Monday, July 31, 2017

1898 W Atlee Burpee & Co Catalog from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1898 W Atlee Burpee & Co Catalog from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Washington Atlee Burpee was born on April 5, 1858 at Sheffield, New Brunswick.  His parents moved to Philadelphia when he was a child.  By fourteen his hobby was breeding chickens, geese & turkeys.  He attended private schools & graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1878. In 1876, with a partner & $1,000 loaned to him by his mother,  Burpee started a mail-order chicken business from the family home.  Poultry farmers throughout the Northeast knew of the company.  After opening a retail store in Philadelphia, they began selling corn seed for feed to compliment the animal business.  His customers soon began to request vegetable seeds. In 1878, after graduating & dropping his partner, he founded W. Atlee Burpee & Company.  Although the emphasis was garden seeds, poultry remained in the annual catalog into the 1940s. Fordhook Farms, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, was established by 1888, & served as the family home, a farm to evaluate varieties of vegetables & flowers, & to produce seeds.

Prior to the outbreak of World War I, Burpee spent several summers traveling throughout the United States & Europe seeking new & interesting plant varieties.  Many of the vegetables & flowers he found were sent back to Fordhook Farms for evaluation.  The Fordhook Farm facility specialized in evaluating onions, beets, carrots, peas & cabbage. Burpee added the Lompoc, California facility named Floradale Farms in  in 1909 to test sweet peas, & Sunnybrook Farms near Swedesboro, New Jersey for tomatoes, eggplants, peppers & squashes. Burpee released many varieties that are now classics.  Some of these are the 'Fordhook Lima' bean, Iceberg lettuce was introduced in 1894 & named for its crispness, & 'Golden Bantam' sweet corn in 1902.

Burpee was a pioneer in the mail order marketing of seeds.  In his first year of business, his catalog was 48 pages. Distribution was one million catalogs.  Although Burpee set up an advertising department, he personally wrote most of the copy in the catalogs. By the time of his death, the company was the largest seed company in the world,  distributing over 1 million catalogs a year, receiving 10,000 orders a day during peak times. & employing about 300 people.  Management passed to son David Burpee. He died on November 26, 1915 at Fordhook Farm, Pennsylvania & is buried in Doylestown Cemetery, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, USA.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

1896 Catalog of Cox Seed & Plant Co. of San Francisco, California

1896 Catalog, backcover, of Cox Seed & Plant Co. of San Francisco, California
In The American Florist of 1907 there was an announcement that Cox Seed & Plant Co had sold its business to the C C Morse Company. The 1906 earthquake demolished the firm's facilities, but they quickly moved to temporary space in San Francisco, and the company bought out Cox Seed and Plant Co.

Friday, July 28, 2017

1895 A W Livingston's Sons Catalog from Columbus, Ohio

1895 A W Livingston's Sons Catalog from Columbus, Ohio
Alexander W. Livingston was born on October 14, 1822, near Reynoldsburg, Ohio. He grew up on his family's farm & received limited schooling. He could read & write & do simple math problems. While still a child, Livingston showed an interest in seeds & plants, & many Reynoldsburg residents viewed him as an authority on these subjects. Upon reaching adulthood, Livingston married Matilda Dickey Graham. The couple had 10 children. In 1852, Livingston purchased 70 acres of land near Reynoldsburg. Here he developed A.W. Livingston Buckeye Seed Gardens, a seed business. His business quickly prospered. At this time, Livingston began to try to improve the tomato. He succeeded in doing so in 1870. Livingston spent two decades breeding his "Paragon" tomato. Tomatoes existed before Livingston, but they were small fruits with a sour taste. Livingston's Paragon was much larger & had a sweeter taste. Over the next 28 years, Livingston developed more than 30 other varieties of tomatoes. His work helped to make tomatoes more popular with American cooks. A scientist until the end of his life, Livingston died in 1898.
Timeline:
1822 - Founder Alexander W Livingston b in Reynoldsburg, OH 
1842 - Begins working for a local seed grower. 
1844 - Marries and leases land to begin farming.
1852 - Purchases his own land for a farm & seed business. 
1856 - Purchases 400 boxes of the Buckeye Garden Seed Company from Robert Robertson who was moving to Iowa.  During the late 1850s and early 1860s, business does well; and Livingston is able to expand his farming and seed operations. 
1864-65 - Builds a family home and consolidates seed and farming operations in one location. 
1875-76 - The Buckeye Garden Seed Company went bankrupt in the economic crash that affected many businesses in the nation. The business is dissolved and new entity formed by son Robert and named, "A. W. Livingston's Sons." Marketing was expanded using seed catalogs and advertising in newspapers and magazines. 
1880 - The company moves from Reynoldsburg to Columbus, Ohio. Alexander moves to Des Moines, Iowa after purchasing the farm of his friend Robert Robertson. Alexander's plan was to relocate the entire company to Iowa, but the business was prospering in Columbus under his son's management. 
1890 - After Alexander's wife passes away, he turned over the Iowa seed business to his son, Josiah. He returned to Ohio and began to work on his book, "Livingston and the Tomato." It was part autobiographical, part instructional, and part agricultural history. It combined information about Livingston's methods, the history of the tomato as a food crop, and even contained a large selection of compiled recipes. 
1898 - The company is incorporated as the Livingston Seed Company. Founder, A. W. Livingston passes away. 
1919 - The Livingstons were big players in the seed trade industry interacting with many major seed houses. They had their own grow outs as well as 'traded' stock. On April 1st, 1919, a fire broke out at one of their warehouses destroying everything. The McCullough's Sons Seed Company from Cincinnati, took the train up to Columbus the next day, gathered up what they could, and filled orders for the Livingstons. Even with their help, Livingstons still was forced to send out a form letter returning orders along with money.  
1930s - By the late 1930s, the seed industry had begun to change. The company survived by moving into field seeds, and dropped tomatoes from their line. 1937 - The United States Department of Agriculture's "Yearbook of Agriculture" for the year 1937 published the following short history: "The work of A. W. Livingston, of Columbus, Ohio, and his associates and successors in the Livingston Seed Co. has resulted in the introduction of more new varieties than that of any other private group. Most of the varieties introduced by the Livingstons were of their own finding or origination, but some were obtained from other growers. Paragon, from a chance seedling, was their first introduction (1870). The famous old variety Acme was developed by A. W. Livingston from a single superior plant found in a field of mixed stock and introduced in 1875. Like the Trophy, this variety was the source or served as one parent of many subsequently introduced varieties. In 1880 Perfection, a chance variant in Acme, was introduced. Livingston next brought out Golden Queen in 1882, Favorite in 1883, Beauty in 1886, Potato Leaf in 1887, Stone in 1889, and Royal Red in 1892. This last was developed from seven similar plants found in a field of Dwarf Champion by M. M. Miesse. The others just named were chance seedlings occurring in varieties the names of which are not known. These were followed by Aristocrat and Buckeye State in 1893, Honor Bright in 1897, and Magnus in 1900, as chance seedlings in varieties not recorded. In 1903 Dwarf Stone was introduced; it was a chance seedling found in Stone. Globe is from a cross between Stone and Ponderosa made about 1899 by Robert Livingston and was introduced in 1905. Hummer, another introduction, was selected out of Paragon. Of this impressive list introduced by the Livingstons, Stone and Globe are among the most important varieties grown today. Acme, Beauty, Buckeye State, Dwarf Stone, Golden Queen, and Perfection are still listed by some seed producers although they are not extensively grown." "With all due credit to the important contributions of other growers, seedsmen, and investigators, it is not out of place to call attention again to the great contribution of the Livingston Seed Co. to tomato improvement. Of about 40 varieties that had attained a distinct status prior to 1910, a third were productions or introductions by the Livingston company. If we add those varieties derived directly from Livingston productions and introductions, it appears that half of the major varieties were due to the abilities of the Livingstons to evaluate and perpetuate superior material in the tomato." 
1947 - The last wholesale catalog was produced. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Botanist Jeanne Baret (1740-1807) had to travel as a man but became 1st woman to travel around the globe

Jeanne Baret (1740-1807) from 1811

Jeanne Baret (1740-1807) was a member of Louis Antoine de Bougainville's expedition on the ships La Boudeuse & Étoile in 1766–1769. In the 18C, not yet 30 years old, she became the 1st woman to travel around the world. Along the way she helped collect thousands of plant specimens, some of which were new species. And she did it all dressed as a man.

