The Glasgow Botanist
Today is the anniversary of the death of the Scottish-born botanist and author John Goldie. He led an extraordinary life.
He started as an apprentice at the Glasgow Botanic Garden. As a young man, another botanist bumped him off what was to be his first plant exploration. However, the botanical gods were smiling on him. The expedition was doomed when most of the party died from coast fever along the Congo River.
Two years later, William Hooker encouraged John to travel to North America. He started in Montreal and made his way down the Hudson River to New York. He wrote that he carried as many botanical specimens "as his back would carry."
On June 25, 1819, John was in Toronto. When he reached the east side of the Rouge River, John wrote in his journal of the wildflowers and especially the Penstemon hirsutus ("her-SUE-tis") that was growing on the east slope of the riverbank. John was astounded by the beauty and of seeing so much Penstemon in
"such a quantity of which I never expected to see in one place."
During John's incredible walking tour of Canada, he discovered a yellow variety of pitcher plant as well as a rare orchid named Calypso bulbosa. He also encountered the Prairie buttercup. John was the first person to describe Prairie buttercup.
The name for the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, is from the Latin term Ranunculus which means "little frog." The name was first bestowed on the plant family by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder. The name Ranunculus, which I like to call the Ranunculaceae, is in reference to these mostly aquatic plants that tend to grow in natural frog habitat.
After his North American tour, John returned to the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, and for five years, he trained an eager young apprentice and fellow Scottsman named David Douglas. When Douglas met an early death, John planted a Douglas-Fir next to his house to remember his young friend.
After John discovered the giant wood fern, Hooker called it Dryopteris goldieana in his honor, and it earned the name Goldie's woodfern.
John worked tirelessly, and he recorded a total of fourteen plant species previously unknown to science. In 1844, John ended up settling with his family in Canada. He brought them to Ontario - a place he had especially enjoyed during his botanical expeditions.
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