The Harvard Botanist
On this day in 1838, the botanist Asa Gray resigned from the Wilkes Expedition.
Gray was frustrated by all of the delays. He also disagreed with Captain Charles Wilkes.
Gray and Wilkes disagreed about the Latin descriptions of the new taxa. In addition, Wilkes wanted to work with Americans only. Gray recognized that the work could not be done with his usual level of excellence unless European herbaria and experts were included.
Instead, Gray accepted a position at the University of Michigan. But, before he could officially start, Harvard wooed him away.
Gray established the science of botany and guided American botany into the international arena.
It was Asa Gray who said,
“Natural selection is not the wind which propels the vessel, but the rudder which, by friction, now on this side and now on that, shapes the course.”