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scientists and explorers
Knowing about the people who collected, studied, described, named, and cataloged the plants of an area gives us a better understanding of the history of that area, the relationships among scientists and explorers at that time, the progress of science, and the rigors endured in the quest for knowledge and beauty. The botanists who roamed the American West in the 19th century are an especially interesting group because they collected and cataloged at a time of worldwide enthusiasm for exploration and scientific advancement. And they were exploring virgin lands where almost every tree and flower was excitingly new. Enthusiasm and joy in discovery floods out of their reports, journals, newspaper articles, and books. It was a very heady time for all explorers.
The biographies below also indicate that the botanists were not just "Botanists"; they were intrepid hikers, climbers, campers, geologists, paleontologists, surveyors, and writers. Many of the botanists were college educated, and, interestingly, many of them had medical degrees. Their schooling in the use of plants for medicinal purposes and in the scientific method served them well in their search for new plants and new knowledge.
There was, of course, a financial aspect to collecting plants. Expeditions had to be paid for and explorers' city homes had mortgages. Thus it was common to solicit the assistance of philanthropists, intellectual societies, universities, and gardens to finance trips. It was also common to collect multiple specimens in the field, returning some of these to those who had financed the trip and selling other sets to private collectors, herbaria, and universities.
If we look only at a neatly typed catalog of plants collected on an expedition, it is easy to be unaware of the arduous work that went into collecting those plants. The explorer/botanists were often out for weeks, months, or years at a time, often in unexplored lands, frequently under the threat of starvation, dehydration, and attacks from natives and ruffians. They lived with sunburn, mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, cactus thorns, and lightning. Eleven men froze to death on a Fremont expedition, Douglas was trampled to death, Gunnison and his crew were murdered. These are not unusual cases. Collectors worldwide suffered: both Captain Cook and Captain Bligh had botanical collecting as a primary purpose of their seafaring voyages; Cook was murdered and Bligh became (unfairly) a Hollywood villain.
Lives were lost and collections, too, were lost: it was maddeningly common for specimens of plants, rocks, and fossils, and surveying data to be lost when rains and floods soaked them or pack animals carrying them toppled off mountain ledges, or rats on ships ate them. Much of the Lewis and Clark botanical collection and some journals were lost in the Expedition's river travels. Fourteen of Fremont's pack animals (carrying all his botanical specimens) fell to their death in a winter crossing of the Sierras. Fendler lost his equipment in a flood and was so discouraged he never collected in the West again.
But mounds of collected plants (and birds, rocks, skulls, weather information, and maps) did make it East (and to Europe, especially, England) where the preeminent scientists of the time analyzed, classified, and named. For much of the 19th century (when thousands upon thousands of plant discoveries in the West were made) the botanical taxonomic authorities were John Torrey and Asa Gray in the United States and William and Joseph Hooker (father and son) in England. These men assigned names that described plant characteristics, geographical locations, and plant relationships, or (relevant to our discussion here) honored people who were important botanists, naturalists, and explorers in the West, the United States, or in other parts of the world. Over twenty percent of the plants shown in this web site have a person's name as part or all of their scientific name. (Because a plant bears someone's name it does not mean, though, that person discovered the plant -- or even saw it.) (See also scientific name.)
The people honored in plant names have also been honored in other ways. Several fourteen thousand foot peaks in Colorado are named for eminent botanists: Gray's Peak (at 14,274 the 9th highest peak in Colorado) and Torrey's Peak (at 14,267 the 11th highest peak in Colorado); the Stansbury Mountains of Utah honor Howard Stansbury; birds carry their names (Lewis' Woodpecker, Clark's Nutcracker, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Townsend's Solitaire); and towns, rivers, lakes, and canyons honor them: Fremont, Gunnison, Lewis, Powell.
Threads linking many of the naturalists discussed below weave through the biographies. Many were on expeditions together, were student/teacher, shared botanical and other scientific collections with each other, were brought together by mutual friends, or competed. Two threads that I particularly enjoyed following were the relationships with Charles Darwin and membership in the National Academy of Sciences.
It is fascinating to read about the reaction of major 19th century botanists to the publication in 1859 of Darwin's The Origin of Species. Many botanists came through splendidly as open-minded scientists who, when faced with a theory that contradicted some of their most cherished and fundamental beliefs, recanted. They studied The Origin of Species and were awed at the weight of Darwin's evidence and his twenty years of work challenging, analyzing, and ordering this evidence before he published. Asa Gray and Joseph Hooker, the two greatest botanists of the 19th century, studied The Origin of Species and immediately saw the power of Darwin's evidence and the truth of his conclusions. See the entries for Gray and Hooker for details.
Another thread to follow through the following biographies is about the formation of the National Academy of Sciences by an act of Congress signed into law by President Lincoln in 1863. Four botanists, George Engelmann, Asa Gray, John Newberry, and John Torrey, all of whom have biographies in this web site, were chosen by Congress to be among the fifty charter members of the Academy.
The National Academy of Sciences was soon called on by Congress to settle a complex and contentious question about the administrative guidance for the exploration of the West. The numerous survey parties which detailed the topography, climate, botany, and resources of the West were primarily conducted by the United States Corps of Topographical Engineers. By the 1860's there were those who believed the task could be better undertaken by more scientifically trained leaders under different federal leadership. The issue was turned over to the National Academy of Sciences for study and a recommendation to Congress.
The Academy's report urged that the various surveys sponsored by the military under the leadership of Stansbury, Gunnison, Fremont, Hayden, and others be ended and that a new agency, The United States Geological Survey, within the Department of the Interior, be created. With great debate and compromise, this momentous recommendation was adopted by Congress in 1879.
The members of the National Academy of Sciences are "dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare". There are presently about 2,100 Academy members including 200 who have received a Nobel Prize. See The National Academy web site.
Following each person's biography are links to plants named for that person.
Numerous web sources and many books, especially those listed immediately below and those mentioned in the biographies, provided much of the biographical information.
Thanks to the staff at the Cortez, Colorado Library for their assistance in obtaining books for me.
Allioni, Carlo, 1725-1804: Italian physician, professor, and botanist. Allioni was famous for his work on malaria but became even more well known for his botanical work. Allioni was a strong supporter of the Linnaean taxonomic system. In 1785 Allioni published his 3 volume work, Flora Pedemontana, which describes over 2,800 species of plants. Allionia incarnata
Amson, John, 1698~1763: Physician, Mayor of Williamsburg, Virginia from 1750 to 1751, and an associate of the famous botanist John Clayton. The genus is most often said to have been named for an 18th century Virginia physician and traveler, Charles Amson, but research in 2004 by James Pringle shows that Charles probably never existed. Pringle traces the history of the first collected species of this genus, the variety of names given to the plant, and the confusion about the source of the genus name, which Pringle clearly establishes as John Amson, though we know very little about John. See SIDA. Amsonia tomentosa
Assisi, Saint Francis, 1181/1182–1226: Catholic friar and preacher who founded the Franciscan Order and assisted in founding other Orders. He remains one of the most venerated Christian religious figures. St. Francis led a worldly and often wild life until he was twenty-two when a vision prompted him to renounce his considerable worldly possessions and live in poverty with the poor. St. Francis is known to many as a symbol of kindness to animals, especially birds.
