Vignettes Stemming from the Growth of Montana’s Pioneer Botanists
Co-editor, Rachel Potter came across some interesting situations in gathering material for the book that led to stories that are interesting and fun. These stories will be collected on this page and will be added as the collection grows.
The Botanical Illustrations – Sources and sidelights, by Rachel Potter
When Co-editor Peter Lesica and I decided to include plant and landscape photos in addition to the portraits of the pioneer botanists, I knew I wanted botanical illustrations also. I had two questions: “Will they ‘work’ with both color and black and white photos?,” and “Are public domain botanical illustrations of our western species available?” I think the illustrations have worked fine and finding them has been an adventure.
Wayne Phillips offered images from his first edition of Pursh’s 1814 Flora Americae septentrionalis with drawings from Meriwether Lewis’ collections. These were first drawn, then engraved, printed, and every sheet hand colored. Read Wayne’s wonderful story infra of how he came to own the book.
While searching for online images, I stumbled on Mary Vaux Walcott’s 5 volume set, North American Wildflowers, including illustrations of plants from her many trips to the Canadian Rockies. The Smithsonian published the set, so has always been in the public domain. I learned that the Archives at the University of Montana’s Mansfield Library owned a copy of the set from which they made high quality scans, which are far better than are available online. The Montana State University Herbarium also has a set. It’s worth a visit to view the 400 remarkable plates!
Photo-mechanical color printing was in its infancy in the 1920’s and Walcott tasked noted printer William Edwin Rush to research and refine what became known as the “Smithsonian process”. She presold 500 $500 subscriptions to pay for the $230,000 printing cost, a fortune in 1925 dollars.
Upon further research, I discovered that our friend Cyndi Smith featured Walcott in her 1989 book Off the Beaten Track: Women adventurers and mountaineers in western Canada. Cyndi retired as an ecologist and warden from Waterton Lakes National Park and is a contributing photographer for our book. Cyndi’s husband, Peter Achuff, is a long-time MNPS member and is responsible for our book title!
I have roots in Philadelphia’s Quaker community, and it turned out that, yes, Mary Vaux Walcott and I are distant cousins. See a poster with more about Mary here. See also, an biographical essay on Walcott written by Elizabeth Bergstrom.
The Britton’s dry rock-moss drawing in the front of our book was donated by bryologist/artist Patricia Eckel.
The other fine illustrations in the book are also modern-day pictures graciously donated by friends and MNPS members for use in the book.
About his Original Edition of an 1814 Edition of Flora Americae Septentrionalis by Frederick Pursh as related by Wayne Phillips
Gary Moulton, Editor of The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition (in 13 vols., University of Nebraska Press, 1983-2001) was in Great Falls in 1996, when he gave a lecture on the ongoing research of his Volume 12, Herbarium of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. I spoke with Dr. Moulton after the lecture, making some botanical recommendations on this research. During our discussion, I commented, “It sure would be helpful to see a copy of Frederick Pursh’s 1814 Flora Americae Septentrionalis, but I imagine a book this old would be hard to come by.” “Not so,” Dr. Moulton replied, “the volume was reprinted in Germany in 1979. I got my copy from Lubrecht and Cramer Ltd., a bookstore in New York.You might find a copy there.”
I went right home and called the Lubrecht and Cramer bookstore in Port Jervis, New York. By sheer coincidence, the bookstore was busily in the process of moving that day, so, instead of a clerk answering the phone, it was picked up by the owner’s wife, Mrs. Ann Lubrecht. When I explained to her that I was calling from Montana and the book that I was seeking, she called out: “Harry, come to the phone, there’s a guy from Montana you should talk to.” Mr. Lubrecht and I had a nice chat, in which I told him of my interest in the plants of the Lewis & Clark Expediton, and he told me of his interest in Montana. He asked if I knew of the Lubrecht Forest of the University of Montana. “ I know it well,” I said, “I am a graduate of the University of Montana School of Forestry and attended field classes in Forestry at the Lubrecht Forest.” Mr. Lubrecht replied, “Well, my family gave the land of Lubrecht Forest to the University of Montana.We have a special fondness for Montana and the University.”
Our conversation eventually turned to books, when Mr. Lubrecht said: “So, Mr. Phillips, we do have a copy of the 1979 re-print of the Frederick Pursh book that you are seeking, but would you be interested in a copy of the original book printed in 1814, instead? We have that as well.” I was dumbfounded, and awkwardly replied: “Well, yes, of course, but what would the original cost?” “Oh, I’ll sell it to you for the same price as the re-print, $72.50,” Mr. Lubrecht said. Overcome with joy and amazement I said: “OK, well then, I’d like to have both the original and the re-print, and I’m putting a check in the mail to you today!” I soon had both books in my hands. I later found that the original 1814 Flora might be worth several thousand dollars, and that Mr. Lubrecht therefore, basically, gave me the book.
