Montana’s Pioneer Botanists: Exploring the Mountains and Prairies

Extremely Limited, but Maybe Still Available 

Please check back here as information (e.g. reviews, stories, retail outlets) is added regularly.

Published by your Montana Native Plant Society.

Containing 31 stories written by 17 different authors, and over 200 photos and botanical illustrations by 32 artists.

Some fun stories and sidelights gathered while assembling the book are related in Stolon Stories

Image of Book Cover: Montana's Pioneer Botanists


What they are saying

- We are very pleased to announce that Montana’s Pioneer Botanists: Exploring the Mountains and Prairies, published by your Montana Native Plant Society, was nominated in February 2018 by the international membership of The Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL) for “outstanding contributions to the literature of horticulture or botany.” Winners of the 19th Annual Literature Award will be announced at the Council’s annual meeting in New York City in June. We’ll keep you posted.

 - Montana’s Pioneer Botanists is a delight of a book right from the start. Appealing cover design, lush interior colors, high quality paper, visually pleasing layout. Full review from BRIT here.

- Here is a short review by Aaron Parrett announcing an award for the book that appeared in "The Montana Book Roundup" in Montana: The Magazine of Western History this winter:

"The award for production values this year must go to Rachel Potter and Peter Lesica’s collection of biographical essays, Montana’s Pioneer Botanists: Exploring the Mountains and the Prairies (Montana Native Plant Society, 2017). The photographs throughout this edition leap from the page in vibrant hues, immersing the reader in a tableau of botanical specimens to accompany the splendid period portraits of the botanists this team of essayists have profiled. While Lesica and Potter have composed the majority of the profiles composed here, a dozen other authors document the various contributions of Montana botanists, from the first inhabitants before the Europeans to figures who have only recently passed away. Wayne Phillips, who himself has written some of the best available wildflower and plant guides for Montana, weighs in here with a thorough and concise summary of Meriwether Lewis’s contributions to the subject, performing admirably in fulfilment of Jefferson’s charge to “notice the face of the country, its growth & vegetable productions especially those not of the US....the dates at which particular plants put forth their flowers, or leaf” (9).  Similarly, Robert Dorn’s essay on William Edwin Booth (1908-1987) is a must-read, detailing as it does so competently the life and work of a man who “contributed more to our knowledge of the flora of Montana than any other individual” (128). Though he was an ecologist by training, Dorn notes that Booth “readily adapted to taxonomy,” and made the only collection of inland New Jersey tea (Ceanothus herbaceus) in 1948 in Powder River County, a rarity that has never been found there or elsewhere since."

- "Hear ye, hear ye!  Librarians, botanists, herbarium curators, historians, book aficionados! You are going to love Montana's Pioneer Botanists, a gold mine of information about botanical exploration in Montana, beginning with indigenous people and ending with Klaus Lackschewitz (1911-1995).

Editors Rachel Potter and Peter Lesica have produced a magnificent compendium of 31 historical essays written by 18 authors, many with a special connection to or knowledge of the botanist about whom they were writing.  Photos of botanists and plants associated with them are skillfully interspersed within the essays."   – Dr. Patricia Holmgren, Director Emerita, New York Botanical Garden Herbarium Complete review here.  

- "Men and women have been studying and celebrating Montana’s flora for centuries. At last, a book about these botanical pioneers that’s comprehensive, wonderfully detailed, and as fresh and alluring as the flora they loved. The authors, present-day native-plant devotés who know their stuff and their state, have given us not just a vital resource, but a delightful and inspiring read." - Beth Judy, aka Flora Delaterre, "The Plant Detective"

- "Editors Rachel Potter and Peter Lesica have crafted not a dry biographical tome, but a bright and lively read full of colorful photos, illustrations, and interesting stories about the early efforts to catalogue, identify, and study Montana’s rich plant life and history." - Chris Peterson, Hungry Horse News for the complete review click here for the original or here for a pdf of the text of the review.

- Here is a great review on a beautiful page published by the New York Botanical Garden.

- And here is the Amazon page offering the book and containing a link to reader reviews. (But, if you can, please buy your copy through MNPS or at one of the local dealers shown below.)