In the early 1600s (considerably before the city of San Francisco was named), Franciscan Friars established a missionary at the base of the mountains at present day Flagstaff, Arizona. The Friars gave the name "San Francisco" to the peaks to honor their Patron Saint, San Francis of Assisi. The Peaks are, of course, known by many other names to Native Americans. Mertensia franciscana
Bahi, Juan Francisco, 1775-1841: Professor of Botany at the University of Barcelona in the 19th century. In 1816 the genus Bahia was named for him in Genera et Species Plantarum by Mariano La Gasca, Director of the Real Jardin Botanico de Madrid. Amauriopsis dissecta
Bailey, Vernon Orlando, 1864-1942: Chief Field Naturalist with the Bureau of Biological Survey, United States Department of Agriculture from 1890 to 1933. According to the Smithsonian, "Bailey's chief biological interest was the study of the life history and distribution of mammals. During his career with the Biological Survey, he made field investigations throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico, including intensive biological surveys of Texas, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oregon. His bibliography numbered 244 titles and included scientific monographs, as well as publications for the general reader". Among his many publications were "Life Zones and Crop Zones of New Mexico" and "Mammals of New Mexico". Yucca baileyi
Baker, Charles Fuller, 1872-1927: Botanist, entomologist, Professor of Agronomy and Agriculture, Assistant Entomologist with the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station in Fort Collins. Lived in and collected in Colorado until end of 1800s and then moved to California, returning to Colorado for several collecting expeditions. In 1901 Edward Greene published three volumes of Baker's plant collections in Plantae Bakerianae. Baker's 100,000 specimen sheets were left to Pomona College. Oreoxis bakeri Phacelia bakeri
Barbey, William, 1842-1914: Swiss philanthropist, botanist, and student of Epilobium. Delphinium barbeyi
Barton, Benjamin Smith, 1766-1815: Physician, Professor of Botany at the University of Pennsylvania, author of Essays Towards a Materia Medica of the United States (1798-1804) (the first book on American medicinal plants) and The Elements of Botany (1803) (the first American botany textbook). Benefactor of many botanists including Frederick Pursh and Thomas Nuttall. Jefferson held Barton in such high regard that he asked him to teach the latest botanical collecting techniques and taxonomy to Meriwether Lewis prior to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. See the entries for Pursh, Nuttall, Lewis, and McMahon for more details about Barton and these important times for the beginning of American botany. See also David Townsend.
Bertero, Carlo, 1789-1831: Italian physician and highly accomplished and respected botanist who collected plants for many years in the West Indies and Columbia (1817-1821) and Chile (1827-1831). Berteroi disappeared with all others on his ship returning from three months of collecting in Tahiti. Osmorhiza berteroi
Bessey, Charles Edwin, 1845-1915: Student of Asa Gray, Professor of Botany at Iowa State in Ames, Iowa, until 1884 and then acclaimed botanist at the University of Nebraska until his death.
Bessy began teaching horticulture, botany, and zoology at Iowa State in 1870, the year after the college opened. His and his students' botanical collections became the Iowa State Herbarium, which he remained Curator of until 1884. (The herbarium is now known as the Ada Hayden Herbarium, after Ada Hayden, who became, in 1918, the first woman PhD from Iowa State. She became Professor of Botany at Iowa State in 1920 and remained at Iowa until her death in 1950 by which time she had increased the herbarium size to over 250,000 specimens). Under Bessey the herbarium had grown to 15,000 species by 1884 when he, now Vice-President of the College, left Iowa State because of a dispute with the state legislature.
Bessey eventually became Chancellor of the University of Nebraska and a great collector of Nebraska and Colorado plants. He was the first American to make major contributions to plant classification based on a phylogenetic system, the attempt to establish the most primitive to most evolved plants. Bessey was known for his contributions to botanical education: he made laboratory work a standard part of his botany courses and wrote several botanical texts that were widely used for decades. Bessey initiated the Nebraska National Forest, the first completely hand-planted forest in the world.
Bigelow, John Milton, 1804-1878: Physician, botanist, professor, and member of several Western expeditions in the New Mexico area. Participated in the 1850-1852 "Mexican Boundary Survey" which produced over 2,500 botanical specimens. Bigelow was also a member of the Whipple 1853 explorations for a southern rail route. The Whipple expedition artist, Baldwin Mollhausen, described Bigelow as
Though Bigelow discovered new genera, no genus was named for him, for the genus name Bigelovia had already been assigned by De Candolle to honor Dr. Jacob Bigelow, who in 1814 published Florula Bostoniensis, a list of the plants growing in the vicinity of Boston. Florula was revised and expanded in 1822 and most notably in 1848. Of this book Henry David Thoreau said, "My first botany... was Bigelow's "Plants of Boston and Vicinity". It was either this Boston flora or Jacob Bigelow's American Medical Botany, published 1817-20, that for decades was carried into the field by Thoreau -- along with North American Sylva by Michaux.
John Milton Bigelow became Professor of Botany at Detroit Medical College in
1860 and in 1868 he was appointed surgeon to the Marine Hospital. Read more about Bigelow.
Boecher, Tyge, 1909-1983: Danish botanist. Studied the flora of Greenland. Boechera holboellii & Boechera perennans & Boechera pulchra Boechera drummondii
Brack, Steven and Linda. Highly respected plant propagators, naturalists, Cactus experts, and 40 year owners of Mesa Gardens Nursery in Belen, New Mexico. Sought out as speakers and for their native and horticultural plant expertise. See the Albuquerque Journal and Los Angeles Times. Sclerocactus cloveriae subspecies brackii
Brandegee, Townshend Stith,
The Brandegees are honored in the names of about 120 plants in the U.S.; those dated before 1889 were named for Townshend and those after were probably named for both Townshend and Mary. Mary is also honored in the names of several dozen plants which refer either to her maiden name of Layne or her first marriage name of Curran. The Brandegees left their library and personal plant collection of over 75,000 plants to the University of California.
Trifolium brandegeei is a lovely, hot pink Pea that Townshend Brandegee was the first to collect; it is the only plant in this web site named for him. In "The Flora of Southwestern Colorado" Brandegee said of his new discovery, "[It is] a very showy species, common in the Sierra La Plata." It is still very showy and still common in the La Platas.
Brewer, William, 1828-1910: "Principal Assistant, in charge of Botanical Department" on the Whitney Geological Survey of California (1860-1864), Chair of Agriculture in the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale, 1865-1903. Wrote Up and Down California in 1860-1864; The Journal of William H. Brewer (available online at the Library of Congress American Memory). Co-author with Sereno Watson and Asa Gray of the first flora of California, the 1876 report of the botanical work of the 1860-1864 Whitney Survey and the King Survey of 1867-1869. Click to read his biography of Sereno Watson. Member and President of the National Academy of Sciences. Navarretia breweri
Brickell, John, 1749-1809: Savannah Georgia physician and botanist who came to the U.S. in 1770 from Ireland. Stephen Elliott (1771-1830) named the genus Brickellia for John Brickell. In Elliott's Sketch of the Botany of South Carolina and Florida, Elliott (a Georgia amateur botanist and later Professor of Botany, legislator, banker, and writer) says of the Brickellia plant, "I have named it in commemoration of Dr. John Brickell, of Savannah, who at one period of his life paid much attention to the botany of this country, and made known to Dr. Muhlenberg, Fraser, and others, many of the undescribed plants." (Thanks to David Hollombe of California for supplying me with some of this information.)