Jeanne Baret was born on July 27, 1740, in the village of La Comelle in the Burgundy region of France. Her record of baptism survives & identifies her as the legitimate issue of Jean Baret & Jeanne Pochard. Her father is identified as a day laborer. Nothing definitive is known of Baret's youth. 

At some point between 1760 & 1764, Baret became employed as housekeeper to Commerson in Toulon-sur-Arroux. Commerson's wife died shortly after giving birth to a son in April 1762. Baret may have assumed management of Commerson's household at that time.  Baret became pregnant in 1764. French law at that time required women who became pregnant out of wedlock to obtain a "certificate of pregnancy" but she did not name the father of the child. Shortly afterwards, Baret & Commerson moved together to Paris, where she continued in the role of his housekeeper. Baret apparently changed her name to "Jeanne de Bonnefoy" during this period. Her child, born in December 1764, was given the name Jean-Pierre Baret. Baret gave the child up to the Paris Foundlings Hospital. Her baby was placed with a foster mother but died in the summer of 1765. 

Baret was asked to join French admiral & explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville's expedition around the world. At the time, a royal ordinance forbade women from traveling on naval ships. In 1765, Commerson was invited to join Bougainville's expedition. He hesitated in accepting because he was often in poor health; he required Baret's assistance as a nurse as well as in running his household & managing his collections & papers. His appointment allowed him a servant, paid as a royal expense, but women were completely prohibited on French navy ships at this time. At some point, the idea of Baret disguising herself as a man in order to accompany Commerson was conceived. To avoid scrutiny, she was to join the expedition immediately before the ship sailed, pretending to be a stranger to Commerson.Before leaving Paris, Commerson drew up a will in which he left to "Jeanne Baret, known as de Bonnefoi, my housekeeper," a lump sum of 600 livres along with back wages owed & the furnishings of their Paris apartment. Baret & Commerson joined the Bougainville expedition at the port of Rochefort in late December 1766. They were assigned to sail on the storeship, the Étoile. Because of the vast quantity of equipment Commerson was bringing on the voyage, the ship's captain, François Chesnard de la Giraudais, gave up his own large cabin on the ship to Commerson & his "assistant." 

Commerson suffered badly from both seasickness & a recurring ulcer on his leg in the early part of the voyage, & Baret probably spent most of her time attending to him. There they set out on expeditions to the surrounding plains & mountains. Commerson's leg was still troubling him, & Baret seems to have done much of the actual labor, carrying supplies & specimens. In Rio de Janeiro, Commerson was officially confined to the ship while his leg healed, but he & Baret nonetheless collected specimens of a flowering vine. Perhaps the expedition's most famous discovery is the popular bougainvillea vine, which adorns many a trellis & fence around the world today.

After a second visit to Montevideo, their next opportunity to botanize was in Patagonia while the ships of the expedition were waiting for favorable winds to carry them through the Strait of Magellan. Here Baret accompanied Commerson on the most troublesome excursions over rugged terrain & gained a reputation for courage & strength. Commerson, still hampered by his leg injury, referred to Baret as his "beast of burden" on these expeditions. In addition to the manual labor she performed in collecting plants, stones, & shells, Baret also helped Commerson organize & catalog their specimens & notes in the weeks that followed, as the ships entered the Pacific.

Surviving accounts of the expedition differ on when Baret's gender was 1st discovered. According to Bougainville, rumors that Baret was a woman had circulated for some time, but her gender was not finally confirmed until the expedition reached Tahiti in April 1768. As soon as she & Commerson landed on shore to botanize, Baret was immediately surrounded by Tahitians who cried out that she was a woman. Bougainville recorded this incident in his journal some weeks after it happened. Tahitian natives reported the presence of a woman in Bougainville's expedition to later visitors to the island, including James Cook in 1769 & Domingo de Bonechea in 1772.

After a brief stop for supplies in the Dutch East Indies, the ships made a longer stop at the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. This island, known as Isle de France, was then an important French trading station. Commerson was delighted to find that his old friend & fellow botanist Pierre Poivre was serving as governor on the island, & Commerson & Baret remained behind as Poivre's guests. On Mauritius, Baret continued as Commerson's assistant & housekeeper. It is likely that she accompanied him to botanize on Madagascar & Bourbon Island in 1770–1772. Commerson continued to have serious health problems, & he died in Mauritius in February 1773. After marrying an officer in the French army, Baret made her way back to France, claimed her part of Commerson's will & earned a pension for her work on Bougainville's expedition. There is no record of exactly when Baret & her husband arrived in France, thus completing her voyage of circumnavigation. Most likely it was sometime in 1775. In April 1776, she received the money that was due to her under Commerson's will after applying directly to the Attorney General. With this money, she settled with her husband Dubernat in his native village of Saint-Aulaye.

In 1785, Baret was granted a pension of 200 livres a year by the Ministry of Marine. The document granting her this pension makes clear the high regard with which she was held by this point: "Jeanne Barré, by means of a disguise, circumnavigated the globe on one of the vessels commanded by Mr de Bougainville. She devoted herself in particular to assisting Mr de Commerson, doctor & botanist, & shared with great courage the labours & dangers of this savant. Her behaviour was exemplary & Mr de Bougainville refers to it with all due credit.... His Lordship has been gracious enough to grant to this extraordinary woman a pension of 200 livres a year to be drawn from the fund for invalid servicemen & this pension shall be payable from 1 January 1785." She collected her pension from 1785-1807. She died in Saint-Aulaye on August 5, 1807, at the age of 67.

