The Herbarium as Publication

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Lower side of Buchwald’s Specimen medico-practico-botanicum in the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection

In this series of posts, I’m exploring the different purposes for which herbaria are produced.  In the last post, I discussed a manuscript that was clearly a presentation piece, a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.  Now I want to examine a few published books that contain specimens.  These are often called exsiccatae, and in many cases, they were produced by plant collectors as a way to sell the specimens they had painstakingly gathered in the field.  Kathryn Mauz (2018) has recently published a chronicle of Cyrus Pringle’s collecting in the Southwest US and in Mexico in the 1880s, and one of the products of that work was series of exsiccatae.  However here I want to look at several other types of such publications.

I went to the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library in Washington, DC expressly to see a 1721 guide to medicinal plants written by Johannis de Buchwald, a botanist, physician to the Danish king, and director of the Copenhagen botanical garden.  The book was originally published in Latin and then translated into German by his son.  A long with a description of the plant and its uses, the Latin name for each is given in one column, followed by columns for common names in Danish, German, and French.  There is space left after this information for a specimen, though not all entries include one.  Both editions were sold with or without plant material attached.  The copy of the translation I saw had specimens, usually rather small because the book itself is only about 7.5 inches high.  The entire volume has been digitized and is available on the Dumbarton Oaks website along with many other treasures, including a number of books on botanical illustration and information on their Plant Humanities Initiative in collaboration with JSTOR.While I had examined the book on the web, I still wanted to take a look at it, to get a sense of its physical presence.  Its thickness made it difficult to open [see image above], so I didn’t want to examine every page, but seeing it made me realize just how well-preserved the specimens are.  In most cases they are still tightly attached to the paper, with only a few missing or damaged.  This volume represents an interesting approach to illustrating a botany book:  letting the plants speak for themselves, perhaps as a way to encourage others to begin their own reference collections.  It can be seen as a forerunner of late 19th-century publications where plants are described and blank pages are left for users to attach examples of species they collected.

Another exsiccatae at Dumbarton Oaks also provided information on the specimens included, but it is a very different kind of book, published in 1790 by George Swayne, identified on the title page as Vicar of Pucklechurch (yes, that is the name of a place in Britain).  In addition he was a member of the Bath Agricultural Society.  Groups like this were common at that time in Britain and were organized to encourage improvements in farming methods.  This book is entitled: Gramina Pascua or A Collection of Specimens of the Common Pasture Grasses.  The plants are arranged in the order of flowering time and are accompanied by their Latin and common English names as well as descriptions that cite agrarian literature of the day.  The book’s dimensions are just the opposite of the Buchwald.  It is almost 19 inches high and has six pages of specimens, with the accompanying text for each specimen limited to a third or half a page.  The paper is of high quality as are the specimens that seem to have been very carefully selected [see image below].  The stems are straight and the flowers complete, obviously picked at just the right moment.  This was a book for wealthy landowners such as the Duke of Gordon who is mentioned on the title page as having Vicar Swayne as his chaplain.

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Page of grass specimens from George Swayne’s Gramina Pascua in the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection

A different type of published exsiccatae is in another superb botanical collection, the Oak Spring Foundation Library which holds the volume I discussed in the last post.  Carl Jeppe’s Herbarium Vivum is a 1826 catalog of 44 grasses available from his nursery.  The Latin name of the species was followed by names in German, French, and English with accompanying descriptions of the grass.  At the end he added specimens of six more species, noxious weeds that were not for sale, but included as a guide for his customers in what to eliminate from their land.  Jeppe apparently wanted to advertise not only his plants but his clients as well:  he lists all those who subscribed to the catalogue.  It came in three formats:  a smaller version without specimens, a larger one with specimens, and what could be called the deluxe edition that included jars of seeds for 40 species.  Jepp notes that his royal highness the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg, not surprisingly first on the list, subscribed to all three editions as did a bookseller in the town of Rostock, home to the nursery.  Another bookstore bought six copies of the catalogue with specimens, suggesting that such herbaria were considered marketable books.  Most of the other individuals listed just bought a single copy of one format.  This is a neat little volume, about 12 inches tall, so it would be useable as a reference work; Jeppe published a second edition nine years later, suggesting his business had flourished.  To me, it indicates yet one more function of herbaria in the past, and particularly in the 19th century where these collections reached the height of their popularity.