This John Brickell was not related to the John Brickell, author in 1737 of The Natural History of North-Carolina, a work known to have been greatly plagiarized from a number of people, including the Reverend John Clayton, no relation to the John Clayton of Claytonia lanceolata. Unfortunately, the modern, very nice, and widely circulated book Shrubs and Trees of the Southwest Uplands, published by the Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, indicates that John Brickell (1749-1809) wrote the plagiarized book and incorrectly gives the date of publication as 1787. Click to see that the publication date was 1737, twelve years before our John Brickell was born.
Carruth, James Harrison, 1807-1896: Yale graduate, taught, preached, moved in 1856 to Kansas from Massachusetts. Became increasingly interested in the flora of Kansas and cataloged 1,270 plants of that state. Taught botany, presented papers before the Kansas Academy of Science. In a series of 1880 brief biographies of the Yale class of 1832, it was said of Carruth that "Except a throbbing in the head, immediately consequent upon too close application to botanical studies in 1876, he is well, and can handle a flail, or a hoe, as well as he could fifty years ago, and can easily walk twenty miles in a day." Artemisia carruthii
Castillejo, Domingo,1744-1793: Spanish botanist and Professor of Botany in Cadiz, Spain. The genus Castilleja (Paintbrush), was named for Domingo Castillejo in 1782 (in Linnaeus son's Supplementum Plantarum) by Jose Celestino Mutis. Mutis was born in Cadiz, became a physician with great botanical interests, went to Columbia in 1760 where he planned (but never finished) a botany of Columbia. Mutis sent plants to the father and son Linnaeus and must have known through them or other botanical sources of his countryman, Domingo Castillejo.
There are, according to Intermountain Flora, about 200 species of Castilleja, most growing in western North America, several in eastern North America and Asia, and about fifteen in Central and South America. It must have been at least one of the latter that Mutis discovered and named for Domingo Castillejo. Castilleja chromosa Castilleja haydenii Castilleja integra Castilleja linariifolia Castilleja liniata Castilleja miniata Castilleja occidentalis Castilleja rhexiifolia Castilleja septentrionalis
Chamisso, Louis Charles de (Ludolf Karl von), 1781-1838: German poet and naturalist. Naturalist on Kotzebue's 1815 voyage. He is noted for having conducted the first complete western North America botanical profile, which included the San Francisco Bay area. See Romanzoff and Eschscholtz.
Clark, William, 1770-1838: Co-leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. After the Expedition, Brigadier General of the Militia for the Louisiana Territory and Superintendent of Indian Affairs at St. Louis. Supervised publication of Nicholas Biddle's 1814 compilation of Lewis and Clark's journals of the Expedition: History of the Expedition under the Commands of Captains Lewis and Clark. See Meriwether Lewis.
There are many books and many on-line sources about Lewis and Clark; an excellent on-line starting point is Discovering Lewis and Clark . Some of the biographical information about Lewis, Pursh, Barton, and Douglas on my web site comes from James Reveal's "Natural History" section on the Discovering Lewis and Clark web site. The original specimens collected by Lewis and Clark are now housed in the Herbarium at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. For the most extensive collection of on-line Lewis and Clark documents see the American Journal.
Clayton, John, (1694-1773): Emigrated to Virginia from England in 1715. Clerk to the County Court of Gloucester County, Virginia from 1720 until his death. Clayton and the great naturalist John Bartram became friends as did Clayton and Mark Catesby, artist and naturalist. Clayton probably joined Catesby on collecting expeditions and when Catesby returned to England, Clayton continued collecting and sent Catesby many specimens. Catesby shared these specimens with J. F. Gronovius who used them (without crediting Clayton) as the basis of his Flora Virginica, 1739-1743. Gronovius shared the specimens with Linnaeus. (Sir Joseph Banks (of Captain Cook and Captain Bligh fame) bought the Gronovius-Clayton specimens in 1793.)
James Reveal tells us of Mark Catesby,
Clements, Edith Gertrude, 1874-1971: Botanist, ecologist, botanical artist. Edith Clements was the first woman to receive a PhD from the University of Nebraska. She met Frederic Clements at the University, married, and the two conceived of, initiated, and worked in the "Alpine Laboratory" on Pikes Peak. 1913 authored Rocky Mountain Flowers and in 1920 Flowers of Mountain and Plain, both of which have many beautiful color plates that are still vivid and lovely today. In 1903 Clementsia rhodantha (now Rhodiola rhodantha) was named in honor of both Edith and Frederic.
Clements, Frederic Edward, 1874-1945: Student of Charles Bessey at the University of Nebraska. Professor of Botany at the University of Nebraska and then Minnesota. Originated the plant succession concept. Early in the 20th century established the Carnegie Institution's "Alpine Laboratory" on Pikes Peak where, during eight summers, he, his wife, and many students and co-workers studied the complex interrelationships of all influences (insects, moisture, sunlight, wind, etc.) on alpine plants. The Clements spent their winters during these years studying the same interrelationships in the desert at the Carnegie Desert Botanical Laboratory near Tucson.
In 1914 Clements published Rocky Mountain Flora. Clements wrote seminal ecological works such as Plant Succession: An Analysis of the Development of Vegetation (1916) and Bio-Ecology (1939). In the latter, co-authored with Victor Shelford, Clements argued the importance of studying the "biome", all the plants and animals in a given region. In 1903 Clementsia rhodantha (now Rhodiola rhodantha) was named in honor of both Frederic and Edith.
Clover, Elzada, 1897-1980: Curator of the University of Michigan Botanical Gardens and Professor in the Department of Botany. Specialized in succulents. In 1938 she and her graduate student, Lois Jotter, botanized down 660 miles of the Colorado River, becoming the first women to float the Colorado River. Sclerocactus cloveriae
Collins, Zaccheus, 1764-1831: Philadelphia merchant and eminent botanist. For over 25 years, he was a correspondent with Baldwin, Bigelow, Ives, Nuttall, Torrey, and other esteemed botanists of the time. Collins was a member of the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences and served as its Vice-President. Collinsia parviflora
Constance, Lincoln, 1909-2001: Director of the Herbarium at the University of California, Berkeley; President of the California Academy of Sciences; Dean, Vice Chancellor, and Professor Emeritus at Berkeley; and Apiaceae specialist. Received his Ph.D. from Berkeley where he studied under Jepson. Remained at Berkeley from 1937-1976. Was a trustee of the Jepson Herbarium, founded in 1950 for the study and collection of California flora and helped edit "The Jepson Manual, Higher Plants of California."
Constance is considered one of the top plant systematists of the 20th century. In 1986, he received the Asa Gray Award of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists for "outstanding contributions to systematic botany." He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the California Academy of Sciences, and a member of the Linnaean Society of London and the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences. He served as president of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, the California Botanical Society, and the Botanical Society of America. Cymopterus constancei
Cooper, James, 1830-1902: Physician, naturalist. Geologist with the geological Survey of California. Naturalist with the Pacific Railroad Survey of 1853. Wrote first book on birds of California. (Cooper's Hawk is named for his father.) Collected plants in the Mojave Desert.