Bougainville's published journal – a popular best-seller in its day, in English translation as well as French – was the only widely available source of information about Baret. The 1st English-language biography of Baret, by John Dunmore, was published in 2002, in New Zealand. A 2010 biography of Baret by Glynis Ridley, The Discovery of Jeanne Baret, brought Baret to the attention of a wider audience.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

1899 Peter Henderson & Co Catalog from New York City

1899 Peter Henderson & Co Catalog from New York City
Peter Henderson, (1822-1890)–New York, NY Henderson was born in Scotland in 1822.  He came to America in 1843, and worked under Grant Thorburn and Robert Buist.  Henderson began as a market gardener in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1847. During the Civil War he moved his floral business to South Bergen. By 1890 he had five acres covered by glass.  Henderson’s contemporaries called him “the father of horticulture and ornamental gardening” in the United States. In 1865, he published Gardening for Profit, the first book written on market gardening in the United States. It sold 100,000 copies. He followed with Practical Floriculture in 1868. In 1871, he established a seed company called Peter Henderson & Company. The company developed vegetables and flowers suited to American conditions. He began a new era of seed trade merchandising by using a five-color lithograph in his catalog. His catalog Everything for the Garden featured a white-haired gentleman. His writing was aimed at teaching good horticultural practices. He recommended gardening as the best therapy for invalids. He dictated all of his writing for his catalog to a secretary, while lying down after work hours. He personally answered every letter he received. In the course of 45 years of business, he sent out 175,000 letters, two-thirds of them were written by his own hand. An account of his life was published by his son Alfred Henderson. He died in Jersey City, New Jersey, on January 17, 1890. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Botanist François André Michaux (1770-1855) went to the USA in 1785 with his famous father André Michaux

François André Michaux (1770-1855) was a French botanist, who went to the USA in 1785 with his father, the botanist André Michaux (1746-1802), where he was to gather plants for the royal botanical garden. The father founded a tree school in Hackensack, New Jersey, for export to France. From 1787, Francois Andre Michaux directed a branch of the tree nursery school in Charleston, South Carolina. He traveled for research in the Tennessee Valley, the Allegheny Mountains, Florida, and the Bahamas where he was temporarily interned by the British when they were carrying his ship. 
Botanist François André Michaux (1770-1855) 

In 1790 Michaux returned to France to study medicine. He then took part in the French Revolution. His father returned in 1796, where his son helped him to cultivate the trees he had brought but reportedly died in 1802, on an expedition in Madagascar. 

In the same year the son went back to the USA at the request of the French government to dissolve the nursery school. He traveled from Charleston, where his ship arrived in October 1801, to New Jersey, whose forests he roamed with David Hosack, and on this occasion visited Hosack's new Elgin Botanic Garden in New York; visited Philadelphia (where he visited the arboretum of William Hamilton In Woodlands); Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Tennessee; returning to France at the end of 1803. He was back in the US in 1806, exploring the east coast from Maine to Georgia and the Great Lakes in 1809, then sailed back to France. Michaux was the author of the most important book on trees of North America in the 19C, which appeared in Paris from 1810 to 1813. The illustrators included Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Henri Redouté, Pancrace Bess and Thomas Nuttall (curator of the botanical garden of Harvard University).

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Botany - Finally, Flowers get proper, scientific names & become status symbols

From Flowers to Grass to Flowers with Proper, Scientific Names

During & immediately after the Revolution, many gardeners in the early American republic began banishing intricate patterns of flowers in favor of the less ostentatious simplicity of turf. Philadelphian Elizabeth Drinker wrote in her diary, “flower roots…were dug out of ye beds on ye south side of our garden--as my husband intends making grass-plots and planting trees.”

During this period, plain grass flats often defined the terraces of the gentry. However, at the same time, a flood of newly arrived professional seed merchants were enticing the growing gardening public to plant curious bulbs & roots imported from Europe. And the middle class merchants and artisans were beginning to accumulate both leisure time that could be spent in improving their homes and grounds and a bit of extra cash to spend toward this end.  This flurry of marketing paid off, and the style that caught on. By the 1790s, specimen gardens & flowers once again flourished in the Chesapeake.

By the turn of the century, the popularity of intricate flower beds once again soared.  Flowers remained a garden favorite, but gardeners now tended to segregated flowers by type rather than integrating them into a complicated design.  Diarist Anne Grant reported that, in the gardens she saw before the Revolution, flowers “not seen in ‘curious knots’, were ranged in beds, the varieties of each kind by themselves.”

In the 2nd half of 18C America, small private & public botanical gardens were beginning to appear in the colonies & early Republic. A botanic garden is different from a public park or commercial pleasure garden. Botanic gardens are institutions holding documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display and education. The American public was becoming more familiar with the study of botany.  They were aware of the concept of botanical gardens which were the most structured way of observing plants where similar plants were grown & displayed together, often arranged by plant families, & labeled for easy reference. 
The Paduan Garden, in Roberto de Visiani’s L’Orto Botanico de Padova nell’ anno MDCCCXLII (Padova, 1842, frontis.).
The great age of plant discovery which began in the 16C with the exploration of the Americas triggered an interest in the scientific study & classification of plants. The plants & seeds which made their way to Europe from foreign ports were cultivated to determine their potential uses. At first this was chiefly to determine their potential medical applications.  The great botanical gardens founded in the 16C at Padua, Leiden, & Montpellier were attached to medical schools.
Johannes van Meurs, 1579-16 Leiden University Garden. Engraving after a design by W. Swanenburgh (1608), from Orlers (1614).
The Hortus Botanicus in Leiden was established soon after the founding of the university in 1575. The head of the early garden there was Charles de l’Ecluse (1526–1609) or Clusius, who had a wide network of correspondents across Europe & had written extensively on botanical subjects. In 1593, he brought with him from Frankfurt a great number of seeds, bulbs & plants to form the foundation of the garden, which had about 1,000 plants when it opened. Other distinguished botanists associated with the garden were Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738) & Johannes Fredericus Gronovius (1686–1762), an early patron of Carolus Linnaeus(Carl Linnaeus, Swedish Carl von Linné) 1707-1778, who would transform plant collecting with his uniform system for classifying them (binomial nomenclature).
Oxford Botanic Garden
The Oxford Botanic Garden was founded in 1623, by Henry Danvers, later the 1st Earl of Danby (1573–1643), but was not planted until at least a decade later. Danby had arranged to appoint the great London-based gardener & plant collector John Tradescant the elder (1570-1638) as the first gardener, & there is some evidence that Tradescant may have been briefly involved in the planting before he died. Danby then appointed the German botanist Jacob Bobart (1599–1680) as gardener, who was succeeded by his son, also named Jacob Bobart (1641–1719). The 1st catalogue, listing some 1400 plants growing in the garden, was published in 1648.
Chelsea Physic Garden established in the grounds of Chelsea Manor owned by Hans Sloane. Engraving by John Haynes, 30th March 1751.
In England, the Chelsea Physic Garden, founded by the Society of Apothecaries in 1673, came to prominence under Scottish gardener Philip Miller (1691-1771) & remained the premier garden in the country during much of Miller’s lifetime. Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) had granted the Society a perpetual lease on the Chelsea property, & one of the conditions was that each year 50 new plants were to be described & donated to the Royal Society as dried specimens. This required the continuous introduction of new plants & ensured that Chelsea was at the forefront of knowledge about their cultivation. Miller was a highly skilled horticulturist & many imported plants & rare species of indigenous plants were successfully grown by him at Chelsea. Miller  networked, & he was at the center of a vast network of plant enthusiasts exchaning plants & seeds with other gardeners throughout Britain, her colonies, & Europe.
 Pagoda & Temperate House, Kew Gardens
As Chelsea was fading in the latter part of the 18C, the great gardens at Kew were growing in importance under the leadership of Sir Joseph Banks & head gardener William Aiton (1731–1793) who had trained under Philip Miller at Chelsea. Aiton produced the 1st printed catalogue of the gardens at Kew, listing some 5600 species. Just over two decades later, the 2nd edition of the catalogue by his son William Townsend Aiton (1766–1849) listed over 11,000 species.
In London, street vendors were selling plants door to door. New Cries of London Sold by Darton and Harvey 1803 Flowers for your Garden. 
In Philadelphia, Bartram's is America's oldest surviving botanic garden. John Bartram (1699-1777), early American botanist, explorer, & plant collector, began his garden in 1728, when he purchased a 102-acre farm close to Germantown. Bartram's Garden grew into an extensive collection of familiar & intriguing native plants; as he devoted his life to the discovery of examples of new North American species. Bartram's lucrative business centered on the transatlantic transfer of plants.