Nearly thirty years ago, Arthur Kruckeberg (1920-2016) envisioned a book of biographies of historical Northwest plant hunters, with essays written by botanists of today. He asked Peter Lesica to recruit authors for stories of Montana’s botanists, and a dozen or so essays were written or drafted. As the years went by and there was no sign of a Pacific Northwest book, Peter decided to publish the Montana essays and asked Rachel Potter to help. As this new book's editors, they recruited a few more authors and revised some essays to highlight Montana.

How and Where to Buy This Book

Happily, as of mid February 2018, sales have gone very well and remaining copies are limited. If you haven’t read the book, please check out a library copy, or ask your library to buy one. Some of the options below may be exhausted now or very soon.

Thank you for first considering options high on the list.

1. Directly from the MNPS at chapter events. Price 29.95, member discount $25. Cash or check, please.

2. Retails outlets (updated August 22, 2017):

Apgar: Montana House Gift Shop
Polebridge: Polebridge Mercantile
   - Center for Native Plants, HWY 93 South. MNPS members given $25 discount price on request. Thank you CNP!
   - Crystal Winters, Central Avenue

Kalispell: Hockaday Museum of Art, 302 2nd Ave. E.

Missoula: Fact and Fiction, 220 N. Higgins

      Williston, ND: Books on Broadway, 12 ½ Broadway West

Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society Museum Store, 225 N. Roberts St., 406-444-2890

3. By mail with a check. Please print out, fill in, and mail  Order form here, including info on wholesale purchases. Sorry, no member discounts. A limited number of hardbacks targeted for libraries, schools and the like are available for $39.95 by mail only.

4. On Paperbacks only. Thanks for posting reader reviews on Amazon.


For the back cover, Peter Lesica wrote: Montana is a large state with diverse vegetation from Great Plains prairie and deciduous forest in the east, to northern coniferous forest and alpine tundra in the west. Discovering the botanical secrets of this spectacular landscape began with indigenous peoples and continued through the 20th Century with early explorers, geographers and entrepreneurs followed by teachers, scientists and curious and dedicated lay persons. Montana’s multitude of rugged mountains and wide open spaces means that botanical discoveries which started with the Lewis and Clark Expedition continue to this day. Montana’s Pioneer Botanists brings together more than thirty biographies of these diverse people and traces the growth of botanical knowledge in this wild and beautiful state.


When the editors decided to add plant and landscape photos and art to portraits of dead white guys, the project flourished from the work of different authors into a vital community effort with many more people donating photos, artwork, and expertise. The majority of these contributors are members of the Montana Native Plant Society. The editors are immensely grateful to all contributors acknowledged in the following sections on Essay Authors, Photographers and Artists, Technical Expertise, Style Advice, and more, and Financial Contributors. Along the way were any number of discoveries and adventures that add a backstory to assembling the book. Some of those "Stolon Stories" are collected here.

Essay Authors

The first group of contributors are the essay authors. Here are brief bios of the authors listed in this format:

Authors (essay title(s) in parentheses)

Photo of authorElizabeth Bergstrom (Hans Peter Gyllenbourg Koch) worked as a botanist with the U.S. Forest Service, primarily in the Eastern Sierra and Central Nevada. Her interests include botanical illustration, volunteering at the Montana Sate University herbarium, and alpine climate change monitoring. She especially loves to share mountain trails with her husband, Mark, discovering new plants along the way. Elizabeth also wrote a biographical essay on Mary Vaux Walcott whose illustrations grace this book.






Photo of authorThomas R. Cox (Charles Andreas Geyer) is Professor Emeritus of History at San Diego State University who currently lives in McCammon, Idaho, where he has an orchard of heritage apple varieties and trains dogs for field trial competition. He did field botany under the University of Washington's Arthur Kruckeberg before graduating with a major in biology from Oregon State. He later changed his field to history and earned a PhD from the University of Oregon, where he was one of the pioneer practitioners of environmental history. He is a fellow and former president of the Forest History Society. He has published numerous articles on forest and environmental history and is the author of The Park Builders: The State Parks Movement in the Pacific Northwest; Mills and Markets: A History of the Pacific Coast Lumber Industry to 1900; and co-author of This Well‐Wooded Land: Americans and their Forests from Colonial Times to the Present. He has a forthcoming book The Other Oregon: People, Environment, History.