Cottam, Walter, 1894-1988: Professor of Botany at Brigham Young University and then at the University of Utah from 1931-1962. Founded the Brigham Young University and University of Utah herbaria. Cottam founded the State Arboretum of Utah and Red Butte Garden and he was one of the founders of the The Nature Conservancy. Cottam was one of the early ecologists and, from the 1940s on, he published papers and spoke often about land degradation caused by cattle and sheep; he warned that these animals would lead to the desertification of Utah. Cottam was well known for his work on hybrid Oaks. Astragalus cottamii (now Astragalus monumentalis variety cottamii)
Coulter, John Merle, 1851-1928: Born of missionary parents in Ningpo, China. Came to Indiana when two years old. Received his PhD in 1883 from Indiana University. From 1871-1879 was Professor of Natural Sciences at Hanover College. During the field seasons of 1872-1875 Coulter served as the Assistant Geologist and Botanist to the United States Geological Survey in the Rocky Mountains (the Hayden Survey). In his lifetime he became a revered Professor, a prolific researcher and writer, President of Indiana University, President of Lake Forest College, and Professor of Botany and Head of the Botany Department (1896-1926) at the University of Chicago.
Porter published the first Colorado flora, Synopsis of the Flora of Colorado (click the title to read the Synopsis). See Porter
Coulter was the founder of the "Botanical Gazette" and its editor for half a century. He was a member of the American Association of University Professors; the Indiana, Illinois, and Chicago Academies of Science; the Botanical Society of America; and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (where he served as President). He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1909.
Coulter's renown was such that around 1923 he was
Coulter's advice provided strong guidance to N. Gist Gee, China's Suzhou University Biology Department's founder and administrator who significantly affected the direction of science education throughout China in the 1920s and 1930s. (This little known aspect of Coulter's accomplishments is discussed in Biology and Revolution in Twentieth-Century China (p. 68) by Laurence Schneider, my brother.)
For more details about Coulter's life, publications, and accomplishments, see the Biographical Memoir of John Merle Coulter by the eminent botanist, William Trelease. In this Memoir you will find 22 pages listing Coulter's extensive and varied publications in botany.
Click for correspondence between Coulter and George Engelmann.
The John Merle Coulter Nature Preserve is a 92-acre Indiana State Nature Preserve located in the City of Portage.
Crandall, Charles, 1851-1929: Horticulturalist, Professor of Botany and Horticulture and herbarium curator at Colorado Agricultural College (now known as Colorado State University), Professor of Horticulture at the University of Illinois; plant collector. Famous for initiating breeding studies of crosses of various apples to find apples resistant to fireblight, scab, and powdery mildew. Crandall's crosses of Rome and Malus floribunda 821 apples formed the basis of 20th century apple breeding. Penstemon crandallii
Cronquist, Arthur, 1919-1992: Taxonomist, Asteraceae expert, and one of greatest botanists of the 20th century. Worked most of his career at the New York Botanical Garden. Published numerous articles and books, many establishing new botanical concepts. His taxonomic overview was The Evolution and Classification of Flowering Plants in 1968. In 1981 he published, An Integrated System of Classification of Flowering Plants, a work setting forth a revised system of plant classification which eventually was adopted by major botanical projects including the Jepson Manual (1993) and the Flora of North America. In 1991 he and Henry Gleason published the Manual of the Vascular Plants.
Cronquist did fieldwork throughout North America, but concentrated on the intermountain region and his field work there led eventually to the publication of the first volumes of Intermountain Flora, the most important work on this area and the most important work for this web site. The eighth and final volume was published in 2012.
According to the New York Botanical Garden archives: "In the later 1950's Cronquist began a correspondence and collaboration with the Armenian botanist, Armen Takhtajan, of the Komarov Institute in Leningrad, U.S.S.R. His work with Takhtajan and associate biologists at the Komarov proved a critical stimulus in the development of his synthetic projects in general botanic systems. During his association and friendship with Takhtajan, Cronquist studied and became proficient in Russian, visited the (then) Soviet Union on several occasions, and promoted scientific exchanges between the two countries."
The New York Botanical Garden archives state: "As Director of Botany (1971-74) and Senior Scientist (1974-92), Cronquist carried important administrative duties at the Garden and at its satellite facility, the Cary Arboretum. During this time he also held faculty appointments at Columbia University and the City University of New York, where he served on the Executive Committee on Biology. His many professional affiliations included the American Society of Plant Taxonomists (president, 1962); the Botanical Society of America (president, 1973); the International Association of Plant Taxonomy (council member); and the Torrey Botanical Club (president, 1976). Professional awards and honors included the Leidy Medal of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia (1970); honorary vice-president of the XII International Botanical Congress, Leningrad (1975); the Asa Gray Award (American Society of Plant Taxonomists (1985); and the Medal for Botany, Linnean Society of London (1986)."
"Arthur Cronquist was known for his towering physical stature, tall tales, and congeniality as well as for his commanding position as a botanist and educator. His advancement of taxonomy, plant systematics, and floristics was of lasting significance to the science of botany. He died on March 22, 1992 while studying plant specimens in the herbarium of Brigham Young University in Utah."
Cutler, Hugh Carson, 1912-1998: Anthropologist, botanist. Received his Ph.D. in botany from Washington University in St. Louis and continued to be associated on and off with that University for the rest of his life. Curator of economic botany at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and with the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. Originated the MBG Systematics Symposium in 1954. Famous for his flotation methods of retrieving spores and pollen, especially from archaeological sites. Was a devoted student of plants of the Southwest U.S.
Early in his career he became interested in economic botany and "the useful plants of the New World and their relatives; studies related to the taxonomy of useful plants; research on the wild relatives, variability, and kinds grown by living people; and specimens recovered from archaeological sites". (Cutler's words in his 1964, Career Statement. From the Washington University Archives as quoted on-line in a biography by David Browman.) Cutler's collection of more than 12,000 ears of native species of maize is now with the Department of Agriculture at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Asclepias cutleri Ephedra cutleri
Dale, Samuel, 1659-1739: British botanist, physician, and gardener. He wrote, Pharmacologia, seu manuductio ad materiam medicam in 1693. Dale's herbarium is preserved in the British Museum, and his labeling of the specimens shows great care to detail. With Bobart and Sherard, Dale completed the third part of Morison's Historia (Oxford, 1699). Dalea candida variety oligophylla
Daniels, Francis Potter, 1869-1947: PhD from the University of Missouri, Professor of Romance Languages at Wabash and Georgia State Colleges, botanist. Spent one (or several) summers teaching at the University of Colorado and collected extensively and successfully for the University of Missouri, publishing in 1911 with respected scientist T. D. Cockerell, Flora of Boulder, Colorado, and Vicinity. Was Assistant Curator of the National Herbarium for a short time. Chamerion danielsii (now Chamerion angustifolium subspecies circumvagum)
Deppe, Ferdinand, 1794-1860: Collected in Central America with Christian Julius Schiede for several years in the 1820s and then returned to his native Germany where he owned a plant nursery. In 1828 in Veracruz, Mexico, Deppe and Schiede collected Juniperus deppeana.