In 1748, what is now Lafayette & Astor Place, was New York City’s first botanical gardenestablished by a Swiss physician, Jacob Sperry, who farmed flowers & hothouse plants. Jacob Sperry, born in Zurich in 1728, came to New York at the age of 20, & although educated a physician, decided to become a florist. He had means at his command, with which he purchased this then uncultivated tract of pasture land, & established himself as a horticulturist. He built a house near by, where he resided, rearing a family of 4 sons & 5 daughters. In 1804, Jacob Sperry sold the much improved property to John Jacob Astor for $45,000.
An 1801 map of the Astor Place when it was the land of Jacob Sperry, a Swiss florist, physician, and gentleman.
In the British American colonies, just as in Europe, many early botanical gardens focused on the medicinal uses of plants being collected.  In 1769, Dr Peter Middleton, professor of medicine at King's College, speaking at the opening of the Columbia Medical School in New York City stated, "By botany, we are  instructed in the natural history and distinguishing characters of plants. This, pursued as a science, or branch of medical study, presents to us a fund of knowledge, both valuable and ornamental  As this continent yields most of the medical plants now in use, and abounds also with a variety of others, whose qualities we are as  yet but little acquainted with... a teacher of botany will soon be appointed, and a botanical garden laid out, and properly furnished? This would open an extensive field for further discoveries in, and for large acquisitions to the materia medicia."  David Hosack, who would eventually establish the Elgin Botanic Garden, reported that in 1794, the New York Agricultural Society was endorsing that the botanical garden be connected with an endowed professorship in Botany.  In the next 20 years, botanical gardens would pop up at Harvard, Princeton, and at the universities of Pennsylvania & South Carolina.
 Botanic Garden at Elgin in the Vicinity of the City of New York. About 1806 William Satchwell Leney (American artist, b. England, 1769–1831) after Louis Simond (American artist, b. France, 1767–1831)
By 1785, George Washington had dedicated a part of his gardens to botany.  He wrote in his July diary, "Sewed one half of the Chinese Seed given me by Mr. Porter and Doctr. Craik in three rows in the Section near the Quarter (in my Botanical Garden.)"  In June of the next year, Washington recorded dining with Francois Andre Micheaux, "a Botanist sent by the Court of France to America...he returned afterwards to Alexandria on his way to New York...where he was about to establish a Botanical Garden."

In 1787, Rev Manassah Cutler wrote that Dr Benjamin Rush was "endeavoring to raise a fund for establishing a Botanical garden" in Philadelphia.

In both England & in the early American republic, botany & new classification systems for plants caused a surge in collecting plants. In 1789, William Hamilton instructed the gardeners at his Philadelphia estate, Woodlands, to plant “exotic bulbous roots…at six or eight Inches from each other…taking care to preserve the distinctions of the sorts.”
In 1805, Rosalie Steir Calvert (1778–1821) wrote to her father from Riversdale in Prince George's County, Maryland, "The fancy for flowers of all kinds is really increasing; everyone takes an interest, and it is a great honor to have the most beautiful.” The next spring, she was “curious to know if it is becoming fashionable in your country to become horticulturalists. Here we occupy ourselves with that more every day and are getting much better.” Her father sent tulip bulbs in late 1807, and Rosalie Calvert wrote back, “now I will have the most beautiful collection in America, and I assure you my reputation is already quite exalted.”

In the early republic, townsfolk began to frequent the local nurseries popping up in towns up and down the Atlantic coast.  A new cycle in English & early American pleasure gardening had begun.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

1899 John C Vaughan's Seed Store in Chicago & New York

1899 Vaughn's Seed Store in Chicago & New York. This company was established by John Charles Vaughan (1851-1924) as a small business in Chicago, IL. in 1876. It offered wholesale seed & horticultural supplies primarily through catalog sales. When John Charles Vaughan was born on April 24, 1851, in Chicago, Illinois, his father, Oramel, was 40 and his mother, Sylvia, was 29. Both of his parents were from Pennsylvania. John Charles Vaughan married Martha Throop, and they had 3 children together. He then married Mattie Theoop Vaughan, and they had 1 son together. Vaughan's company letterhead shows locations at 47-49 Barclay Street, New York, N.Y. and 10-12 W. Randolph, Street, Chicago. The business eventually grew to include 5 greenhouses and nurseries in Western Springs, IL. becoming one of the major employers in the community. John Charles Vaughan of Chicago, Illinois–started out selling nursery stock but began selling seeds, when his customers started asking for seed.  He opened his 1st store, called Vaughan’s Seed Store, in the "loop" of Chicago in 1876. Later the greenhouse trade started asking for horticultural supplies, & the Vaughan Seed Company expanded their business to include those supplies. Vaughan issued 8 different catalogs annually, each one designed for a specific market.  Its Corn & Potato Manual of 1882 addressed its customers in academic terms to satisfy a growing public interest in scientific agriculture. It was filled with dissertations on botany, chemistry, & biblical references to plants. The company was later headed by Leonard Holden Vaughan & then John C. Vaughan II.  In the late 1950s, the company bought the Merion Bluegrass seed market & became one of the dominant figures in the grass seed market. It was during this time that the company expanded outside of Chicago to Bound Brook, New Jersey.  With the expansion of the business in the 1960s, the company moved to Downers Grove, Illinois.  At that time they discontinued their home garden catalog & concentrated on the commercial market. In 1972, the company bought the Jacklin Seed Co., Inc. of Dishman, Washington.   The company then became known as the Vaughan-Jacklin Corp.  Many other companies were absorbed into the business in the 1970s. In July 1989, Sandoz Corp. purchased the company, & then Novartis Seeds purchased the Sandoz Corp.   Novartis Seeds is now the world’s second largest seed company.  The U.S. headquarters remain in Downers Grove, Illinois.  Today the company operates in 3 major areas: horticultural plant products, plastic products, & grass seed production & marketing.

Friday, July 21, 2017

André Michaux (1746-1802), a French botanist most noted for his study of North American flora.

André Michaux (1746-1802)

André Michaux's (1746-1802), a French botanist and explorer, is most noted for his study of North American flora. André Michaux was appointed by Louis XVI as Royal botanist and sent to the United States in 1785 to make the first organized investigation of plants that could be of value in French building and carpentry, medicine and agriculture. He traveled with his son François André Michaux (1770–1855) through Canada and the United States. In 1786, Michaux attempted to establish a horticultural garden of 30 acres in Bergen's Wood on the Hudson Palisades near Hackensack, New Jersey. The garden, overseen by Pierre-Paul Saunier from the Jardin des Plantes, Paris, who had emigrated with Michaux, failed because of the unexpected New Jersey harsh winters. For a period of time he traveled the western mountains of North Carolina including climbing Grandfather Mountain, Roan Mountain, the Black Mountains and the peaks of Table Rock and Hawksbill. Michaux first called the Black Mountains by their current name. In 1787, Michaux established and maintained for a decade a botanical garden of 111 acres near Charleston, South Carolina, from which he made many expeditions to various parts of North America. Michaux described and named many North American species during this time. Between 1785-1791 he shipped ninety cases of plants and many seeds to France. At the same time he introduced many species to America from various parts of the world, including Camellia, tea-olive, and crepe myrtle.  In addition Michaux collected specimens in England, Spain, France, and even, Persia. His work was part of a larger European effort to gather knowledge about the natural world. 
SC Michaux Garden. Courtesy of the Charleston County Register of Mesne and Conveyance.  Michaux's contributions included Histoire des chênes de l'Amérique (1801; "The Oaks of North America") and Flora Boreali-Americana (1803; "The Flora of North America") which continued to be botanical references well into the 19C. His son, François André Michaux, also became an authoritative botanist. His work set the stage for several following botanists including his son, Franciois Michaux and Constantine Rafinesque. André Michaux was born in 1746, near Versailles, France. Trained to take over as superintendent of a wealthy landowner’s estate, he abandoned this career after the death of his newlywed bride, and turned his attention to botany. He quickly made a name for himself in botanical circles in France and became a plant collector for the royal gardens in Paris. 

