarium particularly interesting.  There are Bartram plants in two of the volumes, some with Bartram’s original labels written on small pieces of brown wrapping paper.  In the 1980’s Schuyler and Newbold (1987) of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia examined these specimens and gave them updated scientific names, in addition to the pre-Linnaean ones written in beautiful script on the sheets.  All the volumes have been removed from their bindings and carefully conserved, indicating once again that a library can be a good home for herbaria.  Though botanists worry about collections that are outside of herbaria where insect infestation is carefully monitored, this collection seems to be doing very well at the Sutro.  It was purchased in the late 1800s by Adolph Sutro who had been mayor of San Francisco.  He went  on a buying spree in Europe, acquiring volumes to create a world-class library in his city.  That’s how an East-Coast collection got to the West Coast, via England.

4 Petre Vol III

Volume III binding for the Petre Herbarium in the Sutro Library at San Francisco State University.

There is one case where a herbarium led to the founding of an institution, and that is the Linnean Society of London, organized around the herbarium—and library—of Carl Linnaeus, which the British botanist James Edward Smith bought from Linnaeus’s widow.  It is now stored in an underground vault built after World War II.  What has grown up around this collection is a larger herbarium including Smith’s specimens, as well as a remarkable library and archives with material from Smith, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Francis Buchanan-Hamilton.  The archives include many botanical illustrations and all of this material is stored in the Society’s headquarters in Burlington House, a huge mansion that’s also home to the Royal Academy of Art.

Needless to say, the Linnaean collection, which is full of type specimens, is often visited by botanical researchers and historians—and also by people like me who are lucky enough to just breathe the vault’s rarified air.  However, small collections like those in the Wilton and Sutro libraries are also scientific and cultural gems that reveal something about the passions of gardeners down through the ages.  I have not scratched the surface here of alternate sites for herbaria.  Just a few miles from Wilton is a collection at the Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens, which was originally owned by the Bartlett Family who began the company now known as Bartlett Tree Experts.  The site was used as a laboratory and arboretum by the company’s founder, Francis A. Bartlett, and was sold it to the State of Connecticut in 1965.  The herbarium contains specimens from the 1880s when the Bartletts began their work, and these have been augmented by others.  Several national forests have herbaria as does Yellowstone National Park, where there are about 16,000 specimens, though not the one collected by President Chester A. Arthur during a fish trip in the park in 1883; that’s at the National Herbarium in Washington.  At the other end of the size spectrum is the herbarium at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, created as a stand-alone institution to support plant research and conservation; it now has about 1.5 million specimens.  And I should note the countless collections, large and small, housed in homes by avid collectors who relish finding plants, preparing specimens, and often sharing their duplicates with others.  In other words, you never know where a herbarium is going to pop up.

Note:  I would like to thank all the people at the institutions I’ve visited for sharing their expertise with me.

References

Ferns and Flowering Plants of Wilton. (1992). Wilton, CT: Wilton Garden Club.

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

Where the Herbaria Are: Botanical Gardens

1 Kew

Staircase in the first building of the herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

All herbaria are basically the same.  They all have cabinets filled with folders, each with specimens attached to thick sheets of white paper that are almost the same size.  They may have other types of collections, but the sense you get when you enter an herbarium is usually of ranks of cabinets.  However, on my visits to herbaria I have also been struck by how different they can be:  in size, in collection strategies, in ancillary collections, and in their position within larger institutions.  So in this series of posts, I’m going to explore some of the cultural differences among plant collections that are dependent on their institutional environments.  I’ll begin with what is one of the largest categories, those affiliated with botanic gardens.

It’s probably more than coincidence that the first botanic garden, founded in 1543 in Pisa, was begun by the Italian botanist Luca Ghini who is also believed to be the originator of the herbarium somewhat earlier.  Both were used to support Ghini’s teaching of materia medica at the Pisan medical school.  He would take students out to the garden after class, pointing out the plants he had just described in lecture; sometimes he would show them the pressed specimen as well, so they could appreciate how drying changed a plant’s appearance.  The herbarium also served as a teaching aid during the winter months.  Around the time this garden was founded, Leonhart Fuchs (1542) published one of the first printed herbals with accurate plant illustrations, to supplement the information available in gardens and herbaria.  These three innovations were essential to the development of early modern botany, and it’s not surprising that they are still often found together today.