Wayne Phillips tells About the Pursh’s Work with Lewis and the Illustrations in the Book
In the preface to his 1814 book, Pursh wrote: “…I had the pleasure to form an acquaintance with Meriwether Lewis, Esq. … who had lately returned from an expedition across the Continent of America to the Pacific Ocean… A small but highly interesting collection of dried plants was put into my hands by this gentleman…consisting of about one hundred and fifty specimens, contained not above a dozen plants well known to me to be natives of North America, the rest being either entirely new or but little known, and among them at least six distinct and new genera.” Pursh goes on to explain that he distinguishes, or credits, Lewis’s plants in his Flora “by the words ‘v. s. in Herb. Lewis.’“ This abbreviated acknowledgement means: “I have seen the plant in a dried state in the herbarium of Meriwether Lewis.” Of the total of 3,076 species in Purse’s Flora, there are 132 species from Lewis’s (and Clark’s) collections, at least 32 of which were collected in Montana. Three of Lewis’s collections, named by Pursh, were new genera that are still recognized: Lewisia, Clarkia, and Calochortus.
There are 27 plates illustrating plants in Pursh’s Flora, 13 of which are of plants from Lewis’s collections, and at least 2 (likely 3) are from plants collected in Montana. The plates, illustrating the original Flora, are beautifully hand water-colored, as there was no way to print in color in 1814. The plates in the 1979 re-print are un-colored, but still beautiful in their botanical detail.
Background information on early botanist David Lyall uncovered by co-editor Rachel Potter on the way to publishing Montana’s Pioneer Botanists.
Rachel reports that her search for portraits took took her down a number of interesting roads. With Peter Lesica she presented a slide program on Glacier National Park’s early botanists for the Park’s centennial in 2010. For that program, she says she could find only a very mushy, indistinct portrait of David Lyall. While digging further for this book, she was delighted to come across a wonderful paper on Lyall in The Linnean. The author, a distant relative of the venerable scientist, Andrew Lyall, was willing to share his story of learning about his grandfather, David Lyall.
Researching David Lyall (1817-1895) by Andrew Lyall FLS
I was born in Cheltenham, England in 1942. My family had moved there when my father’s company relocated from London to avoid the Blitz. My father, Donald Lyall, died in Cheltenham in 1949 when I was six. When I was still young I remember my mother telling me about how my father had said that there had been a Lyall who had been to Antarctica and that there was an island there called Lyall Island. I thought little more of this until many years later when doing postgraduate research in London. I and my brothers went to visit our uncle in Dundee and for some reason he repeated the story, adding a few details. He said his name was David Lyall, the same name as our grandfather, and that the two had met at some time. Back in London in the library of the Natural History Museum I found Desmond’s Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists & Horticulturalists, which had his dates, (1817 – 1895) and noted that as a naval surgeon he had been to Antarctica, New Zealand, the Arctic, and North America and, in his spare time, had collected plants. He clearly had a very remarkable life, but one detail particularly caught my eye. He had retired, as many service officers did in the nineteenth century, to Cheltenham! In Cheltenham I visited the local public library and a helpful librarian told me that the main cemetery had opened by then and that David Lyall might have been buried there. I drove round to the cemetery and they produced a card from their card index showing the location of his grave plot and headstone. It was quite a moving moment to find is grave. He had been there all that time but my family had been unaware of it all those years. This started me on a quest, which lasted quite a few years, to find out what I could about this intrepid sailor and botanist who seemed to have a curious liking for the chilliest parts of the earth.
His first expedition in the Royal Navy had been as assistant surgeon on HMS Terror on the Ross expedition to the Antarctic of 1839–43. Joseph Hooker was assistant surgeon on the other vessel, HMS Erebus. They became lifelong friends, David Lyall collecting and sending back plants to Hooker, who later, as Sir Joseph Hooker, became head of Kew Gardens and one of the foremost scientists of his day. Back in Cheltenham I found the house in which David Lyall had spent his retirement, 24 London Road. He had been made a fellow of the Linnean Society of London and that was my next port of call, where the then librarian, Ms Gina Douglas, was of great help.
His next posting was as surgeon and naturalist on the Commission which had been appointed by the Foreign Office to delimit the sea boundary between Canada and the United States in the Pacific Ocean. In 1858 David Lyall’s services were transferred to the Land Boundary Commission, surveying the boundary between British Columbia and the United States from the Gulf of Georgia to the Rocky Mountains. By that time the Royal Navy had recognised his value as a plant collector and botanist and it seems his role was to collect plants of the Pacific Northwest. Back at Kew, David Lyall prepared a herbarium with duplicates, one of which is now held by Harvard University.
It was not until 2010 that my work finally saw the light of day in a biographical article on David Lyall MD RN FLS in The Linnean (2010) vol. 26(2) pp. 23–48.
Later, in 2010, the Cheltenham Civic Society together with my two brothers and I sponsored a blue plaque (The Linnean 2010 vol. 26(3)) commemorating the life of Davis Lyall on his house in Cheltenham. It was unveiled by the Mayor of Cheltenham, Councillor Anne Regan, and attended by the member of parliament, Martin Horwood MP, and Prof Dianne Edwards FRS FLS, a Fellow of the Royal Society and later to be President of the Linnean Society, who has done such distinguished work on the earliest land plants.