After the collapse of the French monarchy, André Michaux, who was a royal botanist, lost his source of income. He actively lobbied the American Philosophical Society to support his next exploration. His efforts paid off and, in early 1793, Thomas Jefferson asked him to undertake an expedition of westward exploration, similar to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Corps of Discovery, conducted by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark a decade later. At the time of the planned Michaux expedition, Lewis was an 18-year-old protégé of Jefferson who asked to be included in the expedition, and was turned down by Jefferson.


Before Michaux set out, however, he volunteered to assist the French Minister to America, Edmond-Charles Genet. Genet was engaging in war-like acts against English and Spanish naval interests, aggravating relations between America, England and Spain. George Rogers Clark offered to organize and lead a militia to take over Louisiana territory from the Spanish. Michaux's mission was to evaluate Clark's plan and coordinate between Clark's actions and Genet's. Michaux went to Kentucky, but, without adequate funds, Clark was unable to raise the militia and the plan eventually folded. It is not true, as sometimes reported, that Thomas Jefferson ordered Michaux to leave the United States after he learned of his involvement with Genet. Though Jefferson did not support Genet's actions, he was aware of Genet's instructions for Michaux and even provided Michaux with letters of introduction to the Governor of Kentucky.

Nearly 300 plant species in Kentucky were 1st described by Michaux. His book 1803 Flora Boreali-Americana, published posthumously, was the 1st flora of North America based entirely on the author’s own botanical studies. His name is commemorated as an epithet for several species, including Croton michauxii (now Croton linearis), Hedyotis michauxii (now Houstonia serpyllifolia), Quercus michauxii and Saxifraga michauxii.  André Michaux returned to France in 1796, with his many plant collections, which are still preserved in the Michaux Herbarium in Paris. Over the next 4 years he worked on his book, but it was yet to be published, when he set sail for the South Seas on another botanical expedition. 
On his return to France in 1796 he was shipwrecked, however most of his specimens survived. His 2 American gardens declined. Saunier, his salary unpaid, cultivated potatoes & hay & paid his taxes on the New Jersey property, which is now still remembered as "The Frenchman's Garden," part of Machpelah Cemetery in North Bergen.

In 1800, on his visit to the United States, Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours, concerned about the abandoned botanical gardens, wrote to the Institut de France, who sent over Michaux's son François André Michaux to sell the properties. He sold the garden near Charleston, but the concern expressed by Du Pont & his brother Eleuthère Irénée du Pont preserved the New Jersey garden in Saunier's care & continued to support it. Saunier continued to send seeds to France for the rest of his life, & is credited with introducing into gardens the chinquapin (Castanea pumila) & the smoking bean tree (Catalpa bignonioides).

André Michaux's Charleston garden was actually a nursery for plants, that he was collecting from around the region. Established about 10 miles north of St. Michael’s, in the Goose Creek area, he returned to France.In 1796, his son, Francois, returned to Michaux's Garden in Charleston in 1801, and wrote, "I found in this garden a superb collection of trees and plants that had survived almost total neglect for nearly the space of 4 years."


In 1800, the elder Michaux sailed with Nicolas Baudin's expedition to Australia, but left the ship in Mauritius. He then went to Madagascar to investigate the flora of that island, & was supposed to have died there of a tropical fever. While Michaux is often said to have died in 1802 or 1803, Aaron Burr recorded meeting Michaux in Paris on September 17, 1810. According to Burr he went "to Michaux's, the botanist, who was many years in the United States, & has written a valuable little book of his travels. He is now publishing his account of our trees, which will be extremely interesting. It demonstrates that we (not the whole continent, but the United States alone) have three times the number of useful trees that Europe can boast..."

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Triumphs & Tirades of Botanist & Naturalist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1783-1840)

Young Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1783-1840)

Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1783-1840) has generated more interest in his life & work than almost any other American botanist & naturalist. He explored Kentucky from 1818 until 1825, collecting perhaps 10,000 specimens, &, in his career, published over 900 books & articles, described thousands of new genera & species (mostly plants). He remains a source of fascination, as articles & books that discuss Rafinesque continue to be published to this day. His Kentucky legacy is forever tied to that of botanist Dr. Charles Short, to Transylvania University & the supposed “infamous curse,” & to his botanical collecting & publishing on the flora of Kentucky.

Born in Turkey & raised in France, Rafinesque was a child prodigy & already a learned botanist & general naturalist, when he arrived in America at the age of 20. He later described himself as a botanist, naturalist, geologist, geographer, historian, poet, philosopher, economist, & philanthropist. He botanized for a few years in the middle Atlantic states, then returned to Europe, lived in Sicily for about 10 years, & returned to America in 1815, with a cargo of botanical drugs & 50 boxes of books & collections, all of which he lost in a shipwreck off Block Island, New York.

Discouraged but full of excitement about all the discoveries that awaited him, Rafinesque launched himself into a frenzy of activity over the next few years, traveling back & forth across the Alleghenies. From 1818 to 1826, Rafinesque focused his attentions almost entirely on Kentucky. An encounter with John James Audubon in Henderson Kentucky in 1818 produced several stories that have be-come legendary (see the accounts concerning Audubon’s violin & his drawings of a fake fish). Rafinesque eventually made his way to Lexington & secured a position as a Professor of Botany & Natural History at Transylvania University, a position he held until 1825. He traveled mostly in central & western portions of the state, collecting thousands of specimens in Kentucky. Early on he established a working relationship with Dr. Charles Short, a renowned Kentucky botanist, but this association eventually soured due to their different standards relating to information exchange & specimen preparation. He published Florula Kentuckiensis in 1824, the 1st general account of the plant life of the state.

After a disagreement with Horace Holley, the president of the university, in the Fall of 1825, Rafinesque departed Kentucky in 1826. He was said to have left a curse on the university; &, curiously, President Holley soon lost his position, contracted yellow fever & passed away from the disease, & in addition, the university admin-istration building burned down! Eventually Rafinesque settled in Philadelphia, but there he fell upon hard times, & died in 1840.
During his lifetime Rafinesque proposed more new names than any other American naturalist, a phenomenal total of about 2700 new genera & nearly 6900 new species, the majority being vascular plants. Sadly, most of his lifetime collections (containing an estimated 50,000 specimens & possibly 10,000 Kentucky specimens) have been lost. His herbarium was put on public sale, but without a single bidder it was left abandoned in a storage room, where the collection was heavily damaged by rats. Most specimens became very damaged & were discarded. Although some of his specimens remained at other herbaria, including some type specimens, there seems no doubt that thousands of possible type specimens were lost. 
Viburnum rafinesquianum (downy arrowwood) 
Rafinesque’s published articles & books total over 900 titles. Included among them is the 1st descriptive outline of the vegetation regions of Kentucky, as well as the 1st general account of the plant life of Kentucky He also wrote a Medical Flora (1828-1830) that had great influence on the development of medical botany in the United States His many descriptions of new genera & species have been studied over the last few decades, & many of his names have been resurrected. Over 100 genera & species in Kentucky bear the “Raf.” author citation. Among the species named in memory of Rafinesque are Viburnum rafinesquianum (downy arrowwood) & Viola rafinesquii.
Viola rafinesquii.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

1895 Floral Treasures. G. R. Gause & Co., Richmond, Indiana

1895 Floral Treasures. G. R. Gause & Co., Richmond, Indiana
George R Gause (1867-1940), a member of the Friends (Quaker) Church, was for over 50 years a "Dealer and Grower of Choice Plants and Bulbs, Cut Flowers for Weddings and Funerals a Specialty, Office and Greenhouse National Road opposite Earlham Cemetery, Richmond, Indiana." 

