Early Botanists

A few hundred years ago, settlers knew little about the plants that inhabited the desert. Native American tribes may have provided information on a few edible species or those with medicinal qualities. Others might have been familiar from other regions of the country. But many desert plants were alien beings and looked nothing like the vegetation at home. Some pioneers found them grotesque and repulsive. The true scientists were fascinated and wanted to learn more about them.

A surprising number of early botanists were, in fact, doctors of medicine. Using tinctures of plants to treat illnesses was commonplace and a new species might bring relief to patients suffering from various ailments. Fame and wealth or love for a stricken family member may have been a motivating factor in finding a plant that could cure a terrible disease. Still others were simply fascinated by the differences structural morphology and how or why they might have evolved the way they did. Military explorers were commissioned by the government to lead expeditions to the West to do topographical surveys and explore natural resources that could be utilized for the betterment of the country. Some soldiers already had a science background and others became botanists as a hobby. Some were simply naturalists from the time they were young children.

The people listed here have one or more desert plants named in their honor which appear at the bottom of each person's page.

Alice Eastwood Alice Eastwood with plant press

(1859-1953)  Alice Eastwood was born in Canada. Her mother passed away when she was only a child. After her father was unable to take care of the children, she ended up in a convent... more

Amiel Weeks Whipple General Amiel Whipple, explorer died in the Civil War

(1818-1863) Amiel Weeks Whipple was a military engineer who, with the United States Boundary Commission, surveyed the new southwestern boundary of the US following the Mexican-American... more

Archibald Menzies Archibald Menzies

(1754-1842) Archibald Menzies was a Scottish surgeon and botanist who, as an accomplished scientist and member of the Linnean Society, was commissioned by Captain George Vancouver to... more

Arthur Carl Victor Schott Arthur Schott, botanist and artist

(1814-1875) Arthur Carl Victor Schott was an artist, scientist and engineer.  His formal education was at the Royal Gardens in Stuttgart and the Institute of Agriculture at the... more

Asa Gray Asa Gray, pillar of American botany

(1810-1888) Asa Gray was born in New York, the first of eight children. He was a great reader and his interest in plants began early. He began a friendship with John Torrey in an attempt... more

Auguste de Saint-Hilaire Auguste de Saint-Hilaire

(1779-1853) Auguste de Saint-Hilaire was a French botanist noted for his discoveries in the reproductive features of plants. He traveled and studied mostly in Brazil, and published a... more

Aven Nelson Aven Nelson, botanist

(1859-1952) Aven Nelson was a botanist from Iowa who primarily worked in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. He was president of the University of Wyoming for 5 years, and later... more

Charles Christopher Parry Charles Christopher Parry, MD and botanist

(1823-1890) Charles Christopher Parry was a British botanist who moved to the United States and studied medicine. While at Columbia he met future colleagues Asa Gray, John Torrey and... more

Charles Lewis Anderson Charles Lewis Anderson, botanist

(1827-1910)  Born in Virginia, Charles Lewis Anderson attended college in Indiana and medical school in Kentucky graduating in 1852. He was restless and moved his initial medical... more

Charles Russell Orcutt Charles Russel Orcutt

(1864-1929) Charles Russell Orcutt grew up in San Diego, CA. He grew up working with his father, and developed a love of plants. Much of his knowledge was garnered from working in the... more

Charles Wright Charles Wright, botanist

(1811-1885) Charles Wright was a botanist from Connecticut who was educated at Yale in 1835. He taught for a year and then moved to Texas. He began botanizing and having heard about Asa... more

Christian Mentzel Christian Mentzel

(1622-1701) Christian Mentzel was a very early German botanist, philologist, botanical author, and doctor to nobility. His son was the first King of Prussia. Among his works were "Index... more

Clarendon Herbert Dorr

(1816-1887) Clarendon Herbert Dorr was a poet, inventor and plant collector. His father was a mariner who was the first American to set anchor in a California port. He collected plants... more

Cornelius Herman Muller Cornelius Herman Muller, botanist

(1909 - 1997) Cornelius Herman Muller was a botanical taxonomist and ecologist who was internationally recognized as an authority on oak species. He also contributed significantly to... more

Count Von Hoffmannsegg

(1766-1849) Johann Centurius Hoffmann Graf von Hoffmannsegg was a German botanist, entomologist and ornithologist. He was an avid collector and gathered an immense quantity of plant and... more

Daniel Cady Eaton Daniel Cady Eaton

(1834-1895) Daniel Cady Eaton was a student of Asa Gray at Harvard after graduating from Yale. He returned to Yale and  was Curator of the Yale Herbarium for 31 years. Eaton's main... more

