Today we celebrate the botanist who named the fuchsia plant.
We'll also learn about the first American to become a full-time naturalist.
We’ll hear some charming thoughts on April and May from a Scottish author who mentored Lewis Carroll.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a 25-year-old garden classic written to help gardeners in the Big Apple - New York City.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of the Daffodil King, Peter Barr, on his 195th birthday today.
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April 20, 1646
Today is the birthday of the French priest and botanist Charles Plumier. He was born in Marseille.
Regarded as one of the most important botanical explorers of his time, Charles served as a botanist to King Louis XIV of France. He traveled many times to the New World, documenting plant and animal species.
During his third expedition to the Greater Antilles, Charles discovered the Fuchsia triphylla on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Charles named the fuchsia plant after the 16th-century German botanist Leonhart Fuchs. And because he named the Fuschia, Charles is sometimes referred to as the Father of the Fuchsia.
Now, the Fuchsia has colorful upside-down blossoms that hang from the stems. This is how Fuchsias get the common name ladies eardrops. And that drooping habit is reflected in the Irish name for Fuchsia - Deora Dé - which translates to “God's Tears.”
And it’s worth noting that the fruit of all the species of Fuchsia is edible. However, many Fuschia fruits are bland and have a bad aftertaste. But the Fuschia variety Splendens has flavorful fruit and can be used to make jam.
Now, in addition to the Fuchsia, Charles discovered and named both the Begonia and the Magnolia. Charles named the Begonia after Michel Begon, who was the governor of the French Antilles for three years from 1682 to 1685. In fact, it was Begon who recommended Charles for the position of plant collector in the Caribbean to King Louis XIV. So this naming of the Begonia was a little payback by Charles to Michel Begon. On the other hand, the naming of the Magnolia was in recognition of the great botanist Pierre Magnol - who introduced the concept of plant families.
Now the plant names Fuschia, Begonia, and Magnolia first debuted in Charles Plumier’s 1703 book called New Plants of the Americas.
Charles drew the plants and animals that he discovered — and his drawings were actually quite good. In fact, Charles's illustrations of fish were featured in a 2018 book by Professor Ted Pietsch called Charles Plumier and His Drawings of French Caribbean Fishes. And Carl Linnaeus and his wife were huge Plumier fans. They used Charles's artwork to make wallpaper for their home.
Today, Charles is remembered by the genus Plumeria. A tropical, the Plumeria grows in shrubs and trees. Plumeria is sometimes called the common name Frangipani. This is because an Italian Marquis named Frangipani used Plumeria blossoms to create a perfume used to scent gloves during the 16th century.
April 20, 1739
Today is the birthday of the American botanist, artist, and naturalist known as The Flower Hunter, William Bartram.
The son of the Quaker botanist John Bartram, William - or Billy (as he was known to his family) - was the first American to pursue a life devoted to the study of nature. Together, William and his father were the leading American plant collectors and horticulturists of their time. The two explored colonial Pennsylvania and New York.
In his heart, William was an artist, and his nature art was widely acclaimed. But before William’s notoriety for his art was established, his father, John, worried that Billy would end up a starving artist. He attempted many times to steer his son toward other more lucrative endeavors. Ultimately, William’s father came around, and he and William went on their final adventure together in Florida. While John collected specimens, William sketched and wrote.
During this trip, John and William came upon a unique tree, a tree that John named the Franklin tree after his dear friend Benjamin Franklin. The botanical name for the tree is Franklinia alatamaha, "frank-LIN-ee-ah ah-lah-tah-MAH-hah." William returned to the spot later in life and collected seeds for propagation — and thank goodness he did. By 1803, the Franklin Tree had gone extinct in the wild. And so, all Franklin trees cultivated and prized in gardens and arboretums around the world are descended from the seeds William Bartram collected and cultivated over two hundred years ago.
William was also the first person to describe and name the Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia “kwer-sih-FOE-lee-ah”).
After his trip with his father, William returned to Florida to farm, another career move that worried his dad. In 1791, his book about his 2,400-mile exploration of the American South, Travels, was published. The book became an immediate sensation in Europe, where people were curious about the flora and fauna of the New World.
In BJ Healey’s book, The Plant Hunters, he presents a charming summation of William’s story. He wrote,
“Through his [book] Travels — one of the earliest and certainly the most finest record of American experience, landscape, and people in the eighteenth century; a book that achieved world-wide recognition and profoundly influenced Wordsworth, Coleridge, and many later writers — [William] more than proved himself a worthy son of the Old Quaker pioneer. John Bartram need not have been troubled in his later years, he would have been proud of Billy in the end.”
May had now set in, but up here among the hills, she was May by courtesy only; or if she was May, she would never be might.
She was, indeed, only April with her showers and sunshine, her tearful, childish laughter, and again the frown and the despair irremediable.
Nay, as if she still kept up a secret correspondence with her cousin March, banished for his rudeness, she would not very seldom shake from her skirts a snowstorm and oftener the dancing hail.
Then out would come the sun behind her, and laugh, and say —
"I could not help THAT; but here I am all the same, coming to you as fast as I can!”
― George MacDonald, Scottish author, and mentor to Lewis Carroll, Sir Gibbie
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 1996, and the subtitle is A How-To and Source Book for Gardening in the Big Apple.
In this book, one of America’s top horticulturists, Ken Druse, shares his top tips for New York City’s urban gardeners as well as his favorite haunts for resources.
When he wrote this book, Ken gardened in a tiny, shady, 21x50-foot space behind his Brooklyn townhouse. When this book came out, Ken had just bought a two-and-a-half acre plot of land on an island in the middle of a small New Jersey river. And although some things have changed over the years, much of what Ken shares - in this 25-year-old how-to garden classic - remains relevant.
This book is 221 pages of gardening goodness in the Big Apple and timeless inspiration for urban or small-space gardeners.
Note: When this post was published, out-of-print hardcover copies of this book start at $700.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
April 20, 1826
Today is the birthday of the Scottish nurseryman and merchant, Peter Barr.
After learning that work remained incomplete for cataloging daffadowndillies (as they were called at the time) - or daffodils as we now know them, Peter became inspired to collect, breed, and study them.
Today, Peter is credited as the man who popularized the daffodil.
In America, Peter’s promotion of daffodils inspired a daffodil craze after the Civil War ended.
Over his lifetime, Peter bred over two million daffodils in his Surrey nursery, which earned him the moniker "The Daffodil King."
At one point, the Peter Barr daffodil - a white trumpet variety - commanded $250 per bulb. And as you can imagine, each spring, people would travel from all around to see thousands of daffodils representing over a hundred unique daffodil varieties blooming at Peter's nursery.
During his seventies, Peter traveled the world, collecting daffs in Asia and South America.
When Peter finally retired, he went home to Scotland, and once there, he pivoted - and began cultivatingPrimroses.
Two years before his death, Peter famously mused,
"I wonder who will plant my grave with primroses?"
When Peter died, his obituary hailed that Peter was known from "one end of Great Britain to the other."
Today the Peter Barr Memorial Cup is awarded by the Royal Horticultural Society for excellence in daffodils.
And in 2019, there was a Grand Blue Plaque Unveiling at Peter’s English nursery along Garratt Lane.
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