Descurain, Francois, 1658-1740: French botanist and pharmacist. Descurainia incana, obtusa, and sophia
Dillenius, Johann, 1684-1747: Noted German physician and mycologist. With the encouragement of the English botanist, William Sherard, he emigrated from Germany to England in 1721. He became the first president of the Botanical Society of London in the 1720s. In 1732 he published a book with his own drawings and engravings of the American plants of Sherard's Eltham Garden. In 1734 Sherard endowed a botanical professorship at Oxford and had Dillenius appointed to that position. Dillenius held this chair until his death. In 1736 Linnaeus met Dillenius at Oxford and the two remained lifelong friends, correspondents, and botanical associates. Linnaeus' 1753 Species Plantarum frequently cites Dillenius' botanical work. Oxalis dillenii
Douglas, David, 1799-1834: Scottish explorer and botanist. Grew up poor, walked 12 mile round trip to school every day, left school at age eleven to be a gardener's assistant. Rose steadily and quickly in the estimation of all he worked with and in 1820 was hired by the Glasgow Botanic Garden to work under William Hooker. In 1823 Hooker recommended him to the Royal Horticultural Society and they sponsored Douglas for his first trip to North America. During his six months there he met Torrey and Nuttall, examined some of Meriwether Lewis' specimens, and collected extensively in the eastern United States and Canada. The Society report of his travels stated that the "mission was executed by Mr. Douglas with a success beyond our expectations."
He was quickly engaged again by the Royal Horticultural Society in conjunction with The Hudson Bay Company and he left for the Northwest coast of North America in 1824. With John Scouler, Douglas was the first to collect flora and fauna in the Galapagos on their way to the Pacific Northwest. Most of the collection was lost but "Sir Joseph Hooker cited thirteen Galápagos plants gathered by Scouler and five from Douglas in a paper he published on Darwin in 1847". (ABC Bookworld)
From 1825-1827 Douglas traveled thousands of miles by foot, horse, and canoe in the West: from April to December of 1825 he traveled 2,100 miles, in 1826 he traveled 4,000 miles, in 1827 he left the Pacific coast and traveled 3,000 miles to Hudson Bay and from there sailed home. (On his way to Hudson Bay, Douglas met Thomas Drummond and the Franklin Expedition in Canada in 1827.) Through these years and thousands of miles, Douglas was an intrepid botanizer, searching, climbing, crawling, digging, collecting, studying, pressing, and drying and re-drying after soaking rivers and rains. His miles of travel in 1825-1827 took him -- often only in the company of an Indian guide/interpreter -- up the Columbia, back to the coast, to California, back to British Columbia, up the Columbia River to the Rockies, and back to the coast. He was almost always in areas no Westerner had ever been. He was wrecked in canoes, thrown into a river by his horse, lost collections and went back for more, slogged through deep snows to reach alpine plants, slept many nights with no shelter, faced Indian hostilities a number of times, was next to starvation, but he continued to collect and collect. The months on end of living in wilderness, said Douglas, were "looked upon by me with a sort of dread. Now I am well accustomed to it so much that comfort seems superfluity." (From Lemmon. See end of the Douglas section.)
Douglas brought large collections of plants and seeds home with him from this trip, but he had also shipped many extensive collections home over the years from the Pacific coast. When he arrived in England his reputation was already established and he was treated as a hero. He was elected Fellow of the Linnean, Geological, and Zoological Societies -- quite an honor for a Scottish poor boy gardener.
He returned to the Pacific coast in 1829 again under Hudson Bay patronage, spent several years botanizing up the Columbia, southward into California, to Hawaii, back to Fort Vancouver and the Columbia area, and then again to Hawaii in 1833. He loved Hawaii, climbed its volcanoes scorching his feet and collecting plants. On July 12th 1834 he set off with his terrier to explore Mauna Loa, one of the two huge volcanoes on the Island of Hawaii. Douglas never returned from this trip; he fell into a pit (an animal trap) and was trampled to death by a steer that had previously fallen in. We don't know how the accident happened but we do know that Douglas' vision had been damaged on his snowy expeditions along the Pacific Coast and in Canada and it is quite possible that he did not see the pit that cost him his life -- or perhaps he saw the pit and slipped in when he curiously looked into it.
From his travels, Douglas introduced to Britain over two hundred plants (including many Pines and Firs) that were widely planted as ornamentals and plantation crop trees. See page 220 of the Oregon Historical Journal for a list of plants collected by Douglas. Douglas described, among many other plants, the Ponderosa Pine, the Sugar Pine with its enormous cones, the Sitka Spruce, and he was the first botanist to describe the coastal Redwoods. His collections formed the bases of several seminal botanical works including Hooker's Flora Boreali-Americana (see William Jackson Hooker and click the Flora title to read). He was the first to collect Purshia tridentata and Erigeron speciosus. Three plants on this web site are named for Douglas: Chaenactis douglasii, Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Cicuta douglasii.
For an enlightening, intriguing, eye-opening, mind-boggling view into the complexities and vagaries of the naming of plants, see James Reveal's excellent discussion of "Douglas Fir" on the Lewis and Clark web site.
For the riveting story of Douglas and other explorers in Britain's world-wide quest for plants from 1768-1836, see Kenneth Lemon's The Golden Age of Plant Hunters. Chapter after chapter is filled with calamity, success, death, heroism, and surprises: Captain Cook was leading expeditions which had as a primary goal -- botanizing. Botany Bay was named by Joseph Banks on a Cook expedition. Captain Bligh's voyage on the Bounty met with catastrophe in large part because of the rigors of botanizing. From China to Tahiti to California to Brazil to Africa and India, the British were around the world collecting plants for their gardens and meals. During the reign of King George III (1761-1820) it is estimated that nearly 7,000 new species were brought to England from around the world.
Click to read, David Douglas, A Naturalist at Work.
Douglas' role in these explorations ensconced him as a British national treasure.
Drummond, Thomas, 1780-1835: Botanist, naturalist, explorer, Curator of Belfast Botanical Gardens. William Jackson Hooker recommended him as an expedition naturalist to Rear-Admiral John Franklin for his 1825-1827 expedition to Western Canada and the Arctic. Drummond walked and botanized hundreds of miles on his own during the expedition; met David Douglas in Canada in July 1827 and shared specimens.
Drummond gained widespread respect for his collections of birds and plants on the Franklin Expedition. Drummond made a second trip to America, 1830-1835: in 1830 he collected specimens from the American Southwest and in Texas alone he collected 750 species of plants and 150 specimens of birds -- the first Texas collections distributed to scientists. Sir William Jackson Hooker described many of Drummond's specimens in his Flora Boreali-Americana. (Click the title to read.) Click for more biographical information about Drummond. Also see John Richardson. Boechera drummondii
Eastwood, Alice, 1859-1953: Denver high school teacher, plant collector, author of the first flora of a local area of Colorado: A Popular Flora of Denver, Colorado (circa 1893), and renown California botanist. Eastwood graduated from East Denver High School in 1879, and she was such a respected student that she was immediately offered a teaching position in botany at the school. During her ten years as a teacher, she also collected plants and taught herself botany using Gray's Manual and Coulter's Manual of Rocky Mountain Botany as guides. Eastwood invested her salary wisely in Denver real estate and by 1889 was able to quit teaching and devote herself to botany.