Photo of authorJerry DeSanto (1928-2017) (David Lyall, Robert Statham Williams, and Klaus Lachschewitz)  is a retired park ranger who spent his career in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. His education in history, passion for plants, and deep curiosity make Jerry an ideal contributor to this book. Always recognizing those that came before, Jerry frequently and emphatically admonished his field companions with “***-it! If we’re trying to honor someone by naming a plant after them, you’ve got to pronounce their name correctly. He didn’t call himself ‘David Doug-lás’, so you can’t say ‘Doug-lás-i-a’, you’ve got to say ‘Doug-las-í-a’!” For more about Jerry, see this Kelseya article pg. 7.



Photo of author

Robert Dorn (Frederick Booth) is a retired biological consultant. He has authored books on the floras of Montana, Wyoming, and the Black Hills, as well as on historical landscapes, birds, and growing native plants. For more on Dorn, see this Kelseya article pg. 3.





Photo of authorJoe Elliott (Frederick Hermann and Wilhelm Schofield) is a retired ecological consultant with more than forty years’ experience working on projects that affect natural resources in the western United States, Canada, Kenya, Ghana, Peru, and Bolivia. His work has been to gather and analyze biological information in compliance with environmental laws that address wetlands, endangered species, biodiversity, and environmental policy. He has studied with some renowned moss men and continues to be an aspiring bryologist.  





Photo of authorAnne Garde (Marcus Jones) is, like many of the plant hunters in this book, a self-taught botanist (with a lot of help from the Montana Native Plant Society). She loves Latin binomials and hiking in Montana woods and prairies with her eyes on the ground and a hand lens in her pocket.






Keith Gopher (Montana’s First Botanists) is a member of the Chippewa-Cree Tribe and is the Tribe’s Wetland Program Manager. He works with Elders in addressing protection and restoration of wetland specific cultural plants and wetlands on the Rocky Boy Reservation.

Photo of authorJames Habeck (Morton Elrod, Joseph Kirkwood, C. Leo Hitchcock, and Frank Rose)  is Professor Emeritus at the University of Montana. Since being hired in Missoula in 1960, his career has focused on vegetation ecology, including the role of fire. He taught two summers at the University of Montana Biological Station, founded by Morton Elrod in 1899. Jim’s interest in history of UM’s botany department and its faculty led him to search out archived information of the University’s first botany professors, as well as assembling and preparing written documents related to the origins of the University’s herbarium and those field botanists who make early day contributions to the herbarium holdings. Morton Elrod was identified as one of these, and the need for biographical information on Elrod led to the “life and times” compilation that is the basis for the Morton Elrod essay.

Photo of authorTulli Kerstetter (Joseph Blankinship) has a Master’s degree in botany from Montana State University. Her thesis research involved verifying the taxonomic status of Erigeron lackschewitzii for the Montana Native Plant Society.







Photo of authorShannon Kimball (Paul Standley) spent her childhood near and in Glacier National Park. She and colleague Peter Lesica have written two field guides to the Park’s flora some 90 years after her subject, Paul Standley, wrote the first Glacier flora. She is currently the Curator of the University of Montana Herbarium in Missoula, Montana, and Treasurer of the Montana Native Plant Society.





Photo of authorArthur Kruckeberg (Frank Tweedy, Morton Elrod, and C. Leo Hitchcock)  (1920-2016), former Professor of Botany at the University of Washington, was an activist in conservation issues, authored books and papers on plant ecology, geology, gardening and wildflowers, and was co-founder of the Washington Native Plant Society in 1976. For more, see an obituary here.





Photo of authorPeter Lesica, co-editor (Nathaniel Wyeth, Frank Tweedy, Sereno Watson, Francis Kelsey, John Lieberg, Pliny Hawkins, Wilhelm Suksdorf, National Youth Administration, Wilfred White, Marie Mooar and LeRoy Harvey) has been a consulting botanist and plant ecologist in Montana for the past 35 years. He has authored books on the flora of Montana and Glacier National Park. For more on Peter, see this Kelseya  article pg. 7.





