The Famous Bryologist
Today is the birthday of the famous bryologist Elizabeth Gertrude Knight Britton.
Elizabeth married the botanist Nathaniel Lord Britton. She was a teacher, and he was a professor of botany at Columbia University. Together, they helped create the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Their primary source of Inspirationtion was Kew Gardens in London.
Elizabeth was a bryologist. Bryology is the study of mosses. The root, bryōs, is a Greek verb meaning to swell and is the etymology of the word embryo. Bryology will be easier to remember if you think of the ability of moss to expand as it takes on water.
Uniquely skilled for her time, Elizabeth Britton was intelligent, resourceful, and not afraid to speak her mind. The author Elizabeth Gilbert used the real-life Elizabeth Gertrude Britain as the inspiration for the heroine and her novel The Signature of All Things.
In researching Britton, Gilbert read through many of her letters and correspondence. Gilbert said that “In one of her letters, a fellow botanist had sent her a species of moth he thinks he has discovered and wants to name after himself. But Britain replied something like,
‘Do your research, my friend; I've got 20 of these in my cabinet already.’”
Elizabeth Britton was also dedicated to conservation. In 1902, Elizabeth helped found the Wildflower Preservation Society of America.