Herbarium - Plant Explorers



Adolph Daniel Edward Elmer was born in 1870 in Vandyne, Wisconsin, and lived until 1942, when he died in a prison camp in Manila, Luzon, Philippines. He was educated at Washington Agricultural College and received a masters degree from Stanford in 1903. He settled as a plant collector in the Phillipines in 1904, first working for the Bureau of Science. He was the editor of the Leaflets of Philippine Botany, in which more than 1500 new species were described. Because Elmer failed to include Latin diagnoses or descriptions for names he published after 1934, about 50 of his specimens were not validly published.

Frank N. Meyer was a USDA plant explorer from 1905 until his sudden and somewhat suspicious death by drowning in the Yangtze River, China, in 1918. His collections are still an important part of American Agriculture today and include plants from Alfalfa to Zoysia grass. As an economic botanist he is most noted for his contribution of greater diversity (42 new varieties) of soybean to American agriculture - it was noted that before his collections there were only 8 varieties in production in this country. His collections included a form which gave rise to the soybean oil industry, and he was also the first to suggest tofu as a soy-based product for the U.S. market. For more details into the life of a man who has been described as a fanatic walker, natural traveler, trained botanist and gardener, and Buddhist, read Frank N. Meyer, Plant Hunter in Asia by Isabella Cunningham, published by the Iowa State University Press.

Martindale Isaac C. Martindale (1842-1893) of Camden, New Jersey brought together a vast herbarium, reputed to be one of the largest private herbaria amassed in this country during the 19th century. After he died, the Martindale Collection was sold in 1894 to the Philadelphia Academy of Science and in 1964 was purchased by the United States Department of Agriculture for the National Arboretum. This collection includes approximately 80,000 specimens, plus eleven bound volumes of exsiccate, notebooks, and a few letters. It represents both Martindale's work and that of over 900 other collectors spanning a time from the 1790's to the early 1890's. For more information about this remarkable collection see Frederick Meyer and Susanne Elsasser's publication in the journal Taxon 22(4): 375-404 August 1973, or contact the NA Herbarium Collections Manager.

Joseph Rock was an extraordinary plant hunter, a collector of plants and birds from 1920 when he was sent, by the USDA, to India to find the "chaulmoogra tree", (reputed to be a cure for leprosy), until his retirement to Hawaii in 1949. During his search for the "chaulmoogra tree" he would face a man eating tiger, a "rogue" elephant, and a typhoon but even so, he came back with the seed. His career would involve collections for Harvard University, The Arnold Arboretum and the National Geographic Society, and take him to remote areas of unexplored Tibet and China. Some would say his crowning achievement was not in Botany but the ethnological work in capturing the culture and literature of the Naxi people, a local indigenous group in China. For more detail see the National Geographic Society Magazine January 1997 issue.
Oliver Myles Freeman was born July 16, 1891 in Redwood City, California. He received a B. A. degree at the University of Tennessee in 1916, taught high school in Chattanooga in 1916-17, studied at the University of Virginia in the summer of 1917, and began a second year of teaching high school in Asheville, SC in the fall of 1917. He left this job to join the U. S. Army in November 1917. He was honorably discharged in July 1919, after serving with the Medical Detatchment in France and attaining the rank of corporal. He then joined the US Bureau of Plant Industry in October of 1917, when F. V. Coville hired him as a clerk and herbarium assistant in the Economic Botany Herbarium. He took classes in zoology at George Washington University in 1920-21, but never took a graduate degree. Freeman's duties increased over the years. He worked on the taxonomy of Lamiaceae for a projected Flora of Arizona, but this was never published. (click here for more on O.M. Freeman...)

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Last Updated   June 14, 2004 11:36 AM
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