Her fame in Denver as a teacher, naturalist, and botanist brought British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace to her for guiding into the nearby mountains, especially Gray's Peak. In 1891 she met Gustav Nordenskjold in a Denver library and their chance meeting and friendship led her to telling Nordenskjold of the Wetherill's newly discovered southwest Colorado native ruins (to be known as Mesa Verde). Eastwood wrote a letter of introduction to the Wetherills for Nordenskjold and thus began a major chapter in the archaeology of Mesa Verde. Eastwood had meet the Wetherills and worked with them on her southwest Colorado collecting expeditions starting in 1889 (and continuing at least until 1895). She collected plants as the Wetherills dug. As pots, sandals, and clothing were uncovered, Eastwood worked to identify the plants from which they were made and she was thus one of the first paleoethnobotanists.
In 1891, after reviewing Eastwood’s collection in Denver, Mary Katharine Brandegee, Curator of the Botany Department at the California Academy of Sciences, invited Eastwood to assist in the Academy’s Herbarium. Eastwood's botanical prowess so impressed Brandegee that in 1892 Eastwood was offered a position as joint Curator with Katherine Brandegee and when Brandegee retired in 1894, Eastwood was made Curator and Head of the Department of Botany, positions she retained for 55 years until her retirement in 1949. (See John Thomas Howell).
In the 1940s, the herbarium at the University of Colorado acquired over 1,400 specimens from Eastwood's early collections and these, according to William Weber, were the real beginning of the University of Colorado herbarium.
In California, Eastwood collected widely on numerous trips, named over 100 California plants, published over 300 articles, mentored numerous budding botanists, risked her life to save some of the most precious specimens in the Herbarium during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire and then rebuilt the Herbarium collection to over 300,000 species.
Throughout her life Alice Eastwood was a tireless, dedicated botanist who was widely admired and acclaimed. She received praise of the highest order from such eminent fellow botanists as Mary and Townshend Brandegee, Marcus Jones, and Willis Jepson. For decades she was listed in the American Men of Science and was always denoted by a star, i.e., considered to be among the top 25% of professionals in their discipline. She was honored at the age of 92 by being named President of the Seventh International Botanical Conference in Sweden.
(Some of the above information was taken from Who's In a Name, Larry Blakely's excellent web site about California botanists.)
Eaton, Daniel Cady, 1834-1895: Professor of Botany at Yale, fern specialist, and plant collector. Grandson of Amos Eaton, famous science educator. Collected with the King Expedition in Utah. Mentor to Sereno Watson. Left his large collection of plants to Yale. Erigeron eatonii, Penstemon eatonii Cirsium eatonii variety hesperium
Encel, Christopher, 1517-1583: German naturalist, who, according to Stephen Jay Gould ("Drawing a Gloriously False Inference"), "introduced the novel practice of drawing [pictures of natural history] specimens". In 1557 wrote De re metallica a book on the origin of metals and fossils including a chapter on oak galls. Encelia resinifera
Engelmann, George, 1809-1884: Eminent St. Louis Ob-Gyn physician and botanist. Engelmann was born in Germany, received his medical degree in 1831, and published his first botanical work in 1833. In Europe he was in the company of Agassiz and other eminent scientists, but in 1832 his adventurous spirit brought him to New York, then to the intellectual capital of Philadelphia, and on to St. Louis in 1833. St. Louis was, of course, a starting point for many Western explorations and throughout the next 50 years, Engelmann was sought out by many botanists for his expertise, his support (botanical, financial, and moral), and his connections with Eastern botanists Asa Gray and John Torrey. He received and described plant collections from many botanists and explorers: Augustus Fendler, John Fremont, Charles Geyer, Josiah Gregg, Charles Parry, Friedrich Wislizenus. He, himself, made a number of collecting trips to the eastern United States, through the mid-west, into Colorado, the Southwest, and California.
Engelmann is honored in the name of many plants, especially in one of his favorite areas of expertise, the Cactaceae. According to Dr. Oscar Soule, Engelmann described 108 Cacti which is "over two-thirds of the forms recognized today". All thirteen of the Cactus listed in Coulter and Porter's 1874 Flora of Colorado were named and described by Engelmann.
In St. Louis, Engelmann was chosen by Henry Shaw, wealthy St. Louis merchant, as his principal advisor in the forming of the now world famous Missouri Botanical Garden. Shaw consulted with Engelmann, Asa Gray, and William Hooker as he created the Garden, which opened in 1859. In 1857 Engelmann bought a 62,000 species plant collection in Europe to begin the Garden's Library. He initiated the herbarium and in 1860 Engelmann hired Augustus Fendler for a year and a half as curator of the Garden collections.
Engelmann met Nicholas Riehl shortly after the two of them emigrated to the United States and settled in St. Louis. Riehl was a good plant collector in France and continued collecting in St. Louis. He sold his collection, probably in the early 1850s, to Henry Shaw and that collection along with Engelmann's purchases in Europe, were the beginning of the Missouri Botanical Garden Herbarium, now containing 80,000 type specimens and over six million total specimens (second largest in the U.S. and sixth in the world).
In 1890, after Engelmann's death, his plant collection of 100,000 specimens (including his collection from Colorado) and his personal library were donated to the Garden by his son, Dr. George J. Engelmann. Five thousand of Engelmann's letters and 30 boxes of his botanical notes are also in the Garden's botanical library (considered one of the best in the world).
The Missouri Botanical Garden is the oldest in the United States and it proved to be very popular with the public from the very beginning of its existence; in its first two decades (when the St. Louis population was about 300,000), a million people visited the Garden. Now, with the St. Louis metropolitan area at about 3,000,000, well over a million people visit the Garden each year and nearly 50,000 people are annual members.
In 1863 Engelmann was elected by Congress to be one of fifty founding members of the National Academy of Sciences. Engelmann was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1856 Engelmann was one of twelve founders of The Academy of Science of St. Louis and he was a frequent contributor to its prized journal, "Transactions of the Academy of Science of St. Louis" (which is now available on-line).
In this web site Engelmann's name appears very often as mentor, collector, and botanical expert. Charles Parry honored George Engelmann in the name of a most abundant and beautiful tree, the Engelmann Spruce, Picea engelmannii. Also see Eucephalus engelmannii.
Click the following links for more details about George Engelmann:
"Topics in North American Botany, A Symposium Commemorating George Engelmann" which includes the following two articles:
Correspondence between Engelmann and Gray regarding the founding of the Missouri Botanical Garden
Escobar Zerman, Numa Pompilio and Romulo Escobar Zerman, 1874-1949 and 1882-1946: Mexican agricultural engineers. In Ciudad Juarez in 1906, they founded the Private School of Agriculture, now part of the University of Chihauhau as the Brothers Escobar College of Agriculture. Escobaria missouriensis
Fallugi, V., Abbot, 1627-1707: Italian botanist and Abbot in Vallombrosa, Italy. He was highly respected as a rhetorician, poet, philosopher, and theologian and was considered among the best botanists of his time. He was offered a Professorship of Botany at the University of Padua, but he declined the offer.
