Today in botanical history, we celebrate a Spanish botanist, a Swiss poet and diarist, and an American industrialist.
We’ll hear an excerpt from a best-selling book where the main character is a 12-year-old girl named September.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book that offers a year of fantastic wild flower paintings and notes.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a lab girl - a scientist whose incredible book was released just five years ago.
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September 27, 1777
Birth of Simón de Rojas Clemente, Spanish botanist, intellectual, politician, and spy. He is regarded as the father of European ampelography (the identification and classification of grapevines). Today a statue of Simón overlooks the Royal Botanical Garden in Madrid. In the early 1800s, Simón taught Arabic. One of his students, Domingo Badía Leblich, invited Simón on an extensive trip through Africa from the Atlas Mountains to the Nile. Anticipating resistance from locals, Domingo and Simón disguised themselves as Muslims and even changed their names. Simón became Mohamad Ben-Alí. And at some point after joining the expedition, Simón learned the true reason for the trip: spying on North Africa for Manuel Godoy, the First Secretary of State of Spain. Simón went on to explore Andalusia before returning to Madrid, where he served as the director of the Royal Botanical Garden library. In 1820, Simón planted a collection of grapevines at the Madrid Royal Botanic Garden. To this day, Simón’s grapes are among the wine and table grapes grown in the garden since the 18th century. Simón’s herbarium contained 186 specimens of grapes, which remain in excellent condition. They are especially prized because they are the oldest collection of grapevines and because Simón collected them before phylloxera arrived in Spain. Today Simón’s grapevine specimens have been genetically analyzed thanks to modern DNA testing.
September 27, 1821
Birth of Henri Frederic Amiel, Swiss philosopher & poet. He is remembered for his Journal Intime, which he kept from 1847 until twenty-two days before he died in 1881.
On August 26, 1868, he wrote,
Say to yourself that you are entering upon the autumn of your life; that the graces of spring and the splendors of summer are irrevocably gone, but that autumn, too, has its beauties. The autumn weather is often darkened by rain, cloud, and mist, but the air is still soft, and the sun still delights the eyes, and touches the yellowing leaves caressingly: it is the time for fruit, for harvest, for the vintage, the moment for making provision for the winter.
My life has reached its month of September. May I recognize it in time, and suit thought and action to the fact!
He also wrote,
A modest garden contains, for those who know how to look and to wait, more instruction than a library.
September 27, 1877
Birth of James Drummond Dole, American industrialist. Known as the “Pineapple King,” he founded the pineapple industry in Hawaii. His Hawaiian Pineapple Company (HAPCO) later became the Dole Food Company. In 1899, James made his way to Hawaii after graduating from Harvard. After realizing that the native Kona pineapple could not be grown commercially, he started growing a Florida variety known as Smooth Cayenne on sixty acres. The local newspapers scoffed at his idea. James persisted and hired help to create a machine that could process one hundred pineapples every minute. He also aggressively marketed pineapple in mainland America. Within twenty years, Hawaiian pineapples dominated the market. In the first half of the 20th century, the popularity of the pineapple upside-down cake further helped the pineapple become mainstream. In terms of their makeup, pineapples contain an enzymatic protein called bromelain - a chemical that prevents gelatin from setting. Once a pineapple is heated for canning, the bromelain is destroyed, which is why canned pineapple can be used successfully with jello. Today, Hawaii produces only .13 of the world’s pineapple.
She liked anything orange: leaves; some moons; marigolds; chrysanthemums; cheese; pumpkin, both in pie and out; orange juice; marmalade. Orange is bright and demanding. You can’t ignore orange things. She once saw an orange parrot in the pet store and had never wanted anything so much in her life. She would have named it Halloween and fed it butterscotch. Her mother said butterscotch would make a bird sick and, besides, the dog would certainly eat it up. September never spoke to the dog again — on principle.
― Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2016, and the subtitle is Month by Month.
Here’s what the publisher wrote about this book:
Margaret Erskine Wilson, late President of Kendal Natural History Society, was a keen amateur botanist and watercolorist. In 1999, she donated to the Society 150 sheets of water-colour paintings representing a thousand British and Irish plants in flower and fruit, painted in situ over many years and in various places.
At the time she donated the paintings to Kendal Natural History Society, she wrote:
Begun in 1943/4 for a friend who said, 'I might learn the names of flowers if you drew them for me, in the months they're in flower'!
The result is this beautiful, previously unpublished book of all her accurate and informative illustrations, painted over a period of 45 years.
Over a thousand British and Irish flowers are represented in this book, and it still today serves Margaret Erskine Wilson's original purpose - it is an easy way to learn the names of our delicate and beautiful wild flowers.
This book is 176 pages of a year’s worth of Margaret Erskine Wilson’s extraordinary paintings, notes, the English common names, and the scientific names.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
September 27, 1969
Birth of Hope Jahren, American geochemist and geobiologist. In her work at the University of Oslo in Norway, she analyzes fossil forests dating to the Eocene. Her popular book Lab Girl (2016) is part memoir and part ode to nature. In Lab Girl, she wrote,
There are botany textbooks that contain pages and pages of growth curves, but it is always the lazy-S-shaped ones that confuse my students the most.
Why would a plant decrease in mass just when it is nearing its plateau of maximum productivity? I remind them that this shrinking has proved to be a signal of reproduction. As the green plants reach maturity, some of their nutrients are pulled back and repurposed toward flowers and seeds. Production of the new generation comes at a significant cost to the parent, and you can see it in a cornfield, even from a great distance.
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