Monday, December 26, 2011

Who wrote all this stuff?

Every folio of Catesby’s collections contains an assortment of pieces of information in addition to the dried plants themselves. There are various handwritten notes, some written on labels pasted onto the pages and some written directly on the pages, some in ink and some in pencil. Some specimens have typed identification labels. A few have labels from the Linnaean Typification Project.
Who the heck wrote all this stuff? What does it mean?

Let’s start by consulting Dandy. (This would be the ultimate reference for the Sloane: J.E. Dandy, ed., The Sloane Herbarium, Trustees of the British Museum, 1958.) Here is what he says about H.S. 212 and H.S. 232.

H.S. 212: Volumen Plantarum, quas Carolina misit D. CATESBY [m. scr. ignot.]. [96 ff] [Catesby’s collection.]
There is a list, m. scr. Ignot., on the title-page of the volume. Many specimens are referred to Ray, and many named by Solander; good specimens, some with Catesby’s labels. Amman has written determinations on ff. 25, 42, 53.

H.S. 232. Plants gathered in Carolina and the Bahama Islands by Mr. MARK CATESBY [m. scr. ignot.]. [139 ff.]
See H.S. 212, of which this forms a second volume. At the beginning is a duplicate of the list in H.S. 212. The specimens are referred to Ray, and some are named by Solander. Some have Catesby’s labels.

H.S. 212 f. 4 has lots of good examples of these texts. Take the specimen on the left, the conifer. Below the plant are the letters "R.H.S.P. 10.1" Below that a beautifully handwritten label reads "1 Cupressus disticha Linn." On that label in pencil is: "Sp. Pl. 1003." A typed label reads:

Taxodium distichum (L.) Richard
Catesby 1-11
See also HS 232 f 69, f 85
Det. Richard A. Howard 1982

Dandy says “many specimens are referred to Ray.” John Ray was an English naturalist who lived 1627-1705. He wrote one of the first works classifying plants according to structural features, the Historia Plantarum. Hans Sloane made notes on the pages of Catesbsy’s specimens referring to this book. He also refers to R.H.S., presumably Ray’s Hortus Siccus – but what is that? Ray’s own herbaria? Dandy writes “Many [of Sloane’s specimens] are indicated in the margins of a copy of Ray’s Historia Plantarum in the Department of Botany, which thus forms an index to the collections, so far as the specimens have been ‘referred to Ray’….” (p. 18). I haven’t seen this copy of Ray – it might be interesting to add these images to the collection one day.

Dandy doesn’t mention this, but some of Sloane’s notes mention Plukenet. This would be Leonard Plukenet, 1642-1706, another English botanist whose extensive collection of dried plants ended up with Sloane in 1710.

Lots of plants have lovely handwritten labels glued on to the pages such as this one that reads “Cupressus distich a Linn” (which is quite close to the current scientific name.) Dandy says that many specimens were “named by Solander.” Daniel Carlsson Solander, 1733-1782, happens to have been a student of Linnaeus, who taught him botany at Uppsala University. Solander went to England in 1760 and got a job at the British Museum. He accompanied Joseph Banks on his expeditions to the Pacific and Australia (1768-1771) and to Iceland (1772). For the next ten years he ran the Natural History Department at the British Museum. I don’t know when he wrote the labels for Catesby’s plants, but they are written in Linnaean binomials and many of the specimens cite Linnaeus as the authority, presumably from the Species Plantarum first published in 1753.

The other authority Solander cites in his binomials is “mscr.” Check out H.S. 212 f. 20, with one specimen labeled “Sophora cerulea Mscr.” Dandy says of Catesby’s specimens “a large number (especially in H.S. 212) are named by Solander and some are described as new in his MSS. Almost none of these names are currently valid scientific names. Solander pops up in descriptions of other Sloane collections, having described plants collected by others for his MSS. But where is this manuscript? Apparently it was not published. Solander and Banks collected a massive amount of material in Botany Bay (named for these botanists), and Solander moved in with Banks in 1771 specifically to prepare this material for publication. I don’t know if the Catesby materials were included in this project, but it seems plausible (based on some quick web searching;). Solander wrote up a pile of descriptions and Banks paid for 700 copper engravings, but the book was not yet finished when Solander died in 1782. Banks was too busy running the Royal Soceity and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew to finish it himself, so it remained unpublished. This had a serious impact on the naming of the Australian collections. Could it also mean that Solander’s work in identifying Carolina plant species would forever go to waste?

Johann Amman, who wrote determinations on H.S. 212 ff. 25, 42, 53 lived from 1707 to 1741. He was born in Switzerland and became a professor of botany at St. Petersburg. He wrote a number of letters to Sloane between 1734 and 1741, in which he criticized Linnaeus for basing his classification system solely on numbers of floral parts.

My reading about Amman led me to the solution to another mystery. H.S. 212 f. 4 contains a specimen of Hamamelis virginiana L. Below the specimen is the penciled notation “Hamamelis Gronov.” Apparently Johan Frederik Gronovius described a specimen of Hamamelis, so maybe this was Hamamelis gronovius for a time. Who was Gronovius? He was another of the botanical club of the early 18th century, a regular correspondent of both Linnaeus and Catesby and seems to have defended Catesby to Linnaeus, who apparently took a dislike to Catesby. He was Dutch. John Clayton collected plants from Virginia and sent them to Gronovius, who used them in his Flora Virginica (1739-1743).

A number of specimens have typed labels glued onto the pages next to them. Most of these are the work of Richard A. Howard. Howard was director of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum from 1966 until 1978. (During World War II he trained pilots how to survive in the jungles of the South Pacific – who says botany isn’t exciting?) He visited the Natural History Museum in 1982, where he identified the specimens that appear in Catesby’s Natural History. The labels refer to plates in the Natural History. (The modern names for Catesby’s plants. Howard, Richard. A. and Staples, George W. 1983. J. Arnold Arbor 64:511–546.)

For this specimen, Howard gave it a current scientific name, Taxodium distichum. He named the page in Natural History where this appears: volume 1, folio 11. He names two folios in Catesby's other collection of dried plants where this species also appears, although those two specimens have since been identified as the related Taxodium ascendens.

A few specimens have stickers from the Linnaean Typification Project added by James Reveal, professor emeritus of the University of Maryland, honorary curator of the New York Botanical Garden, and current curator of

What else? There are lots of pencil scribbles, mostly modern scientific names and references to pages in Natural History. Mark Spencer doesn’t know who added those.

I am continually amazed at the willingness of many to write on or glue stuff on the pages of a historic manuscript. But I suppose that’s how you build a multitext – if everyone had kept the pages pristine there wouldn’t be nearly so much to discover.