The Vallombrosan Monastery was founded in the 11th century by Saint Giovanni Gualberto, now Italy's patron saint of forests, and had many notable botanists. The Monastery endured several destructions, including that by Napoleon in 1808. It was rebuilt in 1815. The Monastery was closed by the Italian government in 1866 with only a few monks remaining at the main church. The Abbey is in the hills about 20 miles from Florence and for several centuries has attracted famous visitors, such as, John Milton, Mary Shelley, William Wordsworth, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Fallugia paradoxa
Fassett, Norman 1900-1954: Professor of Botany at the University of Wisconsin. Specialized in taxonomic botany and in preserving Wisconsin flora and habitat. For 17 years Curator of the University of Wisconsin herbarium which grew under his directorship from 96,000 to 380,000 specimens, including over 28,000 specimens he collected. One of the founders of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists. Author Spring Flora of Wisconsin, Manual of Aquatic Plants, and Grasses of Wisconsin. Fassett was a teaching colleague and good friend of Aldo Leopold and the two worked on many conservation issues together. Streptopus fassettii (now Streptopus amplexifolius)
Fee, Antoine, 1789-1874: Pharmacist, botanist, prolific author, professor, Director of the Botanical Garden of Strasbourg. Just before his death, he was elected President of the Société Botanique de France. He was a cryptogamist (working on ferns, lichens, and fungi) and, among many other writings, published a 7 volume series Essai sur les Cryptogames de écorces exotiques officinales (Essay on the Cryptogams that grow on Exotic Medicinal Barks). Cheilanthes feei.
Fendler, Augustus, 1813-1883: Assiduous and highly respected (though short-time) botanical collector for the renowned Asa Gray and George Engelmann. Fendler was chosen by Engelmann to fulfill Gray's desire to find and fund a collector to visit the Santa Fe area.
In 1844 Fendler met with Engelmann in St. Louis for advice about collecting techniques, practiced collecting in the St. Louis area for a time, was loaned $100 by Engelmann to begin collecting plants in the Southwest, botanized along the route to Santa Fe, and in 1846 began a year of collecting in Santa Fe. He returned to St. Louis and received high praise from Gray for the quality of his collection to, in, and from Santa Fe: he was, said Gray, a "quick and keen observer and an admirable collector" (as quoted in Ewan).
Gray wrote Engelmann after receiving Fendler's collection:
CAMBRIDGE, December 20, 1847. I got a parcel from New York on Saturday evening, containing... a set of Fendler's from Santa Fe, up to Rosaceae. The specimens are perfectly charming! So well made, so full and perfect. Better never were made. In a week I shall take them right up to study, and they are Rocky Mountain forms of vegetation entirely, so I can do it with ease and comfort. It is a cool region that, and dry. If these come from the plains, what will the mountains yield ? Fendler must go back, or a new collector.... All Fendler's collection will sell at once, no fear, such fine specimens and so many good plants. Pity that F. did not know enough to leave out some of the common plants, except two or three specimens for us, and bestow the same labor on the new plants around him. Send on the rest soon. Yours cordially, A. GRAY (From Asa Gray's letters)
TO GEORGE ENGELMANN. CAMBRIDGE, February 29, 1848. . . . Now for Fendler himself. He ought to go back, and without delay. He has gained much experience, and will now work to greater advantage. He makes unrivaled specimens, and with your farther instructions will collect so as to make more equable sets. If he will stay and bide his time he can get on to the mountains, and must try the higher ones, especially those near Taos. Let him stay two years, and if he is energetic he will reap a fine harvest for botany, and accumulate a pretty little sum for himself, and have learned a profession, for such that of a collector now is. Drummond made money quite largely. I had rather Fendler would go north and west than south of Santa Fe. New Spain and Rocky Mountain botany is far more interesting to us than Mexican. (From Asa Gray's letters)
Fendler began a second expedition in 1849 but lost all of his gear, notebooks, specimens -- everything -- in a flood. When he returned to St. Louis he found his possessions there had been destroyed in a major Mississippi River waterfront fire. Dejected and disgusted, he left the United States for a number of years and never returned to collecting in the Southwest. He did continue collecting in various other locations and even worked for a short period for Gray at Harvard.
Fendlera rupicola, Cymopterus fendleri (now Cymopterus glomeratus), Hydrophyllum fendleri,Oxypolis fendleri, Thalictrum fendleri, Euphorbia fendleri, Berberis fendleri, Ceanothus fendleri, Eremogone fendleri, Physaria fendleri, Echinocereus fendleri, Noccaea fendleri subspecies glauca
Forestier, André Robert, 1736-1812: Physician of St. Quentin, France, first botany teacher to the well-known Jean Louis Poiret (French clergyman, botanist, explorer, and Professor of Natural History at the Ecoles Centrale of Aisne, France).
The following information about Forestier and the naming of the genus Forestiera, is from Michael Charter's excellent web site, "California Plant Names":
"The Jepson Manual and other sources such as Umberto Quattrocchi have apparently mistakenly attributed the authorship of this generic name to an early 19th century French physician and naturalist named Charles Le Forestier. However, David Hollombe's researches have indicated otherwise. [Hollombe is a present-day biographical researcher.] A communication from him included the following:
André Robert Forestier, the son of Aimé and Marie, and a native of Paris, was a doctor of medicine and a physician of the town hospice of Saint-Quentin, Aisne, which was Poiret's home town, and he was Poiret's first botany teacher."
Forselles, Jacob H., 1785-1855: Swedish mining engineer. Forsellesia meionandra
Franckenius, Johannes, 1590-1661: Sweden's first Professor of Botany. Wrote about plants and their healing properties. Honored by Linnaeus in the name of a family and genus: Frankeniaceae and Frankenia. Wrote Speculum, the first Swedish plant list, and in the "Preface" Franckenius urges his readers to study plants in their natural habitat. Frankenia jamesii
Fraser, John, 1750-1811: Scottish nurseryman who botanized frequently in the Southern Appalachians from 1786-1807. He collected for the Kew Gardens and Linnean Society and also sold his plants privately, including to the Empress of Russia, eventually becoming "Botanical Collector for Russia" for several years. Frasera speciosa, Frasera albomarginata, Frasera paniculata
Fremont, John Charles, 1813-1890: Teacher and surveyor; student of sciences including mathematics, astronomy, botany, geology, and cartography; military expedition leader; American icon; gold rush millionaire; governor, senator, twice candidate for President of the United States; strong-headed, court-martialed, impoverished, belligerent, American success and failure story.
I have made Fremont's biography lengthy, not because he was a central botanical figure of the nineteenth century (although his collections were numerous and many plants are named for him), but because his life shows so well the relationship of the explorer/scientist/politician to the public, the government, and the botanical world.
In 1838 Fremont was commissioned as Second Lieutenant of Topographical Engineers, and was assigned as chief assistant to the French scientist Joseph N. Nicollet for a survey between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Nicollet tutored Fremont in all aspects of expedition logistics and in the gathering of scientific information. Fremont then went on, between 1842 and 1854, to lead five Western expeditions, traveled over 20,000 miles, mapped large areas of the West, collected over a thousand plant specimens, and inspired a huge wave of pioneers with his reports about the lands his expeditions found. He came to be revered as "The Pathfinder" (although the title should more appropriately have been given to his guide on three expeditions, Kit Carson).
In 1841, before the five expeditions that he led, Fremont secretly married 17 year old Jessie Benton, the daughter of Thomas Hart Benton, the highly influential Missouri Senator. Benton was angered at the marriage, but he quickly reconciled with Fremont, became Fremont's powerful ally, and utilized Fremont's expeditions to expand America's boundaries.