Great botanical gardens usually have great herbaria and great libraries.  This is true of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, and many others.  From the very beginning, specimens have been supported by text; an unlabeled specimen is virtually useless.  But as botany developed, sources such as Fuchs were cited as ways to link name and plant description.  Books became vital references, and needed to be close at hand.  The fact that the Pisa garden was attached to a university is also important.  This was an institution where knowledge was passed on and generated, with specimens playing a role in both endeavors.  In my next post, I’ll discuss the relationship between herbaria and education, but for now, I’ll continue with the botanic garden thread.

Many of the major botanic gardens are so large that their functions are segregated into different departments, with a library director and a herbarium director being separate functions, though there is close collaboration especially because they are often housed in the same or adjacent buildings.  This is true in New York, Missouri, Kew, and Melbourne.  It is a wonderful luxury to be able to go just a few steps to check a reference or to find an illustration, either in a book or in botanical art collection also housed in these libraries.  The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Kew have huge collections of illustrations done by native Indian artists under the direction of botanists and physicians working for the East India Company.  Such art was considered so important to systematics that these sheets were stored with the specimens.  This situation is changing, and the art has been moved to the libraries, cross-referenced with the plant name and that of the artist.

But in botanical gardens, it’s the relationship between the living and preserved collections that seems to me to be most important, and in some cases closely tied to national identity.  I felt this most keenly in Australia, where digitization of the national herbarium collections was first focused on Australian plants, where efforts to prevent the spread of invasive species are particularly rigorous, and where botanical artists often focus on native plants.  Celia Rosser did magnificent watercolors of all the species of the quintessentially Australian genus, Banksia; vouchers made from the specimens she used are housed in several of the country’s national herbaria.  There is also a sense of local pride when a garden manages to bring a particularly fussy plant into flower.  Right now, corpse flowers (Amorphophallus titanum) seem to be all the rage because of their size and the awful odor the bloom exudes.  Making specimens is difficult because of the flower’s size and bulk.  Daniel Atha at NYBG did such a good job that the multiple sheets he created were used in an exhibit on the herbarium.  More importantly, NYBG keeps a significant collection of specimens recording the cultivated plants growing in the garden, not just the celebrities.

Unfortunately, I am going to end on a sour note.  NYBG’s sister garden, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, was also linked to a magnificent library and herbarium, all three founded at the beginning of the 20th century.  However, in  2013 the garden’s director summarily closed the herbarium and downsized the library’s footprint at the same time.  The collection’s 300,000 specimens are now on “temporary” loan to NYBG, the library is still trying to wrestle with its lack of space, and the active environmental community in Brooklyn is left without an important resource.  The links that were forged in the 16th century by Ghini and his fellow botanists have been severed.  The only consolation is that these connections remain strong at many other institutions.

Note:  I would like to thank all the people at the institutions I’ve visited for sharing their expertise with me.

Botanical Britain: Place

4a Cyclamen

Cyclamens growing in the rock garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

While I was in Edinburgh and London recently (see earlier posts 1,2,3), I was reminded several times of my mother’s favorite plants, all ones that thrive in the British Isles.  She was born on the south coast of Ireland in a seaside town called Tramore.  Her family was upper middle class, but fell on hard times because of her father’s financial blunders.  She emigrated with her mother and siblings in 1928, just in time to face the depression in New York City.  While she later married my father and had two wonderful children, if I do say so myself, she never really felt at home in the United States and made her opinion known on many occasions.  I remember her often mentioning plants that grew well in the gardens of Ireland but didn’t flourish in the US.  I was reminded of this while walking by a park in Edinburgh and seeing Cyclamens blooming (see photo above).  My mother would buy them in pots as houseplants, but they didn’t grow in our garden.  She had the same problem with primroses and Fuchsia (see photo below).  From time to time she would buy a potted Fuchsia, and after she kept it alive inside, would plant it outdoors.  It never did well.  All these plants like mild and moist conditions; a New York City backyard just didn’t provide the right environment.

