The Beginning of Modern Field Botany (1900-1948)

(Excerpts from Plant Life of Kentucky by Dr. Ronald L. Jones)

Several major floras chiefly focusing on the northeastern United States had been published prior to the turn of the century, especially the series of editions of Gray’s Manual of Botany, first published in 1848 (Gray 1848), with a 6th edition by Watson & Coulter (1889). In 1903 J. K. Small published the first comprehensive flora of the southeastern U.S., and a revised edition in 1933 (Small 1903, 1933). These works provided the foundation for additional botanical advances throughout the region. The botanical history of this era in Kentucky was summarized, in part, by Browne (1965), Davies (1953), and Meijer (1970, 1988a,b).

In the early 1900’s there was a renaissance in Kentucky field botany, evident in the growth of two herbaria at the University of Kentucky––the College of Agriculture Herbarium, curated by Harrison Garman, and the University of Kentucky Herbarium, curated by Frank T. McFarland. Two pioneering women botanists, E. Lucy Braun and Mary E. Wharton, also made major contributions during this time.
 

Harrison Garman (1858-1943) and the College of Agriculture Herbarium

Harrison GarmanSeveral major floras chiefly focusing on the northeastern United States had been published prior to the turn of the century, especially the series of editions of Gray’s Manual of Botany, first published in 1848 (Gray 1848), with a 6th edition by Watson & Coulter (1889). In 1903 J. K. Small published the first comprehensive flora of the southeastern U.S., and a revised edition in 1933 (Small 1903, 1933). These works provided the foundation for additional botanical advances throughout the region. The botanical history of this era in Kentucky was summarized, in part, by Browne (1965), Davies (1953), and Meijer (1970, 1988a,b).

In the early 1900’s there was a renaissance in Kentucky field botany, evident in the growth of two herbaria at the University of Kentucky––the College of Agriculture Herbarium, curated by Harrison Garman, and the University of Kentucky Herbarium, curated by Frank T. McFarland. Two pioneering women botanists, E. Lucy Braun and Mary E. Wharton, also made major contributions during this time.


Frank T. McFarland (1886-1974) and the University of Kentucky Herbarium

Frank T. McFarlandFrank D. McFarland arrived at the University of Kentucky in 1912 and, although a plant pathologist by training, took on the curatorship of the small herbarium housed within the Department of Botany. This herbarium had been founded on a gift of specimens from Robert Peter in about 1878. It had grown only slightly in the subsequent three decades under the care of a series of curators who had maintained the herbarium but evidently added only small numbers of additional specimens. About 1918 the Department of Botany and its herbarium were transferred to the College of Arts and Sciences, with McFarland continuing as curator. McFarland (1924) reported that the University of Kentucky Herbarium contained 4106 specimens, of which 3157 were collected by Peter and Short between 1832 and 1835. Therefore, a total of only about 1000 specimens had been added to the Peter Herbarium since it was donated in 1878.

This rate of growth was about to change, even though McFarland was not an especially active collector and did not publish a great many papers during his career. He was, however, an active supervisor of graduate students and directed a number of master’s students projects, involving both county floras and state-wide studies of selected plant groups. He also developed a network of colleagues who conducted their own studies of the Kentucky flora. Included among these graduate students and colleagues were Thomas N. McCoy (1905-___), H. T. Shacklette ( - ),and B. B. McInteer (1887-__). This active period of field studies and collecting, beginning in the early 1920's and continuing until the late 1940's, resulted in rapid growth of the Herbarium. By the late 1940's the collection is estimated to have contained 25,000 specimens (Meijer 1988b; Paratley 1995); this total indicated that specimens had been added at a rate of over 1000 specimens a year over the previous 20 years. The result of this renewed interest in botanical studies was the accumulation of a great deal of new information on the presence and distribution of species in the state. The culmination of these studies was the publication by McFarland of the first checklist (listing 1702 taxa) of Kentucky plants in almost 100 years, based solely on collections at the two herbaria of the University of Kentucky (McFarland 1942).


E. Lucy Braun (1889-1971)

E. Lucy BraunBy far the most prolific publisher on Kentucky plants during the 1930’s and 1940’s was E. Lucy Braun. Dr. Braun taught in the Department of Botany at the University of Cincinnati from 1914 to 1948 (see Stuckey 1973, 1994, 2001 for biographical sketches, bibliography, anthology of papers, maps, and photographs). Although her primary interest was plant ecology, she also contributed much in the area of floristics and taxonomy in both Ohio and Kentucky. Her extensive field studies in Kentucky resulted in 21 floristic publications on Kentucky plants. Included in her publications were the descriptions of several new species and varieties, including two of our most endangered plants––Arabis perstellata and Solidago albopilosa. In addition, several species and varieties have been named in honor of Dr. Braun, including Ageratina luciae-brauniae, and Silphium terebinthinaceum var. luciae-brauniae. Her most significant publication on Kentucky botany was the Annotated Catalog of Spermatophytes of Kentucky (Braun 1943), which gave detailed accounts for 1636 species, varieties, forms, and hybrids. Unlike McFarland’s list, published the year before, Braun’s list contained habitat information and county distributions. It remained the only annotated checklist of Kentucky plants for nearly 50 years. Braun’s personal collection of about 10,000 specimens, including many from Kentucky, was sent to the Smithsonian Institution. Her later books (Braun 1950, 1961, 1967), were of regional significance and have been invaluable to the work of Kentucky botanists.


Mary E. Wharton (1912-1991)

Mary E. WhartonAnother major study in the 1940's was a Ph.D. dissertation by Mary E. Wharton on the flora and vegetation of the Devonian-Missisippian black shale regions of Kentucky (Wharton 1945). This study of the Knobs region, the most comprehensive region-wide study yet attempted in Kentucky, resulted in the documentation of over 1000 taxa in the area. One of Wharton’s collections of a dewberry species was named in her honor, Rubus whartoniae. Her study was done out of the University of Michigan, but over 6000 specimens were donated to McFarland’s growing collection at the University of Kentucky. Wharton was associated with Georgetown College for the remainder of her professional career. During her long career, she, in collaboration with Roger Barbour (____ ), produced a series of popular books dealing with the Kentucky flora, including books on wildflowers and ferns (Wharton & Barbour 1971); trees and shrubs (Wharton & Barbour 1973); and Bluegrass Land & Life (Wharton & Barbour 1991). This latter work represented the culmination of her outstanding career; it included a list of 1149 plant species of the flora of the Inner Bluegrass, and was her final plea for protection of the disappearing natural resources of the Bluegrass. Perspectives on the life of Mary Wharton include those of Meijer (1992) and Wieland (1992).


The 1948 Fire at the University of Kentucky Herbarium

Thus, by the late 1940’s, with on-going studies by professors and graduate students at the University of Kentucky, the stage was set for the Herbarium, then housed in Norwood Hall, to become a major botanical research facility. Plans were underway to supervise state-wide floristic surveys and coordinate efforts to produce a comprehensive flora of Kentucky. Misfortune intervened, and on 12 November 1948 the University of Kentucky Herbarium was completely destroyed by fire. Lost in the blaze were many important sets of specimens, including the collections from Black Mountain by McInteer and Shacklette, the entire set of Wharton collections from her Knobs study, and the original set of specimens donated by Robert Peter, as well as McFarland’s large botanical library (Meijer 1988b).

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