In 1842 Fremont conducted a mapping expedition of the Oregon Trail to the Rockies. (Prior to the trip Fremont had received a quick course in plant collecting and preserving from the eminent George Engelmann and the expedition collected plants and other scientific data.) Twenty thousand copies of Fremont's report (which was written by his wife) were published by Congress in 1841, and the the report then sold several hundred thousand copies when it appeared in major American newspapers and in foreign editions. Fremont's maps of the Great Salt Lake area influenced the Mormons to settle there, and his maps of routes across the West were studied and followed by all westward moving pioneers.
Fremont was thus catapulted into being the most famous American explorer of the time and his writings strongly added to Americans' belief in Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny -- both of which had long been strongly supported in Congress by his father-in-law, Senator Benton.
Through all of these events and through his whole life, Fremont was rash, brash, headstrong, political, knowledgeable, persuasive, brave, and fool-hardy and these characteristics produced strong supporters and powerful enemies.
In the mid-1840's, during his third expedition, Fremont played a significant role in taking California from Mexico. Californians then honored him by appointing him Governor of the new Territory in 1846, but he was a military officer at the time and he was ordered to step down from the governorship. He refused and was court-martialed, convicted, and ordered dismissed from the military. President Polk upheld the conviction but set aside the penalty. Even so, Fremont resigned in anger from the Army in 1848.
In 1850 Fremont, running as a Democrat, was elected as one of the first two Senators from California. He served the six month short term but failed in his bid for re-election.
Fremont made a fortune in the Gold Rush but only after protracted battles in courts and in Congress over land claims, payments, partners, and promises.
Fremont's popularity from his Western exploits and his anti-slavery position got him the newly formed Republican Party's first presidential nomination in 1856. Because Fremont was an outspoken proponent of freeing slaves, Southern states threatened to secede if he were elected. Fremont lost to James Buchanan.
When Lincoln became President, he promoted Fremont to Major General. From Fremont's Missouri command post he ordered the confiscation of nearby Southerners' lands, freed their slaves, declared martial law, and then refused to obey Lincoln's order to rescind these unauthorized actions. Lincoln removed Fremont from command after six months of service, but Republican pressure on Lincoln forced him to reinstate Fremont -- which some came to regret as Fremont proceeded to lose a number of Civil War battles. Fremont was demoted again and again angrily resigned.
Fremont lost his gold rush fortune, ran for President as a Democrat in 1864, was convicted by the French in an 1873 swindle case involving the Transcontinental Railroad, and from 1878-1881 was Territorial Governor of Arizona until removed from office by public protests about his shirking of duties.
Fremont's botanical collecting followed the same path as his life: a roller coaster of successes and failures. Prior to his first expedition in 1842 Fremont was unknown in the botanical world: On November 18th, 1842 John Torrey wrote to Asa Gray that "a Lt. Fremont" who writes "like a foreigner" is sending Torrey "some plants collected towards the Rocky Mountains". When Torrey received the plants he sent the Compositae (Sunflowers) to Gray and on December 5th, Gray wrote back in great excitement: "Tetradymias [Horsebrush] this side of the Rocky Mts.!! Some new Senecios.... How I would like to botanize up there! Is the Lieutenant's name Fremont? I wish we had a collector to go with Fremont. It is a great chance. If none are to be had, Lieut. F. must be indoctrinated, & taught to collect both dried spec. & seeds. Tell him he shall be immortalized by having the 999th Senecio called S. fremontii." (Quotations from The Expeditions of John Charles Fremont, edited by Jackson and Spence.)
Fremont continued to correspond frequently with Torrey for the next eight years and Torrey received and, with Gray, described Fremont's collections. Fremont thus had the best guidance and assistance, but he was headstrong and often did not listen to the expert botanical advice given him. George Engelmann, to whom Fremont was sent by Torrey for some botanical instruction, wrote Gray on December 6, 1844: Fremont "appears to me rather selfish - I speak confidentially - and disinclined to let any body share in his discoveries, anxious to reap all the honour, as well as undertake all the labour himself. He objected to take any botanist or geologist along with him... even though he himself can not claim any knowledge of [botany]...."
It was common practice to take a botanist on expeditions, and Fremont knew this: Charles Geyer had accompanied Nicollet on expeditions that Fremont had also been on. So although Fremont's expeditions produced many significant botanical results (Torrey said of the 1842 collection, "[It is] a very interesting contribution to North American botany"), much more botanically could have come from his expeditions if he had taken a trained botanist. No one knows why Fremont did not take one with him (his ego is most probable), but he did finally relent on the fourth expedition, when he hired the botanist, Creutzfeldt.
Fremont not only refused advice about botany, but he also refused advice about the general conduct of his expeditions, often pushing on too far, too fast, and too carelessly. In his second expedition of 1843-1844, for instance, Fremont's collection from his westward leg of the journey through the Rockies and Great Basin was lost when the mule carrying the botanical specimens went over a precipice on the final westward descent out of the Sierras following an unbelievably heroic, fool-hardy, and life-threatening crossing of the Sierras in the winter. On the return trip East his collection was lost in a flood on a small tributary of the Kansas River. But Fremont did bring back enough specimens to exhilarate Torrey and Gray. Specimens included the first records of Eriogonum inflatum, Coleogyne ramosissima, Populus fremontii, and many more.
On the fourth expedition the losses were far more consequential. Fremont and his men fought for their lives in a winter crossing of the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. Ten men died. Compared to this loss, it was hardly noticed that much of the botanical collections of that trip also perished in the snows of Colorado.
Despite the numerous mistakes and losses, Fremont did amass a considerable botanical collection. According to Stanley Welsh, expert on Utah flora and Fremont as botanist (see Welsh's John Charles Fremont, Botanical Explorer), Fremont's 1842 expedition yielded twenty-two new species of plants, his 1843-1844 expedition yielded seventy-nine, his 1845-1846 expedition yielded fifty-two, his 1848-1849 yielded ten, and his final 1853-1854 yielded one, "with three more of unknown date for a total of 167" new species discovered by Fremont.
Welsh further indicates that, "Collections of the first expedition were identified as representing 371 [species]; the second some 379 [species], the third 458, the fourth 60, and the fifth 8." Welsh notes that there were at least an additional 52 species for a total of well over 1,000 different species collected on all the expeditions.
In the late 1840's and early 50's Torrey and Gray described many of the plants Fremont collected, and they honored Fremont in the names of quite a few of these, including a number shown on this web site: Senecio fremontii, Mahonia fremontii, Populus fremontii (now Populus deltoides subspecies fremontii). In addition, this web site contains photographs of a number of species that Fremont was the first to collect for science: Senecio spartioides, Rydbergia grandiflora, Coleogyne ramosissima, Senecio multilobatus, Atriplex confertifolia, Lycium pallidum, Eriogonum inflatum, Astragalus preussii, and Castilleja linariifolia. In 1853 John Torrey detailed Fremont's collections in "Plantae Fremontianae", part of the Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge.
(Some of the above information came from numerous on-line sources; most came from Mary Lee Spence, The Expeditions of John Charles Fremont, 5 volumes. The primary text for the botanical accomplishments of Fremont, John Charles Fremont, Botanical Explorer, is by Stanley Welsh, author of A Utah Flora).
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