David Douglas David Douglas

(1799-1834) David Douglas was a Scottish botanist and gardener for Glasgow University who worked for William Jackson Hooker. They became close associates and went on an expedition to the... more

Edmund C. Jaeger Edmund C. Jaeger, courtesy Jack Harris

(1887-1983) Edmund Carrol Jaeger was born in Nebraska, the family moved to Riverside, CA after his father’s death. He attended Occidental College, graduating with a degree in Biology in... more

Edward Palmer Edward Palmer

(1831-1911) Edward Palmer was a ground-breaking doctor and botanist who collected extensively off the beaten path in the Americas, describing many new species as well as the local... more

Filippo Luigi Gilii

(1756-1821) Filippo Luigi Gilii was an Italian naturalist, clergyman, and Director of the Vatican Observatory from 1800-1821. For 21 years Gilii made twice daily meteorological readings... more

Frank Forest Gander

(1899-1976) Frank Forest Gander was a botanist and zoologist from San Diego, CA. He initially studied mammals and birds, but later became Curator of Botany at the San Diego Museum of... more

Frank Warrington Peirson

(1865-1951) Frank Warrington Peirson grew up in New York educated at Haverford College, graduating in 1889. Lived in Altadena, CA for most of his adulthood and made many collections in... more

Frederick Pursh

(1774-1820) Frederick Pursh was a German botanist who emigrated to the America in 1799. Landing in Philadelphia, he served as the botanical manager for a private estate. He met Benjamin... more

Frederick Vernon Coville Frederick Coville, botanist

(1867-1937) Frederick Coville was educated at Cornell University. He became Chief Botanist for the US Dept. of Agriculture as Assistant Botanist (1888-1893) and then Botanist (1893-1937... more

George Engelmann George Engelmann, esteemed botanist

(1809-1884) George Engelmann was a German physician and botanist, receiving his degree in 1831. His doctoral dissertation was devoted to morphology and illustrated by Engelmann himself.... more

George Thurber

(1821-1890) - Georger Thurber was a self-educated botanist who initially was interested in the medicinal qualities of plants. This evolved into a general love of botany and he began... more

George Tradescant Lay

(1800-1845) George Tradescant Lay was a diplomat and British naturalist, most notably known for being member of the exploration crew on the ship HMS Blossom from 1825 to 1828.  A vast... more

Harvey Monroe Hall Harvey Monroe Hall

(1874-1932) Harvey Monroe Hall was a botany professor at UC Berkeley in California. He studied taxonomy under the noted W.L. Jepson and collected a staggering 200,000 specimens... more

Ira W. Clokey

(1878-1950) Ira Clokey was born in Illinois and collected plants as a high school student. He studied at Harvard, where he graduated as a mining engineer in 1903. He moved to Colorado in... more

James Graham Cooper James G. Cooper

(1830-1902) James G. Cooper was born in New York City in 1830. His father was founder of the Lyceum of Natural History in New York and an early American naturalist, studying vertebrates... more

John Brickell

(1710-1745) John Brickell was an Irish doctor and botanist who moved to the United States and settled in Georgia. He explored the country to determine if there were significant natural... more

John Charles Fremont John Charles Fremont, military officer and explorer

(1813-1890) John C. Fremont was one the great trailblazers of the American West and his name is ever-present in species lists of the desert and elsewhere. He conducted five major survey... more

John Clayton John Clayton

(1694-1773) Born in England, Clayton explored the Gloucester County region botanically and in 1734 sent many specimens and manuscript descriptions to the English naturalist Mark Catesby... more

John Maurice Tucker

(1916-2008) John Tucker was a longtime professor of Plant Science at UC Davis in California. He taugh plant taxonomy for 40 years there, helping hundreds of students become botanists. A... more

John Merle Coulter John Merle Coulter

(1851-1928) John Merle Coulter was a botany and natural sciences professor at many colleges including the University of Chicago, Hanover College, Indiana State, and Wabash. He joined an... more

John Milton Bigelow

(1804-1878) John Bigelow was an American medical doctor and botanist. He was skilled and lucky enough to accompany the legendary Asa Gray and John Torrey on the Mexican border survey... more

John Strong Newberry John Strong Newberry

(1822-1892) John Newberry was a botanist, geologist and medical doctor who joined early expeditions to California and Oregon in 1855. He described many species from the Bay Area to the... more

John Torrey John Torrey botanist

(1796-1873) John Torrey was not only a very early botanist but a very fine scientific mind. His work laid the foundation for much of plant taxonomy as we know it today. The great... more

Josiah Gregg Josiah Gregg

(1806-1850) Josiah Gregg was an early explorer and naturalist in the Southwest. His contributions include many undiscovered plants and accurate maps and accounts of the Southwest and... more