4b Fuchsia

Fuchsia growing near a sidewalk in Edinburgh, Scotland.

When we visited Ireland I finally understood her problem and was also introduced to another of her favorites the monkey puzzle tree Araucaria araucana (see photo below).  What I didn’t know at the time was that none of these genera, except for the common primrose, Primula vulgaris, are native to Ireland and Britain.  Yes, they thrive there, but Fuchsia was sent back by Charles Plumier from the Caribbean, Cyclamen is native to the eastern Mediterranean, and the monkey puzzle is South American.  Their naturalization in Ireland was the result of avid gardeners wanting to extend their repertoire of species, and these particular plants, among many others, ended up thriving in areas warmed and watered by the Gulf Stream.

4c Monkey Puzzle Edinburgh

Monkey puzzle tree, Araucaria araucana, at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

The connection of plants and place—both their native and adopted ranges—is a discussion had many times among those involved in the Herbaria 3.0 project.  This initiative, which has been funded by Seed Box: A Mistra-Formas Environmental Humanities Collaboratory in Sweden and Colorado School of Mines in the US describes itself as “a platform for sharing stories about plants and people. We believe that these stories can draw our attention to the intertwined nature of human-plant relationships. Turning to these relationships helps us to remember plants and reconnect with them, acknowledging the pivotal role plants play in our lives.”  The website now has a rich selection of stories in which the relationship between plants, place, and peoples’ lives are very evident.  But as was the case with my mother, the place the writer describes is often not within the plant’s native range.  This is indicative of how much the ecology of the entire globe has been changed by plant exchanges over hundreds and thousands of years.  It also signals how people’s emotional lives are influenced by the plants with which they share a space.  Attempting to grow Fuchsia in New York was important to my mother; she was trying to make her home a little more like what she considered her real home in Ireland.

My mother’s childhood home, a horse farm, was burnt down when she was nine years old.  We’ve visited the site, which is marked by little more than rubble.  On my recent trip I got to visit the intact childhood home of one of my intellectual “mothers,” Agnes Robertson Arber, a noted plant morphologist of the first half of the 20th century and the third woman elected to the Royal Society.  I’ve mentioned her in earlier blog posts (1,2) because she wrote two of my favorite books, The Mind and the Eye (1954) on the philosophy of biology including the relationship of art to inquiry, and Herbals: Their Origin and Evolution a Chapter in the History of Botany, 1470-1670 (1938), which is still an important reference in the field.  When I contacted Mark Nesbitt of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew about seeing the economic botany collection (see earlier post), he said that he had recently talked to Xandra Bingley who had inquired about Agnes Arber since Bingley lives in the house into which the Robertsons, Agnes’ parents, moved when she was eleven.  Bingley is a long-time resident but didn’t know about the connection until English Heritage decided to mount a commemorative blue plaque for Arber on the building.  Since I’ve written on Arber (Flannery, 2005), Nesbitt thought Bingley and I should get together.

Xandra invited me to her home for lunch, which lasted well into the afternoon.  She thinks that the location of the house, just steps from Primrose Hill, a park adjacent to Regent’s Park, and the lovely, long narrow garden in the rear must have stimulated Robertson’s interest in plants.  I know that while Agnes Robertson was living there, her father brought home an early edition of Henry Lyte’s English translation of the Flemish botanist Rembert Dodoens’s herbal, because a friend wanted advice on whether to buy it.  In Herbals, Arber writes that seeing the book is what kindled her interest in the history of botanical illustration.  Again, place and plants come together, but in a very different way, and I left Xandra’s house with a better sense of how one of my favorite botanists embarked on her career.  Herbals was Arber’s first book, written while she was also working on plant morphology, and weaving together strands that were to grow stronger throughout her life.

Reference

Arber, A. (1938). Herbals: Their Origin and Evolution a Chapter in the History of Botany, 1470-1670 (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Arber, A. (1954). The Mind and the Eye: A Study of the Biologist’s Standpoint. Cambridge: University Press.

Flannery, M. C. (2005). Agnes Arber in the 21st century. The Systematist, 24, 13–17.

