Today we celebrate the self-taught botanist who saved the San Francisco herbarium.
We'll also learn about the woman who helped describe the flora of Yosemite.
We’ll hear a little passage about the magic of light.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a magnificent new book by a modern plant master: Dan Hinckley.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a sudsy State Flower found in New Mexico.
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January 19, 1859
Today is the birthday of one of our botanical greats: Alice Eastwood.
A self-taught botanist, Alice is remembered for saving almost 1500 specimens from a burning building following the San Francisco earthquake in 1906.
Afterward, Alice wrote about the specimens that didn't make it:
“I do not feel the loss to be mine, but it is a great loss to the scientific world and an irreparable loss to California. My own destroyed work I do not lament, for it was a joy to me while I did it, and I can still have the same joy in starting it again.”
An account of Alice's heroics was recorded by Carola DeRooy, who wrote :
"On the day of the 1906 earthquake, Alice Eastwood, curator of Botany at the California Academy of Sciences, rushed straight into the ruins of downtown San Francisco as a firestorm swept toward her beloved Academy building. Arriving to find the stone steps dangerously crumbled, she and a friend nevertheless climbed the metal spiral staircase to the 6th floor with a single-minded mission: to rescue what she could of the largest botanical collection in the Western United States, her life's work.
Eastwood saved 1,497 plant type specimens from the Academy but lost the remainder of the collections to the all-consuming fire. Just three days later, she joined Geologist GK Gilbert to inspect a fault trace resulting from the earthquake, north of Olema, within what is now the Point Reyes National Seashore."
That moment with Gilbert at the fault line was memorialized forever in a captivating photo featuring Alice standing next to the fault line's surface ruption. Alice was 47 years old when the quake hit in 1906.
After the fire, Alice set her mind to rebuilding the herbarium, and over the next four decades, she collected over 300,000 specimens. Alice retired as the curator at the age of 90. Alice was the protégée of the botanist Kate Brandegee.
Dale Debakcsy created a poignant article about Alice in 2018, and he ended it this way:
“In 1959, the California Academy of Sciences unveiled the Eastwood Hall of Botany, which is very nice, but I think the most fitting tribute is the naming of the Eastwoodia elegans. There is only one species in the Eastwoodia genus, and it is a sunflower, and both of those facts match so well with everything we know of Alice Eastwood that nothing more need be said.”
January 19, 1880
Today is the birthday of the American suffragist, fern collector, botanist, professor, and author Carlotta Case Hall.
Carlotta studied botany at the University of California, Berkeley, which is how she met her husband, the botanist and professor Harvey Monroe Hall. Later, Carlotta herself became an assistant professor of botany at Berkeley.
Carlotta had a passion for collecting ferns, and she wrote about them as well.
Today, Carlotta is remembered in the handy little illustrated guidebook on Yosemite that she co-wrote with her husband, Harvey. The pocket-sized botanical guidebook featuring over 900 species of plants was called A Yosemite Flora: A Descriptive Account of the Ferns and Flowering Plants, Including the Trees, of the Yosemite National Park; With Simple Keys for Their Identification; Designed to be Useful Throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
A 1912 Book Review said this:
“For the lover of the great outdoors who combines with his love of wandering a fondness for botanical research, this little book will prove a heydey companion. The book is bound in flexible sheep and is just the right size for pocket use.”
Today, a beautiful light green California fern, the tufted lace fern or Carlotta Hall's lace fern (Aspidotis carlotta-halliae), is named in Carlotta’s honor.
In my climate, the hours of daylight are few, the number of sunny hours even fewer.
We trudge through the gloom day after day, all through January and February. But when the sun does shine, it carries a magnificence, unlike any other time.
Perhaps our gratitude for light makes it so, but I think not.
— Marjorie Harris, In the Garden, The Magic of Light
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2020, and the subtitle is A Story of People, Plants, and Gardens.
In this book, we learn about Windcliff - one of two magnificent gardens created by the plantsman, nurseryman, and plant hunter Dan Hinkley. (Dan also created Heronswood.)
“These iconic gardens, and the story of how one gave rise to the other, are celebrated in Hinkley’s deeply personal Windcliff. In a lively style that mingles audacious opinions on garden design with cautionary tales of planting missteps, Hinkley shares his infectious passion for plants.”
In these pages, you will love hearing about how Dan created Windcliff, from the exceptional plants he selected to his pragmatic garden advice.
This book is 280 pages of creating a garden with a modern master who loves plants and is delighted to share his stunning garden with us.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
January 19, 1925
On this day, The Santa Fe New Mexican published an article called “Yucca too Much" Like a Soap Ad; Wants Cosmos For State Flower.
The article featured the opinion of a woman who said,
“I object to the yucca as [the State Flower] and want to correct the statement that the school children chose it because they really chose the cactus. Personally, I suggest the cosmos, now grown all over America because years ago, an old Spanish family In Albuquerque brought some seed from Spain, which was afterward sent east, propagated, and distributed all over the country. The cosmos grows everywhere in New Mexico, profusely and so far as I know has [not] been appropriated as a state flower by [any] other states.”
Today the New Mexico State Flower remains the Yucca Flower.
As hardy plants that thrive under trying conditions, Yuccas are a common sight across the lower elevations in New Mexico. The Soaptree Yucca (Yucca elata) is the most prevalent.
A member of the Agavaceae ("Ah-gah-VAY-see-ee") Family, Yuccas are commonly known as Spanish bayonet, Adam's-needle, and soapweed.
A valuable plant to many native tribes of the American Southwest, all parts of the Yucca plant were used. The pointy, sharp leaves were stripped into fibers for weaving. The Apaches enjoyed eating the edible flower stalks and blooms. Most of all, the Yucca root contains the compound saponin and is a natural source of soap.
In addition to the yucca, there are several saponins or “soap plants” like the Horse Chestnut, the Soap Lily, the Soapwort, and the fruit of the Buffaloberry.
The New Mexico State Legislature passed legislation making the yucca the official State Flower on March 14, 1927.
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