Monday, July 17, 2017

1884 Why women should grow seeds & plants - Get out of the House & possibly make Money!

In the United States of America, women did not get the right to vote nationally until 1920.
Abbott Fuller Graves (American artist, 1859-1936) Flower Sellers

SEED, BULB AND PLANT GROWING FOR WOMEN by William A Manda 1862-1933

"In the great reform movements of this age, having in view the betterment of women's condition, no factor is so important as the economic. “What shall we do" is a question that can best be answered by those who can show how time lost in idleness — in hopeless dreaming —can be profitably employed; how energy wasted in impatient fretting for work to do, can be utilized in work that is necessary and waiting to be done.

"It was the hope that I might be able to throw out a suggestion or two, that I accepted an invitation to talk here today on the subject of, “Seed, Plant and Bulb Growing,” a subject which has engaged my attention and work for a number of years. I cannot remember the time when I did not love flowers passionately; I was very early in life called a “plant maniac;” I rarely went away from home without coming back, laden with plants, cuttings, seeds or bulbs. Among my earliest recollections are the flowers in the home garden and the gardens of dear old ladies who welcomed me because I loved their four-o'clocks, scarlet runner beans and peonys. My windows were filled with flowering plants and the thought of some day owning a greenhouse “all my own” filled me with delight. The harsh winds and the cold winters of Iowa, my childhood home, drove me, as they did thousands of others, to California and the greenhouse materialized, and became the nucleus of a rare collection of plants, greater than my wildest fancy ever pictured.

Francis Coates Jones (American artist, 1857–1932) Remaining Indoors-Flowers in a Window
I have a great sympathy for women who are compelled or think they are compelled or prefer to remain indoors. They cannot realize the delight experienced in working in the open air. There is a buoyancy, exhilaration and an enthusiasm in an intimate relation with sunshine and growing vegetation and outdoor air, that are unknown to those whose vision and life is bounded by four walls. I am glad to know the time has come when woman can go into the field and work without being ostracized, or thought to be out of her “sphere.” In the past nothing has alarmed the average woman so much as to be told she was “out of her sphere.”

"Outdoor work is healthful, it brings sight to the eyes and bloom to pale cheeks. The work done in hybridizing is most fascinating. To bring a new flower into existence; to improve existing types; to learn the habits of the various flowers and plants; to assist at their weddings and to help bring into the world a seed with it's unknown possibilities; is like opening a door into a new world of beauty, a new world of thought, where life becomes broader, richer and better. “We use flowers to speak for us our tenderest thoughts; we use them to interpret all the tenderest things in life.” “When lovers want to tell the unutterable words they betake themselves to the dumb messengers who have learned to say so much.” We lay them away to hold fast the memory of the most precious moments of life. In our deepest grief we put them on the bier of our loved ones who have left us. At all times and in all places they minister to us.

"Flower-names come down to us impearled with myth and story. What sacred romances the lotus flower, the martyrs palm and victors laurel recall. The long dreaded names of botany are often little poems in themselves, heliotrope is “she who turns to the sun,” mesembrianthemum is “flower of the mid-day,” masturtium is “bent nosed,” geranium is “cranes bill.” These were simple heart and eye names to the Greeks and Romans, just as we call our pets heartsease, morning glory and day's eye. And what is the purpose of all the beauty that comes each year to gladden our eyes. All for this. That at last the seed might grow and ripen. “And yet no man through all the population could make one. Earth and sun it takes them both. It takes the solar system all alive to make a seed.” What are our fruits but the seeds protected by rind, and pulp and sheath and juices, that each and all may be perpetuated. They are all the children of the trees and plants. But with all the delight and pleasure the work brings, like everything else it has its drawbacks, especially when one is doing it for profit. To find customers and dispose of what has been grown, to be able to meet the expenses connected with work of the kind, and make a fair profit, are the problems that all growers have to meet.


"There are many things that can be grown profitably, but any crop that is easily grown and is used in large quantities must become cheap. A few years ago, callas, smilax and freesias brought good prices, but now they are grown by so many in California, and Bermuda is also growing bulbs with great success, with the advantage of much lower freight rates, while prices offered for them are so low that in two or three years it will not pay to grow them.

Abbott Fuller Graves (American artist, 1859-1936) The Chrysanthemum Show
"The demand now is for the best. The time is past when poor quality of anything in the line of flower seeds can find a market. The germinating properties must be sure and the plant must come true. There are many bulbs that have only been grown in amateur gardens that would succeed admirably here. Gladiolus — best varieties — hyacinths, lilies, ixias and sparixies, amaryllis tritonias, rabianias, anemones, ranunculi, spotted callas, narcissus of the choicer varieties, iris, cyclamen and any other bulbs that are valuable for cut flowers or the garden. Among seeds are verbenas, poppies, cinerarias, candytuft, asters, chrysanthemums, nasturtiums, petunias, phlox, Chinese primulas, the newer varieties of mignonette, cannas and a thousand and one other varieties.

There is great work to be done with seedling roses. California has not yet given to floriculture a fine rose. Tea roses bloom from seed in a few months and very pretty varieties are often raised from the self fertilized seed. With all the types we have to work with we should be able to raise some grand new varieties by hybridizing. Especial care should be taken to develop a hardy race of roses that will stand the severity of eastern winters, and that will have all the beauty of form and color of Tea roses. Good climbing roses are also needed, the number of these that are valuable is small.

"The carnation, fragrant, spicy, beautiful, grows more popular every day and will never go out of fashion. Florists are doing much with the carnation. New and valuable varieties are brought out every year. It is very profitable for the cut flower trade, as it ships well long distances. Seeds of fine carnations always bring a good price. I find that they thrive best in a stiff soil. A good carnation should be of a medium height, the flowers should have long stems and should not burst their calyx. It should be perfect in form, with petals either fringed or plain. In growing seeds much care should be exercised and only perfect flowers allowed to bear seeds. My favorite flower, if I have a favorite, is the begonia, I have over one hundred varieties of the fibrous, besides many of the tuberous and rex begonias. I have great expectations from these exquisite plants. Beside the collection are a number of very beautiful seedlings, which are the pride of my heart. To me the begonia has always suggested things spiritual, it is so pure, so free from imperfections. Closely examined, the flowers seem as though formed of tiny chrystals cemented together with diamond dust.