References

Jeppe, C. (1826). Herbarium Vivum. Rostock, Germany: Kaufmann and Saamenhandler.

Mauz, K. (2018). C.G. Pringle: Botanist, Traveler, and the “Flora of the Pacific Slope” (1881-1884). New York, NY: New York Botanical Garden Press.

Swayne, G. (1790). Gramina Pascua. Bristol, UK: Bonner.

Note: 

I would like to thank Anatole Tchikine and Taylor Johnson of the Rare Book Room at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library for all their help during my visit.  In addition to the Buchwald book that I requested, they also showed me other wonderful material including the Swayne book.

Orchids beyond Oakes Ames

Watercolor of Phalaenopsis grandiflora by John Day, in the Art Archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

As I’ve investigated Oakes Ames’s passion for orchids in writing the last three posts (1,2,3), I’ve become more interested in these plants myself.  Interested, but not obsessed, which may be the result of a gender bias.  In several items I’ve read, the male-centeredness of orchid fascination is noted.  In The Orchid Thief (1998) Susan Orlean writes that in 19th-century Britain  “the breeders, the botanists, the hunters, and the collectors, were all men.  Victorian women were forbidden from owning orchids because the shapes of the flowers were considered too sexually suggestive for their shy constitutions” (p. 75).  Orlean notes, however, that Queen Victoria herself was an orchid fancier; yet, male bias in the field seems to extend to the present day.  When Jon Dunn (2018) was developing his plan to see all the native orchids of Britain in one year, a female friend said she would be interested to find out how many women he encountered on this pilgrimage.  The answer was not many.

This masculine turn seems to extend to the plant’s very name, which is derived from the Greek word for testicle:  some species have twin tubers that resemble a pair of testes.  Orchid flowers can also be erotically suggestive, though more reminiscent of female rather than male genitalia.  But with over 50,000 orchid species, the flowers are suggestive of many things: monkey faces, insect rear ends, and bird beaks.  They also have a broad range of cultural connotations as discussed in two recent books.  Monsters under Glass (Desmarais, 2018) deals with hothouse flowers, so orchids are well represented.  This is despite the fact that in the mid-19th century, Joseph Paxton upended orchid horticulture when he argued that attempting to grow orchids in a hot, humid environment was fatal to these plants.  Most tropical orchids were epiphytes the grew up on tree limbs where the air was fresher, and also many of them were from mountainous areas.  What they needed was drier and less torrid conditions.  This did the trick.  Increased viability led to a surge in orchid enthusiasm in the latter part of the 19th century.  Still, orchids remained a symbol of the tropics, and of dark, rather forbidding jungles, as Jim Endersby (2016) discusses in his cultural history of orchids.

While Desmarais focuses on the literary, Endersby is more expansive and describes everything from the first image of a New World orchid, Vanilla planifolia, to Raymond Chandler’s (1939) mystery novel, the Big Sleep, that features a sinister orchid fanatic.  Endersby also brings up another notable piece of orchid trivia, James Bateman’s The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala that measured 30 by 22 inches and weighed 39 pounds, the largest botanical book with lithographic plates ever produced.  Many of the illustrations were created from watercolors by Sarah Drake, who was also a long-time artist for another orchid expert, John Lindley.

My favorite orchid painter is John Day, a businessman who eventually retired with enough money to dedicate himself to orchids, growing and breeding many himself.  Producing hybrids was a serious interest among many orchid breeders and remains so to the present day (Orlean, 1998).  They anxiously await the results of their crosses to see what forms and colors appear.  They have to be patient because it usually takes seven years or more for an orchid to grow from seed to flowering.  What makes Day interesting to me is that he produced 53 scrapbooks with 2800 pages of watercolor sketches.  He even got permission from Joseph Hooker to visit greenhouses at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew outside of visitor hours so he could paint undisturbed.  Kew now owns his drawings, which have been on display in one of their galleries (see image above), and there is also a book with many examples of his work (Cribbs & Tibbs, 2004).  I love to leaf through it because the sketches contain notes on the orchids’ characteristics and radiate a passion in the process of being fulfilled.  However, Day must not have considered his art satisfactory because he hired Cornelius Durham, a miniaturist, to paint 300 watercolors of his plants.

