Tag Archives: botany

Botany: one of FSU’s longest taught subjects

Florida Flambeau, May 24, 1929. View object in the digital library here

Botany was one of the first hard science majors offered at the Florida State College for Women. It was established in 1916 with Alban Stewart as the professor at the time. The classes were made up of only a few students, up to 10 a semester, due to a lack of interest in the subject.

In 1929, a club was established under the name: Primitive and Botanical Order of Ronales. Membership to this club was only available to botany majors. The club started off with only 8 members, the total of women involved in the major at that time. The Primitive and Botanical Order of Ronales was founded by Dr. Hurman Kurz who was known for his studies of traditional Native American ways of identifying and distinguishing flora and fauna.

Botany Field Trip, circa 1920s. View object in the digital library here

Dr. Kurz organized a yearly field trip to the Apalachicola area. This field trip was exclusively for the senior members of the Primitive and Botanical Order of Ronales. On this trip Dr. Kurz would teach the members how to identify the flora and fauna using Native American traditions.

Under Dr. Kurz, the botany department was able to have a laboratory/greenhouse dedicated to botany. There, students were able to conduct experiments such as growing seedless tomatoes, research, and gardening. They were also able to examine fossils that were either found by students or donated to the department.

Florida Flambeau, December 6, 1946. View object in the digital library here
Students studying cacti in a greenshouse, circa 1950s. View object in the digital library here

During World War 2, more job specific classes were added to the class registry, allowing for students to be more prepared to enter into the workforce after college. These classes were usually centered around jobs that were in high demand and relevant to the war effort. In 1942, more botany courses were added to the register due to the Pure Seed Law Enactment of 1939. This federal enactment required seeds to be correctly identified, pure in composition, and properly packaged. Since more classes were added, it allowed for the botany major to grow in size.

Students taking notes in a greenhouse, circa 1950s. View object in the digital library here

As of 2020, Botany is still a major offered in the biological sciences department. It is now referred to as “the field of Plant Sciences”. This major “broadly includes the study of photosynthetic organisms, especially plants and algae. It prepares students to make important contributions to the world in the areas of agriculture, food security, natural resource management, sustainability, policy, and many others.”

This article was written by Aya Saludo, a student worker in Heritage & University Archives.

Herbaria side by side

Herbaria are collections of different plant specimens which have been dried and preserved. They can be used for many different reasons including personal collecting and as data necessary for scientific studies. FSU even has a museum-quality collection of plants and micro-algae specimens held at the Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium.

Special Collections also has a good sized collections of herbals, including a 1791 portable herbarium of plants in the vicinity of Liege. This item is without a cover and has varying degrees of water and age damage throughout the pages. The specimens which were originally in the item were removed in order to better preserve the book, however the impressions and stains they left on the pages are still easily visible. The original specimens from this item can be viewed from a CD which is included with the book within Special Collection.

Residual evidence of the Polypodium Vulgare that was once held on this page.

I particularly like how indents and water marks from leaves can be seen within the gutter of some of the pages. It gives the item character, and speaks of an unnamed person who sometimes may have slipped leaves in the pages of the book for safe keeping or as bookmarks. This book is designed to have been bought with the text only, and each page which would hold a plant would be inserted as that herb was found. It’s a design not often seen in books but nifty for the use of this particular book.

Cover of the Ruby Diamond herbaria.

In comparison, Ruby Diamond’s collection of pressed flowers from her trip to Jerusalem is in phenomenal condition. This particular item should sit on the table as seen in the image (left) with the spine facing to the right as is customary when reading Hebrew text. This particular herbaria has a cover made of wood from Jerusalem and is something Diamond probably bought while in Israel to fill with the plants. This method of collection, buying a pre-made book and filling it with one’s own items, is a common theme when it comes to herbaria. When opened, the beautifully arranged herbs show the care that was put into this travel sized item.

Each page of herbs is covered with a thin absorbent paper that will keep the pages, for the most part, from suffering water and mold damage. It shows to be very effective when compared to the 1791 portable herbaria. The spine of this item is very stiff and it should not be opened all the way as one would assume. Instead, it is best to open an item like this only slightly to avoid any long term damage. Likewise, the specimens on the pages of this herbaria should only be exposed for a short amount of time to protect them from chemicals or pollutants that may damage them if exposed for too long.

The 1791 portable herbarium of plants in the vicinity of Liege and Ruby Diamond’s own collection of pressed flowers from the Holy Land can can be viewed in Special Collections at Strozier Library.

A personal favorite, flowers and herbs collected from the tomb of the biblical Rachel, wife of Jacob. Care has been put in to organically recreate an image of the tomb.

All photo credits go toward the author.

Wildflowers of North America


Mary Vaux Walcott sitting on some rocks facing the camera with waterfalls behind her. (original image)

Special Collections here at FSU holds a large collection of books on botany and herbal medicine that go as far back as the 16th century. As much as I would love to scour through the many many herbal encyclopedia we hold, I found myself more interested in the different types of flowers and plants collected and depicted through either art or scientific study that can be found in the archives.

The full collection as it sits in the archives.

Here is Special Collections, we have the five volumes of a collection that holds some of the most beautiful prints of flowers created in the early 1900s. This collection, titled North American Wild Flowers, includes some 400 plates illustrated by American artist and naturalist Mary Vaux Walcott and was first published in 1925 by the Smithsonian Institute.

What’s most interesting about this collection is not the images themselves, but the sweet story of how they came to be. Walcott first took interest in watercolor painting after graduating from Friends Select School, a Quaker college preparatory school. She painted wildflowers she came upon during family trips with her brother who would study and record glacier flow in drawings and photographs as part of his mineralogical studies.

This was only the start for Mary Walcott. She would go on to marry Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Charles Doolittle Walcott at the age of 54. As she traveled with her husband for his paleontology research in the Rockies and throughout Canada, Mary made watercolor illustrations of wildflowers which can now be seen in the five-volume collection held in Special Collections & Archives.

During a 10 year period, Mary would spend somewhere between three and four months in the Canadian Rockies, finding and studying the finest specimens. More often then not, these illustrations were created under “trying conditions” such as on a mountain side of high pass, and at times when a fire was necessary to warm her numb fingers and body. Despite these conditions and others, such as diffused lighting and subjects which had a lifespan seemingly too short for creating art from them, the fruits of Walcott’s labor can be seen in these immortalized specimens.

Each box volume in this collection consists of a slipcase which holds a book listing each flower, describing them in detail, and a plate of each flower beautifully detailed by Walcott’s hand.

The North American Wild Flowers Collection, can be referenced here in the library catalog. For more information please call or visit Special Collections & Archives.

All photo credits go to the author.