The Father of North American Mycology
1780 Today is the birthday of the Moravian clergyman and botanist Lewis David von Schweinitz, also known as the "Father of North American Mycology." Mycology is the study of fungi.
Lewis was born in Pennsylvania, and he was a descendant on his mother's side of Count Zinzendorf - the founder of the Moravian Church. Lewis's home town of Bethlehem Pennsylvania was a Moravian settlement.
When Lewis was seven years old, he was placed in a Moravian boarding school called Nazareth Hall. One of Lewis's earliest memories was visiting Nazareth Hall before attending there. He passed by one of the classrooms and saw a specimen of lichen digitatus sitting on a table, and he went to inspect it. It was Lewis's first experience with botany, and it would become his favorite subject.
After completing his education, Lewis moved to Niesky, Germany, with his family. He was 18 years old. In Germany, Lewis became a pastor, got married, and studied botany in his spare time. He even managed to help his professor put together a book featuring over 1,000 different types of fungi found in Niesky. Lewis used his natural talent for drawing and painting to created watercolors of the specimens featured, and they are now digitized and available online.
After many years in Germany, Lewis and his wife moved back to the United States to lead a Moravian church. They settled in Salem, North Carolina. Although the church was his primary focus, throughout his adulthood, Lewis devoted all of his spare time to the study of fungi.
Between 1812 and 1821, Lewis collected in and around Salem North, Carolina. He was essentially replicating the work he had performed in Germany under the direction of his botany professor. In 1818, Lewis published his work on the fungi of North Carolina. Then, four years later in 1822, Lewis published an even more comprehensive book featuring a staggering 3,000 species of fungi. In all, Lewis single-handedly published over 1,200 new species of fungi.
When Lewis died, his enormous herbarium made its way to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.
And here's a fun side note that pertains to Lewis Schweinitz:
In 1986, botanists discovered the rare sunflower named for Lewis Schweinitz - the Schweinitz sunflower (Helianthus schweinitzii) near Rock Hill in South Carolina. The Schweinitz sunflower exists only in about a dozen little pockets around Rock Hill and Charlotte. Lewis, himself, initially discovered the Schweinitz sunflower in 1821.