Tara Luna (Montana’s First Botanists)  lives on the Blackfeet Reservation and has worked as a botanist in Montana for 27 years. She collaborates extensively with Tribes in the western U.S. on plant conservation and restoration projects of culturally significant and rare plants.


Photo of authorPauline Matt (Montana’s First Botanists) is a member of the Blackfeet Tribe and has worked with traditional plant uses throughout her life. She teaches short courses on Blackfeet ethnobotany and owns a small herbal product sustainable business.



Photo of authorSheila Morrison (Wally Albert)  has been hiking and botanizing in Montana for decades. She has grown countless species of native plants and has authored books on trail hiking and native plant propagation. For more about Sheila, see this Kelseya article. pg. 6.






Photo of authorJack Nisbet (Introduction) is a writer who focuses on the human and natural history of the Intermountain West. His books included biographies of David Thompson and David Douglas as well as essay collections that wrestle with all kinds of plants.







Photo of authorWayne Phillips (Meriwether Lewis)  is a retired Forest Service ecologist and charter member and former president of the Montana Native Plant Society. He is the author of three wildflower field guides: Plants of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Northern Rocky Mountain Wildflowers, and Central Rocky Mountain Wildflowers.






Photo of authorRachel Potter, co-editor, designer (Gertrude Norton, Morton Elrod, C. Leo Hitchcock)  earned a B.A. in Botany at the University of Montana in the classrooms where Elrod, Kirkwood, Hitchcock, and Harvey taught eons ago. She worked and now plays in Glacier National Park where the plants and landscape have captivated her for four decades. She lives in Columbia Falls and is currently the Secretary of the Montana Native Plant Society. Jerry DeSanto long fostered Rachel’s botanical pursuits, so getting Jerry’s essays published was a motivating factor in her involvement with the book. In the photo, Rachel is next to a portrait of Meriwether Lewis in Philadelphia’s National Portrait Gallery.

Photo of authorArnold Tiehm (Per Axel Rydberg)  is curator of the herbarium at the University of Nevada, Reno. He has spent over 40 years exploring the backside of nowhere in Nevada, searching out its botanical gems.






Photographers and Artists

Photo of photographer

Bringing the stories to life, are the photographs of Dee Linnell Blank, Matt Lavin, Maria Mantas, Cyndi Smith, Clare Beelman, Wayne Phillips, Drake Barton, Jerry DeSanto, Mary Sloan, Dee Strickler, Tara Carolin, Sue Crispin, Ann DeBolt, Dennis Divoky, Terry Divoky, Susan Fletcher, Alex Gladstone, Cathy Koot, Teresa Larson, Tara Luna, Andrea Pipp, Elena Potter, James Romo, Libby Sale, and Sandra Looman Talbot. Graceful botanical illustrations by Dee Linnell Blank, Anne Morely, Patricia Eckels, Karen Feather, Debbie McNeil, and Kim Shirley supplement those of Mary Vaux Walcott’s, first published by the Smithsonian over ninety years ago.




Technical expertise, style advice, and more

Deb Dolan did meticulous restoration of the many historical photos. Dee Linnell Blank spent many hours mastering the intricacies of prepress photo editing for the rest. The keen eyes of former Kelseya editors Jan Nixon and Kathy Lloyd can spot errors as well as count the stamens of a saxifrage, and we have them to thank for proofreading. Rachel needed lots of help learning how to design and lay out a book. She got technical and style advice, as well as encouragement, from Carolyn Clover, Jen Hintz, Beth Judy, Kate Kendall, Beth Lynne and Rosella Mosteller.

Financial Contributors

We thank all the individuals who contributed to production costs: Dave and Melinda Clark, Karen Feather, Jim Habeck, Bob and Maureen Jacobs, Nancy Lundgren, Pat and Riley McClelland, Dick and Ursula Mattson, Cindi Misch, Don and Rosemary Pershau, V.V. and Dave Shea, Dick and Gloria Wendel, and Betsy Wood. In addition, all members of the MNPS have contributed through their dues. We thank the board of the Montana Native Plant Society for deciding on a small markup above cost so the book can get into the hands of more people.

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" preserve, conserve, and study Montana's native plants
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" preserve, conserve, and study Montana's native plants
and plant communities."