Leslie Newton Goodding

(1880-1967) Leslie Newton Goodding was an american botanist and educator who went on many collecting expeditions in the Southwest. He initially collected specimens for sale but later... more

Marcus Eugene Jones Marcus Eugene Jones, botanist

(1852-1934) Marcus Jones was born in Ohio and moved to Iowa with his family as a child. His mother had a great love for plants and got fresh flowers daily for the mantlepiece... more

Mary Dedecker Mary Dedecker

(1909-2000) Mary Dedeker was a self-taught botanist, author, environmentalist and teacher who moved to the Owens Valley as a child in 1935 and fell in love with the local flora. During... more

Mary Katherine Layne Brandegee Mary Katherine Layne Brandegee

(1844-1920) Katherine Brandegee was a medical doctor, botanist and curator of the herbarium at the California Academy of Sciences. She was the third woman to attend the University of... more

Meriwether Lewis Meriwether Lewis

(1774-1809) Meriwether Lewis was born in Virginia and interested in nature at an early age. His mother taught him about the medicinial uses for plants. He participated in the Whiskey... more

Philip Alexander Munz Philip Alexander Munz

(1892-1974) Philip Munz was born in Wyoming and grew up in Denver. He completed graduate work at Cornell with botany as a minor to his major, entomology. He moved to Claremont, CA in... more

Ralph Hoffmann Ralph Hoffmann

(1870-1932) Ralph Hoffman was a botanist and ornithologist from Massachusetts, graduating from Harvard University in 1890.  He taught at Buckingham Brown & Nichols and later was... more

Samuel Bonsall Parish Samuel Bonsall Parish

(1838-1928) Samuel Parish was a civil war veteran, teacher and important Southern California desert botanist. He purchased some land in San Bernardino in 1872 and became very interested... more

Samuel Dale Samuel Dale

(1659-1739) Samuel Dale was a very early English botanist remembered for his carefully studied works such as Pharmacologia, seu manuductio ad materiam medicam written in 1693... more

Sir William Jackson Hooker Sir William Jackson Hooker

(1785-1865) Sir William Jackson Hooker was a British botanist specalizing in systematics, and was also a botanical illustrator. He began his botany career early studying natural history... more

Thomas Nuttall Thomas Nuttall

(1786-1859) Thomas Nuttall was an English botanist and zoologist who came to the United Stated in 1808. He went on the Astor Expedition in 1810 with John Bradbury who was collecting... more

Townsend Stith Brandegee

(1843-1925) - Townshend Stith Brandegee was born in Connecticut in 1843. He graduated from Yale in engineering, but became interested in botany after attending classes with... more

Tyge Boecher Tyge Boecher, botanist

(1909-1983) Tyge Boecher was born in Copenhagen and became a noted Danish biologist who wrote some 250 scientific articles and books. 

His research explored phylogenetics of... more

Vernon Orlando Bailey Vernon Orlando Bailey, botanist

(1864–1942) Vernon Orlando Bailey was born in Michigan and moved with his family to Minnesota on the western frontier. There was no schoolhouse at the time so his education was at home... more

William Allen Wallace

(1815-1893) William Allen Wallace was born in New Hampshire and relocated at the beginning of the gold rush to northern California in 1850, at first choosing to start farming in the Napa... more

William Brewer William Brewer

(1828-1910) William Brewer was born in New York and grew up on a farm. In 1848 he attended Yale, studying soil chemistry. In 1852 he graduated from Sheffield Scientific School, and... more

William Hemsley Emory William H. Emory

(1811-1887) William Hemsley Emory was born in Maryland and attended Westpoint, graduating in 1831. He was primarily a topographical engineer and explorer, and became famous for his ... more

William Russell Dudley William Russell Dudley

(1849-1911) William Russell Dudley was born in Connecticut and grew up a farmer, where he developed a love of plants. He attended Cornell University getting his master's degree in in... more

Willis Linn Jepson Willis Linn Jepson, courtesy of the Jepson Herbarium

(1867-1946) Willis Linn Jepson was born in California and was interested in the natural world from an early age, encouraged by his mother who brought attention to things such as birdsong... more

Desert Conservationists

The people listed below do not have plants named for them but were important in the conservation of desert areas and helped future generations to see value in protecting plants and wildlife as intrinsically important for humanity.

Mary Hunter Austin

(1868-1934) Mary Hunter Austin was not a botanist, but a prolific writer, playwright and activist for the desert. Her masterpiece The Land of Little Rain was about the Eastern... more

Minerva Hamilton Hoyt

(1866-1945) When it comes to the California desert, one may not find a more important figure than Minerva Hamilton Hoyt. Born to a wealthy family in the deep south, she moved to Pasadena... more