"The demand for decorative growing plants and for cut decorations is constantly increasing. The leaves of various palms, strings and sprays of Asparagus Plumosus nanna and English ivy, stems of Bamboo, Papyrus and Cyperus, flowers and berries of the pepper tree, acacia blossoms, wreathes of the beautiful Bignonia venusta and Bougainvillea. Carnations, freesias, daffodils, jonquils, violets, poinsettias and many other flowers with lasting qualities will be shipped east in large quantities by cold storage, as soon as transportation becomes cheaper. Many hardy shrubs and roses are imported from Europe every year...Many plants can be grown in California for decoration. A person I would say, should grow with the idea of improving old types or developing new ones. Learn to hybridize and watch the tendency of the flower. Work with an intelligent purpose and make your ideal high. When at last a type is fixed, your painstaking and care will be rewarded, for no one can take your work and keep it up to the same standard, without going over the same ground, and it is only those who are willing to work who can do this. You can then easily find a market and within reason name your price for you alone have the new creation. It must be remembered that the tendency of all plants is to revert to the original type and any plant that shows such degeneration must be ostracised."


From the Rural Californian, A Journal for Suburban and Country Home. Los Angeles, March, 1894. Volume 17, "By permission of Pitcher & Manda, Short Hills, N. J."

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Pitcher & Manda, Short Hills, New Jersey Seed and Plant Catalog

Pitcher & Manda Seed and Plant Catalog, Short Hills, New Jersey. William Albert Manda's biographical information, from a catalog tells us that in 1883, he assumed the position of curator of the Harvard Botanical Gardens at Harvard College in Cambridge, Mass. After five years he resigned to join the firm of Pitcher & Manda in Short Hills until 1894, after which he "acted independently as a landscape architect and horticultural expert."
Pitcher & Manda, Short Hills, New Jersey Seed and Plant.  William Albert Manda (born 1862 near Prague, Bohemia), Manda says he lived in Iowa as a child. Apparently, he traveled to the U.S. East Coast in 1882, to collect plants for shipping back to Europe. There he took the job as Curator of the Harvard University Botanical Gardens in 1883. He worked there for 5 years, then resigned to join the firm of Pitcher & Manda, Short Hills, N.J. An announcement in the 1888 "Garden & Forest" magazine, stated that the firm was doing business as the United States Nurseries. The partners were James R. Pitcher & William Albert Manda. This firm was famous for its collection of orchids, valued in 1901 at $100,000. The partnership ended in 1895, when Manda published an announcement in "Garden & Forest" magazine that he was severing his connection to Pitcher & Manda & starting a new business at South Orange, N.J., called The Universal Horticultural Establishment. The firm of Pitcher & Manda kept the same name but announced that they were under new management. "Garden & Forest" announced in September 1897 that a firm called the American Bulb Co. was "successors to Pitcher & Manda" & further announced that there would be a public auction held on October 4-7, 1897 to sell "the entire collection of Pitcher & Manda, including 100,000 palms, all the choice collection of ornamental foliage plants; also, real estate, greenhouses, etc." A 1901 San Francisco newspaper refers to the firm holding a collection of orchids valued at $100,000. And a catalog held at Rutger's Univeristy includes the notation that the firm was in business from 1885 & 1904.  
William Albert Manda of Pitcher & Manda, Short Hills, New Jersey. In 1909, William Albert Manda was doing business as W.A. Manda, Inc. Reportedly, a statue of him was erected in his honor at his death by the South Orange Garden Club at Meadowland Park in South Orange. At the time of his death in 1933, he had a collection of some 12,000 species of cacti & succulents. His younger brother, Joseph A. Manda had his own nursery business in 1898, which continued as Joseph A. Manda & Son. They dealt in orchids among other things. The 1900 census shows the brothers living next door to each other at 191 Valley Street, South Orange. William was a single man, sharing his household with one of his employees; while his brother Joseph's household contained also their parents & a sister. By 1908, Joseph A. Manda was living at 191 Valley Street, in West Orange. Thomas Capek, author of the book "The Cech (Bohemian) Community of New York" (1921) says that the Manda Floral Co. (landscape architects) and W.A. Manda, Inc. of South Orange, N.J. were both founded by the same Czech florist. 

Research by Marlea Graham, California Garden & Landscape History Society. Photos from the Pitcher and Manda catalog.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Botany, Philadelphia, & The Poinsettia

America's Poinsettia: 
1st public display was at the 1829 PHS Flower Show 
by Joel T. Fry - 12/12/2011
"It is a little known fact that the poinsettia was introduced to the gardening world from the Bartram Botanic Garden in 1829. This international symbol of winter cheer was first successfully grown outside its Mexican homeland by Robert and Ann Bartram Carr at the Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia.

"The plant now known as poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, is native to the pacific coast of Mexico and has an ancient history of human use. It was almost certainly seen by early European explorers and colonists, but somehow never entered cultivation in Europe. It was re-discovered or at least brought to the attention of the outside world in the 1820s by an American, Joel Roberts Poinsett (1778-1851).

"Poinsett, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, held various diplomatic and political positions through his life, but always continued a strong interest in natural science and horticulture. He first served as a special envoy to Mexico in 1822-1823, and when the new Mexican Republic was recognized in 1824, Poinsett was first U. S. Minister Plenipotentiary. He resided in Mexico from 1825 to early 1830. During this period, perhaps in the winter of 1827-1828 Poinsett encountered the unnamed plant that now bears his name.

"As part of his mission to expand cooperation between the two countries, Poinsett shipped plants and seeds between Mexico and the United States. At present there is evidence that four different collections of seeds and plants were sent from Mexico to Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia in the period 1828-1829. Poinsett was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia in early 1827, and this seems to have cemented his connection with the Philadelphia scientific community and with Bartram’s Garden .In early 1828, William Maclure, a longtime friend of Poinsett, and Thomas Say, a Bartram nephew, travelled to Mexico, visiting Vera Cruz and Mexico City. William Keating, a geologist from the University of Pennsylvania also traveled to Mexico in 1828 to prospect for American mining interests. Poinsett, Maclure, Say, and Keating all arranged for Mexican seeds of plants to be sent to Bartram’s Garden.

"Thomas Say sent over a hundred varieties of seeds from Mexico, “of my own collecting” in a letter to Robert Carr dated July 23, 1828. This list is in large part made up of fruits and vegetables offered in the markets in Mexico, but some trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants from the wild were included, notably several forms of cactus. William Maclure returned briefly to Philadelphia in the fall of 1828, and he brought yet more Mexican seeds and plants with him. This is the most likely route for plants of the poinsettia to Bartram’s Garden.

"Robert Buist, a Philadelphia nurseryman, remembered seeing the first poinsettia roots unpacked at Bartram’s Garden in 1828: “On my arrival in this country from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, in 1828, I paid a visit to the famed “Bartram Botanic Garden,” and there saw two cases of plants which had just arrived from Mexico. Among the contents were the stumps of a strange-looking Euphorbia, which, after a few months’ growth, showed some very brilliant crimson bracts.” (The young Buist soon built a very successful career on the new scarlet plant, and as a result he was credited with the introduction of the poinsettia to Europe in 1834.)

"The paper trail of the poinsettia next appears at “The first semi-annual Exhibition of fruits, flowers and plants, of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society,” held June 6, 1829. This was the first public show of the PHS, a tradition continued today as the Philadelphia Flower Show. One of the noteworthy exhibits was “A new Euphorbia with bright scarlet bracteas or floral leaves, presented to the Bartram collection by Mr. Poinsett, United States Minister to Mexico.” There can be no doubt that this was the poinsettia, now known as Euphorbia pulcherrima. The plant on display, apparently the original sent from Mexico, was still colorful in early June. And while we now take for granted the connection of poinsettias and Christmas, it would take a while for nurserymen to reliably flower the new scarlet plant in time for the early winter holidays.