Note: The most fun I had in England was in Xandra Bingley/Agnes Robertson’s home.  I can’t thank Xandra enough for being willing to greet me so warmly and entertain me with such wonderful conversation.

Botanical Britain: Gardens

1a Botanic cottage

Botanic Cottage, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

I’ve just spent a week in Edinburgh followed by one in London and needless to say, visiting herbaria was among my aims.  In future series, I’ll describe some of what I learned, but this series will be more general, about the experience of being in a land that cherishes plants.  Admittedly, autumn is not the best time to visit British gardens especially in a year with record heat and drought.  Still, I saw a number of them that looked wonderful despite these travails.  I was particularly thrilled to be in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), since I had read about it and followed its Twitter feed for some time.  I knew about the rebuilding of the Botanic Cottage and couldn’t wait to see it.  The cottage, completed on May 10, 1766, stood at the entrance to the former site of the RBGE in Leith Walk about a mile from the present garden (see photo above).  When it was threatened with demolition a few years ago, it was moved to the present site with reconstruction completed last year.  My timing again was off, the cottage wasn’t open on the days I was there so I had to settle for seeing it from the outside.  This building adds a great deal to the garden’s atmosphere and made me realize that though we go to gardens to see plants, the structures there can impact experience.

1b Bonsai

Malus bonsai tree at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The same thought struck me a few days later at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  I had visited before, but still it was great to see its pagoda, newly refurbished Temperate Plant House, and Kew Palace, where George III and Queen Charlotte lived during the summer months.  I also discovered a hot house of Bonsai trees including a profusely blooming apple (see photo above).  The long flower beds lining what is called the Broad Walk were spectacular, though more with seed pods than flowers.  My favorite experience was walking through wooded areas of Kew to Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, where she would retreat for quiet time.  It wasn’t open on the day I visited but sitting, looking at its Tudor brick and lumber work and thatched roof was wonderful for someone who only sees later reproduction Tudor architecture at home (see photo below).

1c Charlotte

Queen Charlotte’s Cottage at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Two days later, I was at another famous British garden with a long history, Chelsea Physic Garden.  While Kew has a lot of real estate and can spread out its collections creating long vistas, Chelsea is quite literally stuffed with plants, but in the most engaging way.  It was founded by apothecaries in 1673 as a resource for the profession, and its future was secured by the support of the physician Hans Sloane, who bought the property and permanently leased it to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London for an annual payment of £5.  For 75 years, the society also contributed, at Sloane’s request, 50 herbarium specimens a year (Stungo, 1993).  This herbarium-as-rent was considered evidence that the garden was still being used as originally intended, to grow medicinal plants.  The buildings I found most memorable here were the small hothouses with their brick foundations; these too are full of plants.  Because of its scale, visitors are more apparent at Chelsea than at Kew so there is a more social flavor to the garden giving it a festive touch, especially on a sunny Sunday afternoon as when I visited.

1d Danby

Danby Gate at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden (taken by the author in January, 2014)

The next day I was at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, founded as a physic garden in 1621.  Its most imposing architectural feature is the entry gate (see photo above), named in honor of the Earl of Danby, Edward Danvers whose funded the botanical garden, the oldest in Britain (Harris, 2017).  At the moment, the gate is completely covered in scaffolding, but the rest of the garden is flourishing, with over 8,000 species in a mere 4.5 acres.  Because of its old walls and position on the River Cherwell, it is easy to imagine Jacob Bobart, the elder and the younger, working here.  They were early superintendents of the garden and the younger also taught botany at Oxford, where the herbarium houses his specimens and manuscripts.

1e Wisley

RHS laboratory building at Wisley Garden.

