Six Books on Plants, People, Poetry, and Politics

The Huntington’s catalog entry is not enticing: Abrahami Couleij Angli, poemata Latina. In quibus continentur, sex libri plantarum, viz. duo herbarum. Florum. Sylvarum. Et unus miscellaneorum. But on the other side of the description is a most remarkable bit of work, a neoclassical homage to plants and politics. Published originally in 1662, the six books …

Botany’s Poets Laureate

I wager not many botanists have heard of Nahum Tate (Britain’s poet laureate from 1692 into 1715), Abraham Cowley, or Girolamo Fracastoro. Tate (formerly spelled Teate) was inimitably neoclassical and romantically optimistic, part of his notoriety resting on rewrites of King Lear, Othello, and Hamlet so as to have happier endings. But beyond recasting Shakespeare, …

Clawback from the Grave

Though the Swedish East India Company folded in 1813, one of its earlier Directors, Magnus von Lagerström, made a handsome investment through funneling plants to Carl Linnaeus. Lagerström was something of a plant fanatic, especially regarding the potential of plants from the East. According to Emil Bretschneider (1898, History of European Botanical Discoveries in China) …

From Rags to Riches

Cotton has been a fabric of human life for thousands of years, but Westerners came to cotton only in the past two centuries.  Linen predates cotton as the crucial European and Mediterranean fiber plant, indeed fine linen was a prized product even in Egyptian antiquity.  And it was precious.  Sails for tall ships were made …

Cells to Contemplate

Cells are truly life’s building blocks. Everything we are as humans, everything that makes up a plant is either a cell or extruded from a cell. And each of us is made of trillions of cells. Heck – a typical wine cork is made of nearly 300,000,000 cells. So most cells are pretty small. What …

Bittersweet

Sarah Goodin Barrett Moulton was born in St. James, Jamaica, 22 March 1783.  Her mother’s family had grown wealthy through owning and managing sugar cane plantations on the island since 1655.  The prominent Barrett scions, so very proud of the island empire they had built, mandated that any individual in succeeding generations maintain the family …

An Island Belle

Fairly recently, in 1976, a team of collectors discovered a previously undescribed plant in the Campanula family, on the island of Mauritius.  One of the team, Ian Richardson, named it as Wahlenbergia mauritiana in 1979.  But another team member, Mats Thulin concluded the species is sufficiently distinct to merit its own genus, for which he …

Super Suber

Most trees make cork; it’s a dead tissue in the bark, a tissue called phellem in Greek and suber in Latin.  Botanists still use the words phellem and suber to describe barks, but in English we just say cork, a term that likely derives from quercus, which is the Latin word for oak trees.  Of …

Scandalous Connections….

Plants gain their names in curious ways.  To gardeners, Grevillea is a wonderful group of shrubby Protea relatives (mostly from Australia).  The brilliant botanist Robert Brown, having studied the Protea family, determined this particular cadre of species should be recognized as the separate genus Grevillea, one of several new names he proposed in 1809 during …