William Herbst

Bucks County Botanist

Today is the birthday of the botanist William Herbst born on this day in 1833.

As a child, William would accompany his father on horseback as he visited his patients across Bucks County in Pennsylvania. While his dad met with the sick in their homes, William stayed outside and passed the time collecting flora and fauna for study. When he grew older, he spent time formally studying botany and attending Medical School in Philadelphia.

Although he became a doctor like his father Frederick, William Herbst was truly a botanist at heart. He developed a passion for fungi, and he wrote a Fungal Flora of the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania in 1899. Once, after sending a specimen to his botanist friend, a Professor CH Peck, Herbst received a kind acknowledgment letter, which read in part:

"That was a splendid fungus you sent me. It is an undescribed species of Sparassis. I propose to name it, with your consent, Sparassis Herbstii."

In 1906, doctors were still making house-calls. Herbst died after visiting a sick patient. His obituary in The Morning Callin Allentown, PA said,

"[Herbst] suffered from a fall. Leaving a sick-room to go to the bath room, he opened a stairway door by accident and plunged to the bottom in the darkness... [Then] he sank into a coma from which he did not awake.
The doctor was one of the most lovable of men. He was firm and honest in his convictions ... [and] His beautiful nature was exemplified in the poem, "Welcome Spring Flowers," which "he wrote many years ago...
Many a time he was asked why he did not settle in some city where his [botanical] talents would receive prompt recognition, but his answer invariably was that he could study nature better in his old home."


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William Herbst
William Herbst


  1. Timothy Herbst Haaf on December 8, 2020 at 4:44 pm

    GREAT article! Dr William Herbst was my great,great
    grandfather who as an adult, lived & practiced Medicine in Trexlertown , Lehigh County. There is a small creek which still winds behind the property where his house once stood. This is where he collected many specimens
    which he wrote about in his book of botany.
    Timothy Herbst Haaf

    • The Daily Gardener on December 8, 2020 at 10:10 pm

      Hi Timothy. Thanks so much – I’m glad you enjoyed reading this post. I love hearing from descendants of these great botanists of the past. I also appreciate hearing about the little family stories that have been passed down over the years. Thanks for telling me about the creek in Trexlertown. Very cool! Please let me know if you have any photos of the old homeplace or of your ancestor. Thanks again for stopping by!

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