The final garden I saw in Britain is one of four belonging to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).  Wisley is also where the RHS has its herbarium, which I’ll touch on in the next post.  I was lucky enough to have the keeper of the herbarium, Yvette Harvey, lead me to a Franklinia alatamaha in bloom because she thought I would like to see an American plant that had been discovered by John Bartram.  She also pointed out that Wisley is not a botanic garden so it has a different flavor, with more emphasis put on cultivars rather than on systematic botany.  While Kew and Oxford are magnificent, Wisley has a slightly different feel; it seems more about beauty and pleasure.  Yes, the plants are labeled, but the way the garden is laid out to lure visitors further and further into its depths to see more and more extraordinary plants.  There is also great architecture here as well, with the centerpiece being an Arts-and-Crafts style building from the early 20th century that, at least for an American, is a perfect fit for the surrounding garden’s massive herbaceous borders, trellised paths, and a rock garden (see photo above).  In the gardens I was lucky enough to visit, I got at least some hint of why the British are so in love with flowers and how they express that love so beautifully.

References

Harris, S. A. (2017). Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum: A Brief History. Oxford, UK: Bodleian Library.

Stungo, R. (1993). The Royal Society specimens from the Chelsea Physic Garden 1722-1799. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 47(2), 213-224.

Touring the Near East: Ogier Ghiselin Busbecq

 

2 Mattioli lilac

Lilac from Pietro Mattioli’s version of Dioscorides’s herbal, Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Ogier Ghiselin Busbecq (1522-1592) is someone whose name I’ve come across a number of times as I’ve tried to learn about early modern botany.  He is not one of the major figures like Carolus Clusius and Pietro Andrea Mattioli, but he is frequently mentioned in relation to them.  Even though his name isn’t easy to remember, at least for me, I’ve seen it often enough that my curiosity was piqued.  Who was this man, a diplomat and not a botanist, who nonetheless fraternized with the latter and was an avid gardener.  Busbecq was born in Flanders, now part of the Netherlands, but then a province of the Holy Roman Empire (HRE), which was based in Vienna.  He was from a wealthy family that served the Austrian court, and after studying at several Italian universities, he followed suit.  In 1554, the Emperor Ferdinand I named him ambassador to the Ottoman Empire’s Suleiman the Magnificent in Constantinople.  He traveled there with the physician Willem Quakelbeen, also a plant enthusiast.  Busbecq remained in his post for eight years.  His major mission was to negotiate a treaty between the two empires over the border of Transylvania.  He was finally successful after there was a shift in Sulieman’s chief advisor.  Though this might have been important politically, today Busbecq is known more for his role as a distributor of both botanical information and specimens.

While on his diplomatic mission, Busbecq wrote letters to another diplomat, Nicholas Michault and these were later published (Roider, 2005).  He describes his travels and his interactions in Constantinople, but Busbecq also discusses plants.  From the start of his trip, he was impressed by what he saw.  Traveling through Greece in November, he was surprised to see hyacinths, narcissi, and tulips in bloom.  He knew the first two, but tulips were new to him, and he was intrigued.  In The Tulip, Anna Pavord (1999) goes into how Busbecq asked the name of the flower a man had sticking out of his turban, and the man answered with the name of the turban, not the flower, but it stuck.  However, Busbecq may not have been the first person to send tulips back to Europe.  Pavord notes that the first documented bloom was in a Bavarian garden in 1559.  If it were grown from seed, it would have had to been germinated several years earlier to have developed into a flowering bulb.  However, it is known that Busbecq was soon sending seeds and bulbs back to his friends in Europe including Pietro Andrea Mattioli, an Italian who served as physician to HRE elite.  Mattioli had already published a revised version of Dioscorides’s first-century herbal in 1544 and was working on a new edition.  In it, he incorporated the drawings and descriptions of the “many good specimens” Busbecq sent him.  Unfortunately, Mattioli had the habit of discarding specimens after he had taken notes on them, so none of the Busbecq is material known to survive.

Another recipient of Busbecq’s Near Eastern plants was Carolus Clusius, also Flemish, who became head of the Holy Roman Emperor’s botanical garden in Vienna the year before Busbecq left Vienna to return to the Netherlands.  Busbecq gave Clusius tulip seeds and bulbs that he had brought from Constantinople, and Clusius, in turn, distributed them to his large network of botanical enthusiasts.  He also received tulips from other sources.  One of the many women gardeners he knew gave him a rare bulb she had obtained from Turkey.  Later someone involved with the Leiden botanic garden, which Clusius had founded, gave him the only bulb he had of a tulip that bloomed green and then turned yellow.  Clusius was in touch with Jean Robin at the King’s garden in Paris and with Matthias de L’Obel, another Fleming who  lived in London, and a number of gardeners throughout Europe.  It is no wonder tulips proliferated.  This was at the end of the 16th century, suggesting that tulips were already considered valuable.  In fact, Clusius complained of thieves digging up bulbs from his garden (Egmond, 2010), though what became known as “tulip mania” when the price of bulbs inflated fantastically didn’t occur until well into the next century.

