1938 Today is the anniversary of the death of the botanist Ynes Mexia ("EE-nez Muh-HAY-ah").
In terms of her botanical career, Ynes was a late bloomer.
The first half of her life was turbulent, but at the age of 50, Ynes joined the Sierra Club. Nature had always been a balm to her.
Eager to get some formal training, Ynes decided to enroll at Berkeley to take botany classes. She would take classes there on and off over the next 16 years. Ynes's goal was not to graduate but simply to learn more about plants.
When she wasn't in school, Ynes fell in love with fieldwork. She said,
"I found a task where I could be useful and really produce something of lasting worth; while living out among the flowers."
Ynes was especially drawn to unique plants, and she absolutely adored sunflowers. In fact, on one of her botanizing trips, she discovered an entirely new genus of Compositae. And, Ynes's ability to speak Spanish came in handy as she botanized in the southwestern part of the United States, Mexico, and South America.
Ynes's collecting efforts proved extraordinary. Many scholars argue that she was the most accomplished plant collector of her time. Ynes's first botanizing trip alone netted 500 specimens - the same number that Darwin brought back on the Beagle. Over Ynes's career, she collected 150,000 specimens and discovered over 500 brand-new plant species.
Now, her botanist peers were well aware of her staggering amount of work, but not many liked her. Still, she did work closely with botanists Alice Eastwood, John Thomas Howell, and Agnes Chase.
In 1938, Ynes had returned to Mexico in search of new specimens. But the pain in her stomach got the best of her; she was forced to return to the United States, and she died at Berkeley from lung cancer.
Ynes' estate was donated in part to the Redwood Preserve in California. And there's a forty-acre grove there that has one of the tallest trees on the planet. Today, if you visit, that grove is named in Ynes's honor.
Today, some 80 years after her death, scientists are still processing the plants she collected. And there's an excellent PBS shortabout Ynes Mexia ("EE-nez Muh-HAY-ah") that was narrated by narrator Julianna Margulies.