In a single post there is no way to do orchids justice.  They have such fascinating properties from luring pollinators by mimicking insect forms to usually having pedicels that twist their zygomorphic flowers in place, with the labellum or lip underneath the other petals.  Then there is the diversity of their habitats; some even live underground, have no chlorophyll, and derive nourishment from the roots of other plants or from fungi (Bernhardt, 1989).  The topic of the relationships between fungi and orchids is wide-ranging; orchids’ miniscule seeds can only flourish with fungal assistance, while other orchids parasitize fungi.  There is almost no subject in plant biology that doesn’t include fascinating information about at least a few orchids.  A recently described Brazilian species has flowers that are less than a millimeter  wide.  And don’t forget that even Charles Darwin wasn’t immune to their charms.  He was yet another 19th-century Victorian man who grew them, experimented with them, and wrote about them.

I’ll end with an orchid expert whose name comes up in many accounts of orchids, including Oakes Ames’s, and that’s Heinrich Reichenbach, one of the most noted orchid taxonomists of the 19th century, with John Day among others sending him plants to identify.  Reichenbach died in 1889, and his will stipulated that his herbarium be closed for 25 years, and only then could it be consulted.  Taxonomists were aghast at this prohibition, an apparent slap at Robert Allen Rolfe, a Kew botanist whom Reichenbach loathed.  In a letter to Blanche while he was on a trip to Europe with his assistants to visit other collections, Oakes Ames wrote of their amusing themselves with an idle discussion about breaking into the Reichenbach herbarium in Vienna.  Needless to say, they didn’t follow through, but Oakes was waiting at the door of the herbarium on the morning the collection finally opened for viewing (Garay, 2007).

References

Bernhardt, P. (1989). Wily Violets and Underground Orchids. New York: William Morrow.

Chandler, R. (1939). The Big Sleep. New York: Macmillan.

Cribb, P., & Tibbs, M. (2004). A Very Victorian Passion: The Orchid Paintings of John Day 1863-1888. London, UK: Thames and Hudson.

Desmarais, J. (2018). Monsters under Glass: A Cultural History of Hothouses Flowers from 1850 to the Present. London, UK: Reaktion.

Endersby, J. (2016). Orchid: A Cultural History. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Garay, L. (2007). The orchid herbarium of Oakes Ames. In Orchids at Christmas (pp. 41–50). Cambridge, MA: Botanical Museum of Harvard University.

Orlean, S. (1998). The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Obsession. New York, NY: Ballantine.

The 18th-Century Passion for Botany: Women

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Paper cutout of Passiflora laurifolia by Mary Delany, in the collection of the British Museum

The last post was on the enthusiasm for gardening that flourished in the 18th century.  One aspect of this trend was the increasing interest in horticulture among women, especially those with the wealth to satisfy it.  A prominent example was Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland (1715-1785).  She was curious about all aspects of natural history and was an prodigious collector not only of animals, plants, and minerals, but also of paintings and the decorative arts.  After her husband’s death in 1762, she devoted more time to bringing exotic plants to the gardens of her estate at Bulstrode Park and learning as much as she could about natural history.  She had impressive collections in conchology, entomology, and ornithology, but I’ll concentrate on the plants.  Bentinck knew Peter Collinson (see last post) and received North American plants from him.  He also suggested that she hire Daniel Solander, Carl Linnaeus’s former student who had recently arrived from Sweden, to arrange her collections according to the Linnaean system.  She may have had massive numbers of organisms, but unlike many other collectors, they were well-organized (Laird, 2015).

Bentinck also hired another émigré, the botanical artist Georg Ehret, not only to paint plants she grew, but also to teach art to her daughters.  Another member of her household was the Reverend John Lightfoot, who served as chaplain and naturalist, giving special attention to her shells and plants.  She financed his collecting in various parts of Britain and took botany lessons from him.  The duchess was obviously more than just a plant lover; she had a sophisticated appreciation of botany, and not surprisingly, kept a herbarium.  In fact, none other than the French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, gave her two portable herbaria.  As I’ll discuss in the last post in this series, he became passionate about botany toward the end of his life, had a herbarium, and created others for patrons such as the Duchess, whom he visited while in England in 1767.

