The Botany Man
Today is the anniversary of the death of The Botany Man Willis Linn Jepson, who died on this day in 1946.
Carved on his tombstone are the following words:
“Profound Scholar, Inspiring Teacher, Indefatigable Botanical Explorer, ... In the ordered beauty of nature, he found enduring communion.”
When Jepson was 25, he created the Sierra Club along with John Muir and Warren Olney.
During Jepson's junior year at Berkeley, he decided to start a diary. His diaries became known as his field books. Like many botanists, Jepson was an archivist at heart, and he recorded everything - not just dates, but as much as he could. It was a practice Jepson never abandoned and resulted in over fifty Jepson field books.
In 1894, Jepson began to think seriously about creating a Flora of California.
As long as he was working on the flora, Jepson thought he might as well create a herbarium, which he considered to be his legacy.
Although Jepson often said he disliked common names, he came up with many on his own. He once named a plant Mountain Misery after suffering the after-effects of walking through it.
By the early 1900s, automobiles were becoming mainstream, but Jepson warned,
“You must still go afoot if a real botanist. No field botanist should become soft and travel only in an auto.“
Jepson had started numbering plants for his flora in 1899. His last specimen was No. 27,571 - the Salsola kali- a little plant commonly known as Prickly Russian Thistle. Jepson collected it on October 28, 1945. Earlier that year, Jepson suffered a heart attack when he attempted to cut down a dead Almond tree on his ranch. Sadly, he never fully recovered, and on this day in 1946, Jepson passed away.
Jepson impacted many botanists. One was Mary Bowerman, who was one of Jepson's doctoral students. She wrote once,
“Little did I know, 65 years ago, that my senior project would become my life‘s work.“
Another botanist influenced by Jepson was George Dexter Butler. Butler's story is unusual. He was trained as a lawyer, but his passion was botany. Yet, he put his botanical efforts aside to raise his family. But when he was 56, he passed by a book store in Oakland. The store had a copy of Jepson's Flora. His time to pursue botany had come, and the trigger was that little book written by Willis Lynn Jepson.