Busbecq didn’t confine himself to tulips and is credited with introducing many other plants as well.  Tyler Whittle (1970) writes that in one year Busbecq sent back along with tulips, specimens of the horse chestnut, lilac, mock orange, and the Syrian rose mallow.  He also introduced the Oriental plane tree, iris tuberosa, and the gladiolus.  This explains why gardens were never quite the same after Busbecq.  But there’s another reason to be grateful to Busbecq.  While in Constantinople, he was shown a copy of Dioscorides’s herbal that was produced around 500 CE for the Byzantine Empress Juliana, hence called the Juliana Codex.  It is lavishly illustrated and is one of the treasures of the botanical literature.  Seven years later, it ended up in Vienna, where it still resides in the Austrian National Library, though it isn’t clear if Busbecq himself delivered it to the emperor.  The paintings are amazingly naturalistic and suggest that other early illustrated herbals may have also had such illustrations, though the quality of the drawings deteriorated considerably in the herbals of the Middle Ages and didn’t begin to improve until the late 14th century with such manuscripts as the Carrara Herbal (Blunt & Stearn, 1994).

With my emphasis on plants, I’ve failed to give a sense of all the other wonderful information in Busbecq’s letters on geography, customs, and political intrigue.  They were translated into English in 1633 and are now available on the web.  In the next post, I’ll discuss another traveler to the Near East, with a different purpose but also plant-obsessed, Leonhard Rauwolf.

References

Blunt, W., & Stearn, W. (1994). The Art of Botanical Illustration. Kew, UK: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Egmond, F. (2010). The World of Carolus Clusius: Natural History in the Making, 1550-1610. London, UK: Pickering and Chatto.

Pavord, A. (1999). The Tulip: The Story of a Flower That Has Made Men Mad. London, UK: Bloomsbury.

Roider, K. A. (2005). The Turkish Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, Imperial Ambassador at Constantinople, 1554-1562. Baton Rouge: LSU Press.

Whittle, T. (1970). The Plant Hunters. New York, NY: PAJ.

Libraries and Botany: New York, New York

4 Diospyros virginiana

Specimen of Diopyros virginiana collected from the site of the Elgin Botanic Garden in 1829, New York Botanical Garden Steere Herbarium

Since the joint CBHL/EBHL meeting (see earlier post) was held in New York, it’s not surprising that there were several presentations related to the metropolis.  It seems fitting to end this series of posts with a review of them.  After a welcome from Susan Fraser, director of NYBG’s Mertz Library, the first major speaker of the conference was Eric Sanderson of the Wildlife Conservation Society, headquartered across the street from the New York Botanical Garden, at the Bronx Zoo.  For many years Sanderson has had a leading role in research on what New York was like before Henry Hudson sailed into the mouth of the Hudson River in 1609.  The indigenous people called the large island he found Mannahatta, and that became the name for Sanderson’s endeavor and the title of the book he published in 2009.  Using mapping technology coupled with old maps, historical accounts of the area, specimens collected there in the past, and what is known about the ecology and geology of the island, Sanderson’s team identified 54 different ecosystem types on Mannahatta.  This is a large number for that sized piece of land, and the result of its extensive wetlands along with its varied geological features.  There were also an estimated 600 species of plants.

More recently Sanderson has led an effort to produce the same kind of modeling for New York City’s other four boroughs.  Called Welikia, it too has a website that is still under construction, but includes all the information from the Mannahatta Project.  These are not just interesting exercises in environmental history, they aim at helping the citizens of New York understand the biodiversity that once existed there and how to preserve and nurture as much of it as possible.  It is unlikely that bears will again roam Manhattan, but red-tailed hawks are flourishing (Winn, 1998), and I’ve seen a coyote ambling inside NYBG’s fence as I was stuck in traffic trying to get there.