"A year later, in July 1830 a committee of the PHS, “For visiting the Nurseries and Gardens in the vicinity of Philadelphia,” made particular note of the “Euphorbia heterophylla, with its large scarlet flowers,” as well as “some curious species of Cactus, lately received from Mexico” at the Bartram Botanic Garden. At this early stage, the appropriate scientific name for the poinsettia was still in doubt. Poinsettia resembled a known North American native, Euphorbia heterophylla and so for a time it was referred to under that name. Philadelphia nurserymen also used the name “Poinsett’s euphorbia” and around 1832, Robert Buist began using “Euphorbia poinsettia” for the new plant. Between 1833 and 1836 the poinsettia went through a rapid series of scientific names as it was described and published in the US and Europe—first Pleuradena coccinea, then Poinsettia pulcherima, and finally Euphorbia pulcherima. (Although there is still some debate whether some North American Euphorbia species should be split off into a new genus Poinsettia.)

"In the summer of 1833, the botanist Constantine Rafinesque published the first scientific description of the poinsettia in Philadelphia, for his Atlantic Journal. Rafinesque recorded the brief history of the plant in Philadelphia to date: “The Botanical Garden of Bartram received some years ago from Mr. Poinsett our ambassador in Mexico, a fine new green-house shrub, akin to Euphorbia, with splendid scarlet blossoms, or rather bracts. It has since been spread in our gardens near Philadelphia, and is know in some as the Euphorbia Poinseti; but appears to me to form a peculiar genus or S. G. at least”

"In the early 1830s Robert Buist began sending plants or cuttings of poinsettia to Europe, and particularly to his friend James McNab at the Edinburgh Botanic Garden. Buist had trained at the Edinburgh garden, and he returned to Scotland in 1831 to acquire stock for his new nursery business. James McNab also visited Philadelphia, and Bartram’s Garden in the summer of 1834, and probably took the first successful poinsettia plants back with him to Edinburgh in the fall.

"The poinsettia flowered in Edinburgh for the first time in the spring of 1835, but imperfectly. When it flowered again in 1836 it was drawn for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. The new euphorbia was re-named Poinsettia pulcherrima by Robert C. Graham, Regius Professor of Botany at Edinburgh, in an article prepared both for Curtis’s and the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal. The modern common name “poinsettia” arose from Graham’s description, and as the plant spread rapidly in cultivation in the UK and Europe it was known under the name poinsettia. Unfortunately for history, Graham relied on Buist’s own incorrect account of the introduction of the plant, and omitted any mention of the Carrs or Bartram’s Garden. (Graham’s new genus Poinsettia has since been returned to Euphorbia.)

"It has long been the story that Poinsett personally introduced the poinsettia first to Charleston, bringing the plant on his return from Mexico, and from there it was discovered or sent to the Carrs in Philadelphia. This is impossible for the poinsettia was shown to the Philadelphia public in June of 1829, over six months before Poinsett returned from Mexico. All available evidence suggests that the poinsettia was first sent to the Bartram Garden in Philadelphia in the fall of 1828. The successful transport of live plants from Mexico to Philadelphia in 1828 was almost certainly due to the fact that a number of friends of Bartram’s Garden were on the scene in Mexico. After the new scarlet euphorbia was introduced to the public in 1829, the plant was widely propagated, and became a popular mainstay of the Philadelphia florist trade. The young gardener, Robert Buist, returned to Europe in 1831 and found the scarlet flower was unknown. Buist was a great popularizer of the new plant, but has undeservedly received major credit for its introduction. When Poinsett began to grow his namesake plant in Charleston after his return, it probably returned to him via the Philadelphia nursery community."

 A little more to the tale...

Poinsettia plants are native to Central America, especially an area of southern Mexico known as 'Taxco del Alarcon,' where they flower during the winter. The ancient Aztecs called them 'cuetlaxochitl'. The Aztecs had many uses for them including using the flowers (actually special types of bright leaves known as bracts rather than flowers) to make a purple dye for clothes & cosmetics The milky white sap, latex, was made into a medicine to treat fevers. 

Poinsettias were cultivated by the Aztecs of Mexico long before the introduction of Christianity to the Western Hemisphere. These plants were highly prized by Kings Netzahualcyotl & Montezuma, but because of climatic restrictions could not be grown in their capital, which is now Mexico City.

Perhaps the 1st religious connotations were placed on poinsettias during the 17C. Because of its brilliant & convenient holiday blooming time, Franciscan priests, near Taxco, began to use the flower in the Fiesta of Santa Pesebre, a nativity procession.  The poinsettia may have remained a regional plant for many years to come had it not been for the efforts of Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779 – 1851). The son of a French physician, Poinsett was appointed as the first United States Ambassador to Mexico (1825-1829) by President James Madison. Poinsett had attended medical school himself, but was a dedicated, almost obsessive botany-lover.

A German botanist, Wilenow, named it Euphorbia pulcherrima (most beautiful) in 1833, the correct scientific name to this day.  The common name we use today was believed to have been coined around 1836.  Philadelphia nurseryman Robert Buist 1st sold the plant as Euphorbia poinsettia, although a German botanist had already given the plant the botanical name Euphorbia pulcherima.

The Poinsettias native to southern Mexico & Mesoamerica, unlike today’s commercial cultivars, grow into straight & tall trees. Often these trees can reach heights up to 10 feet tall. Through selection & breeding by growers, many cultivars have been developed in the United States & Europe. 

After its introduction in Philadelphia, the poinsettia was shipped around the country during the 1800's, usually as an outdoor plant for warm climates.  Around 1920 in southern California, a horticulturist named Paul Ecke became the next key person to promote the poinsettia.  He felt this shrub growing wild along roadsides would make a perfect Christmas flower, so set about producing these in fields in what is now Hollywood.  A few years later, due to the commercial & arts development in Hollywood, he was forced to move south to Encinitas where the Paul Ecke Ranch continues to produce poinsettias today.  Through the marketing efforts of Paul Ecke and his sons, the poinsettia has become symbolic with Christmas in the United States.  An Act of Congress has even set December 12, the death of Joel Poinsett, as National Poinsettia Day to commemorate a man and his plant.

Notes: Joel T. Fry  (B.A., Anthropology, Univ. of Penn. M.A., American Civ./Historical Archaeology, Univ. of Penn.) has served as curator for Bartram’s Garden, the home of John and William Bartram in Philadelphia, from 1992. (Bartram’s Garden, 54th Street & Lindbergh Blvd., Philadelphia, PA 19143)  

Some other publications include: 
“America’s ‘Ancient Garden’: The Bartram Botanic Garden, 1728-1850” in Amy R. W. Meyers, ed., Knowing Nature: Art and Science in Philadelphia, 1740-1840. Yale University Press, New Haven, 2011;

“William Bartram’s ‘Commonplace Book’ and ‘On Gardening’ in the volume, William Bartram, The Search for Nature’s Design: Selected Art, Letters, and Unpublished Writings. Thomas Hallock, and Nancy E. Hoffmann, eds., University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA, 2010;

“William Bartram’s Oenothera grandiflora: ‘The Most Pompous and Brilliant Herbaceous Plant yet Known to Exist,’” in Fields of Vision: Essays on the Travels of William Bartram, Kathryn E. Holland Braund and Charlotte M. Porter, eds. The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2010; 

“Historic American Landscapes Survey, John Bartram House and Garden (Bartram’s Garden), HALS No. PA-1, History Report,” U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Washington, DC, 2004.