Bentinck was not the only woman with broad intellectual pursuits.  She was loosely connected with the original group of bluestockings, who met to discuss their mutual intellectual interests.  She was particularly close to another member, Mary Delany, also a gardening enthusiast whose knowledge of botany deepened with time.  Delany came from a less wealthy line of nobility, but this still gave her access to royal circles.  She had a dreadful first marriage, and eventually found love and contentment with an Irish clergyman and friend of Jonathan Swift’s.  She developed their garden near Dublin and led a satisfying life until the Rev. Delany’s death in 1768.  Like many women of her time, she took an interest in drawing, and combined with her gardening passion, it’s not surprising that she drew flowers.  Among her accomplishments was the design of floral embroidery patterns including those used on a gown she wore when presented at court.  Though she did needlework, the gown was made by professional embroiderers and precisely displayed about 200 identifiable species (see image below).  It was so magnificent that portions were preserved and passed down through her family for generations (Hayden, 1994).

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Segment of the embroidered court gown designed by Mary Delany

After her husband’s death, Delany spent months at a time visiting Bulstrode Park, working with the Duchess on her plant collections and studying with Rev. Lightfoot.  They would press plants, draw them, and dissect them using a microscope, another not uncommon aspect of botanical interest at the time.  Naturally, they also walked through the gardens regularly, but in 1772, Delany had a sore foot that kept her sidelined.  She occupied her time by coloring pieces of paper and then cutting them out to form pictures of flowers.  These were very much in the tradition of botanical illustrations: a single branch against a plain background, though instead of the usual white, she used black.  They could be likened to herbarium specimens, having more depth and texture than an illustration does.  There are even a couple of cases where she added real leaves to a work.  Delany, and presumably the Duchess, were pleased with her compositions, and so she continued.  Over time the pieces became more elaborate.  At first, she would paint in details, but later she cut out tiny pieces of paper to form minute structures.  One particularly amazing example was used on the cover of a catalogue for an exhibition on Mrs. Delany and Her Circle (Laird & Weisberg-Roberts, 2009).  It presents the passionflower, Passiflora, in all its glory (see figure at top).

During the next 10 years Delaney completed over 900 cutouts, with the Linnaean name for each species written on the back.  When King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte, another devoted gardener, visited Bulstrode, they marveled at Delany’s work and within months she was given access to plants at Kew Gardens.  There the King’s confidante, Joseph Banks, was converting the garden to the study of exotic species.  Delany also received plants from a number of other sources, including the Quaker gardener John Fothergill, a patron of the American nurseryman John Bartram, and William Pitcairn, who sponsored plant collecting in the East and West Indies (Laird, 2015).  Her work is a notable example of how women combined botanical knowledge with the arts.  The next post will focus on the artwork resulting from the passion for plants in the 18th century.

References

Hayden, R. (1993). Mrs. Delany: Her Life and Her Flowers. New York: New Amsterdam.

Henderson, P. (2015). James Sowerby: The Enlightenment’s Natural Historian. Kew, UK: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Laird, M. (2015). A Natural History of English Gardening 1650-1800. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Laird, M., & Weisberg-Roberts, A. (2009). Mrs. Delany and Her Circle. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

The 18th-Century Passion for Botany: Gardens

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Title page of The Gardeners Dictionary (8th ed) by Philip Miller. Biodiversity Heritage Library

One of my favorite botanically flavored books is Andrea Wulf’s (2011) Founding Gardeners about the horticultural pursuits of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.  This book grew out of her earlier study (2009), The Brother Gardeners, which deals primarily with the gardening scene in 18th-century Britain.  This subject is very much tied to North American botanical exploration and to the systematics of Carl Linnaeus, who in various ways has been the subject of my last two series of posts.  The present series deals with the excitement about botany present in the 18th-century, and Linnaeus appears again here.  His classification scheme, fundamentally based on counting the male and female structures in the flower, made it much easier to identify a species.  No longer was a plant lover required to know a great deal of terminology and to sift through a large number of characteristics as the natural systems of John Ray and Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, for example, required.  Linnaeus also corralled nomenclature by christening each plant with a two-word appellation:  genus and species.  Many of us still find the Latin names of plants a challenge, but think what it was like when there was a string of six or more Latin words to designate a species.

