Katherine Sophia Kane

Irish Flowers and Ferns

February 25, 1856

Today is the anniversary of the Irish botanist and horticulturist Katherine Sophia Kane.

Orphaned as a little girl, Katherine was taken in by her father's older brother - her uncle - Matthias O'Kelly, and she grew up alongside her cousins. A naturalist, Uncle Matthias fostered Kate's love for the outdoors and, ultimately, her focus on botany.

When Kate was 22 years old, she anonymously published a book that became the first national flora of Ireland and was called The Irish Flora Comprising the Phaenogamous Plants and Ferns. With the help of the National Botanic Garden's John White, Kate's little book was released in 1833, and it described not only all the Irish flowering plants but also ferns and other cryptograms. Accurate and informative, Kate's book became a textbook for botany students at Trinity College in Dublin.

Three years later, in recognition of her work, Kate became the first woman elected to the Botanical Society of Edinburgh.

The story of how Kate met her husband, Robert, is similar to how John Claudius Loudon met his wife, Jane Webb, through her book. In Kate's case, proofs of The Irish Flora had mistakenly made their way to Robert's desk. Curious about the work, Robert tracked down Kate's address and personally returned the proofs to her. The two were married in 1838, and they had ten children.

In 1846, Robert was knighted, and Kate became known as Lady Kane. An economist, a chemist, and a scientist, Robert was hired to serve as the President of Queens College.

And although Kate was happy for her husband, she put her foot down and refused to move to Cork. Kate had designed a magnificent garden with many exotics planted all around their home in Dublin, and she was reluctant to leave it.

And so, much to the school's dismay, Robert commuted to work until the College insisted he live in Cork during the school year in 1858.

And here's a fun little story about Kate and Robert: as they were both scientists, Kate and Robert would send notes to each other in Greek. 

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Katherine Sophia Kane
Katherine Sophia Kane

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