On the second day of the conference, the botanical illustrator Bobbi Angell presented on the formidable botanical art collection housed at NYBG.  Angell has spent her life creating pen-and-ink drawings to illustrate the scientific work of the garden’s botanists, including many for the seven volume Intermountain Flora: Vascular Plants of the Intermountain West, USA.  The last volume was just recently published (2017) and includes not only some of Angell’s illustrations but biographies of her and other illustrators and botanists who worked on this project that was first envisioned by Bassett Maguire in the 1930s.  There will be more on the editors, Patricia Holmgren and Noel Holmgren, in a future post.

Angell didn’t dwell on her accomplishments, but instead discussed some of the other contributors to the 30,000 pieces in the NYBG art collection.  These include the great French botanical painter Pierre-Joseph Redouté with 10 paintings on linen, but Angell concentrated on 20th and 21st-century artists, including Alexandria Taylor and Frances Horne who did illustrations respectively for Elizabeth Britton and Nathaniel Lord Britton.  Both were distinguished botanists and Britton was NYBG’s founding director.  Angell spoke reverently of artists whom she knew including Anne Ophelia Todd Dowden, who left her finished works to the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation in Pittsburgh, and her working drawings to NYBG, an interesting division.  Then there was Rupert Barneby a self-taught botanist and artist who did research at the garden and became an expert on legumes.   He created his own illustrations until he injured his hand.  Angell ended with a plea for more of the botanical art in library collections to be made available online and a mention of the American Society of Botanical Artists, which has a wonderful journal for members as well as a website on which they can present their work.

The final presentation of the meeting was a public lecture by Victoria Johnson to celebrate the publication of her book, American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic (2018).  She began the book and her talk very effectively by telling the story of how David Hosack, a physician, treated a New York boy dying of fever in 1797.  Hosack had tried everything he could without success, and so decided to lower the boy into warm bathwater with cinchona bark mixed in.  Several of these treatments led to the patient’s recovery and to a tearful thank you from his father.  Johnson then paused, and revealed that the father was Alexander Hamilton.  After this surprise, she went on describe some of what she writes about in her book:  how Hosack trained as a physician in the United States and Britain where he developed an interest in botany, even studying with James Edward Smith the founder of the Linnean Society; how he set up a medical practice in New York, obviously attracting an elite clientele; how he developed a plan to create a botanical garden in the city as a way to nurture, study, and teach about medicinally useful plants.  He used his own money to buy 20 acres of land in what is now midtown Manhattan, but was then over three miles north of the city.  He called it the Elgin Botanic Garden after the Scottish town where his family originated.  He built a wall around the property as well as greenhouses and then bought an impressive selection of plants.

Hosack had a long and successful life as a physician, but his story is definitely bittersweet.  He was the attending physician when his friend Alexander Hamilton was shot in the duel with Aaron Burr (it turns out they both were interested in gardening).  The garden, begun in 1801, was destroyed in the 1820s after it had been bought by New York State and then handed over to Columbia College (now Columbia University) for management.  It was neglected and eventually leased by Columbia as real estate prices in that part of Manhattan started to soar. Eventually, it became the site of Rockefeller Center.  However, to end on a happier note, there are a few Elgin Garden specimens in the NYBG herbarium including Diosyros virginiana (see above).

Note: I would like thank all those involved in the wonderful CBHL/EBHL meeting, particularly Susan Fraser, Kathy Crosby, Esther Jackson, and Samantha D’Acunto.  I am also grateful to the participants from whom I learned so much, to Pat Jonas who nudged me to attend, and to Amy Kasameyer who introduced me to CBHL.

References

Holmgren, N. H., & Holmgren, P. K. (2017). Intermountain Flora: Vascular Plants of the Intermountain West, U.S.A (Vol. 7). New York, NY: New York Botanical Garden.

Johnson, V. (2018). American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic. New York, NY: Norton.

Sanderson, E. W. (2009). Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City. New York: Abrams.

Winn, M. (1998). Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park. New York: Pantheon.