Friday, July 10, 2020

The Wild Woman who entered a burning building to save plants

Historic Adventures in Collecting and Cataloging with Alice Eastwood

By Jacqui Nelson

Prepare to get flowery or...plant-y! I love flowers, plants, trees, and— Well, maybe I should just say, I love botany. And I also love reading about real-life Wild Women of the West who pursued their love for botany ❤️

Alice Eastwood was one of those women. She lived in Canada, Colorado, and California...traveled from Alaska to Arizona to collect plants...and even entered a burning building to rescue her collection.

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Alice Eastwood  
( born 1859 in Toronto, Canada ) 

Alice Eastwood in 1910
Alice in 1910
In 1873, Alice moved with her family from Canada to Denver, Colorado. Six years later, she graduated as valedictorian from Shawa Convent Catholic High School. For the next ten years, she taught students at Shawa instead of pursuing her own college education. During this time, she taught herself botany by reading publications such as Grey's Manual and The Flora of Colorado.

In 1887, her growing reputation in botany led to her being suggested as the only person in Denver who could competently guide Alfred Russel Wallace up Grays Peak to collect alpine flowers. Wallace was a seasoned explorer and talented naturalist from England who independently conceived the theory of evolution through natural selection and then jointly published it with Charles Darwin. 

Alice was a publishing powerhouse in her own right. She published over 310 scientific articles and authored 395 plant species names (the fourth-highest number of such names authored by any female scientist). Seventeen species are named for her as well as the genera Eastwoodia (in the sunflower family) and Aliciella (in the phlox family).

In San Francisco, Alice not only built the California Academy of Sciences’ botanical collection but saved it during the 1906 earthquake. Ignoring her era’s curatorial conventions, she stored her specimens by type and not scattered throughout the main collection. This system allowed her to enter a burning building and swiftly retrieve nearly 1500 of her specimens.

California Academy of Sciences in 2008

Alice continuously added to the California Academy of Sciences’ collection by going on numerous plant collecting vacations in Alaska, Arizona, Utah, and Idaho. From 1891 to 1894, she worked at the Academy as an assistant and then a joint curator. After 1894 and until her retirement in 1949, she served as its Head of the Department of Botany.

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Wow! That’s a busy life. Tending the germanium “jungle” on my balcony (and strolling by the beautiful gardens in my neighborhood) is as much as I feel I’m capable of doing at the moment. But if I could go on a plant exploration trip with someone like Alice, I’d jump at the chance.

How about you? 
Would you venture far from home to collect plants? 

And if you know a present-day botanist like Alice (who likes to guide people to see plants), then let me know. One day soon, I'm hoping to go beyond my germanium “jungle” and explore the vast world of a Wild Woman of the West 🤠

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Alicia Haney said...

This is so very interesting, and yes, I would jump at the chance to go collecting wild flowers and plants, I love flowers, I love to plant. Wow, sounds like she was an awesome lady and a hard worker. Thank you so much for sharing this, I really enjoyed reading it and learning from it. Have a Great weekend and stay safe. God bless you my friend. aliciabhaney(at)sbcglobal(dot)net

Jacqui Nelson said...

Happy to hear you enjoyed my blog post, Alicia. Hope you have a great weekend and stay safe too! It's a wild world out there, so it's best to be careful and adventurous. Now there's a challenging combination!

ptclayton said...

I so enjoyed your blog today also I sure have missed you I dropped out of the one where we met as no one was posting anything. I like going to Wi to get plamts we go to an Amish farm there and they have a greenhouse. The plants are so healthy and it is safe there they also have a bakery there big ovens in a separate building. It has been so hot here in Dubuque Ia that it has been hard to keep the plants alive but the raised garden hubby did for me is doing great this year have already had a few ripe cherry tomatoes and zuchinni squash he made zuchini boats just hollowed out the squash and made sauce for the inside and topped with cheese and put it on the bbq as we have our ac on and are really trying not to use the oven. Jacqui you stay well and safe hugs peggy clayton

kathleen Lawless said...

I love reading about independent women of the west who had their own ideas and didn't bow to convention.

Julie Lence said...

Interesting lady, with quite a collection. Back in the day, I had house plants. Some had stalks over 6ft long that I just tossing up and over the other stalks. Eventually, on a military I gave all of them to a friend. Now I only have Sage in the back garden and lilies in the front garden and the Poinsettia from last Christmas that has all new growth. While I enjoy looking at plants in the stores, except for the Poinsettia, I don't miss taking care of house plants. The older I get, the less I like taking care of things, lol.

Alice V said...

I'm not into adventuring to discover wild plants, but I love to roam through abandoned gardens -- or read about them. e.g. Cougar Annie's garden on the north end of Vancouver Island. I love abandoned homesteads where the roses still grow at the kitchen door and the lilacs have turned into a forest. I love imagining the women who planted it all.