Linnaeus does not deserve all the credit for the burgeoning interest in plants at this time.  Paper and books were becoming cheaper and more accessible, and literacy rates were rising so more people had the opportunity to learn about botany.  Philip Miller, the head gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, published the first edition of The Gardener’s Dictionary in 1731 and became a driving force in the popularization of plant information; the book ran to eight editions during his lifetime.  The science of botany was developing as universities like Oxford and Cambridge created botany faculty positions and botanical gardens.  Then there was the surge of new plants coming into Europe from explorations around the world.  While these had been going on since the 16th century, the expeditions became larger and the hunt for new plants better organized.  Each of James Cook’s three voyages around the world involved teams of artists, naturalists, and geographers, most famously on the first trip when Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander collected plants and animals, which were then drawn by Sydney Parkinson (O’Brian, 1993).  The French sent a similar team on the ill-fated La Pérouse expedition, which was followed by a similarly equipped one led by Antoine Bruni d’Entrecasteaux (Williams, 2003), while the Spanish mounted several large, long-term expeditions in the later part of the century (Bleichmar, 2011).

Yet all these sources of plants didn’t seem to be enough to satisfy gardeners.  One problem was that many plants were sent to Europe only as pressed specimens, and often languished between sheets of paper for years, if not for centuries, as was the case with some of the material from the Spanish Sessé and Monciño Expedition (McVaugh, 2000).  There were efforts to send back seeds and seedlings, but these materials often moldered on long voyages or failed to thrive in the European climate.  Still, nurserymen and avid gardeners persisted.  One of the most successful horticultural enthusiasts was Peter Collinson, a British Quaker and textile merchant, who successfully grew such exotics as a North American pitcher plant that had been described a century earlier, but was never induced to flower until he nurtured it (Wulf, 2009).  Collinson was well connected with upper-class gardeners of the day, from his fellow Quaker, the physician John Fothergill, to Lord Bute, one time British Prime Minister and adviser to the young King George III.  While Americans don’t have fond memories of the king, he was an ardent horticulturalist, thanks to Bute and to Joseph Banks, who served as his unofficial botanical adviser in charge of Kew Botanic Gardens.

Collinson linked his horticultural to his business interests by asking his textile customers in the American colonies for help in obtaining New World plants.  His most long-term and fruitful contact was with the Quaker farmer, John Bartram, in Philadelphia.  Once they started to correspond, Bartram began sending seeds, specimens, and cuttings to Collinson.  In turn, Collinson sent Bartram exotics from other parts of the world including the Chinese aster, Callistephus chinensis, which was brought back to France by Jesuits missionaries and from there sent to England, an indication of how seeds wandered around the world (Laird, 2015).  Since Bartram’s botanical knowledge, though growing, was limited, he would make two sets of specimens for each type of seed he sent, using a number code to keep track of them.  Collinson would then identify the specimen, or have someone like the Oxford botanist Johann Jacob Dillenius do so, then send the information back to Bartram who then labeled his sheets accordingly.

Collinson also encouraged Bartram to travel through the colonies to find new species.  This is how the latter and his son William discovered such gems as Franklinia alatamaha.  In Britain, Collinson organized a group of patrons—more than 50 over the years—who paid for boxes of seeds and seedlings from Bartram (O’Neill & McLean, 2008).  The most avid of these was Lord Robert Petre (1713-1742), whose 16-volume herbarium contains many Bartram plants (Schuyler & Newbold, 1987).  Petre planted thousands of Bartram-supplied tree seeds and seedlings, including 900 tulip poplars.  Unfortunately, Petre died young.  His estate was such a rich source of exotic species that other nobles vied to buy plants from his widow, such was the feverish state of British horticultural at the time (Wulf, 2009).  But by the time Bartram died in 1777, American species had become commonplace in Britain and were supplied by British nurserymen.  Bartram’s son, John Jr., who continued the business, then sold mainly to American gardeners who had caught the gardening bug from their former rulers.

References

Bleichmar, D. (2011). Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

McVaugh, R. (2000). Botanical Results of the Sessé and Mociño Expedition (1787-1803). Pittsburgh, PA: Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation.

O’Brian, P. (1993). Joseph Banks: A Life. Boston, MA: Godine.

O’Neill, J., & McLean, E. (2008). Peter Collinson and the 18c Natural History Exchange. Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society.

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

Williams, R. L. (2003). French Botany in the Enlightenment: The Ill-Fated Voyages of La Perouse and his Rescuers. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.

Wulf, A. (2009). The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession. New York, NY: Knopf.

Wulf, A. (2011). Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation. New York, NY: Knopf.

Linnaeus in the Netherlands: George Clifford

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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.

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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.

Natural History in 17th-Century Britain: John Evelyn

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.