Thursday, August 18, 2005

Natural Science/Botany/Bartram, John

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Early Botanist/ Antonio/TX/USA/7-Aug-05/…John Bartram (1699-1777) JOHN Bartram, the "father of American Botany", was one of the most highly respected botanists in America.

He was born on March 23, 1699, near Darby, Pennsylvania, into a Quaker family. He had no formal schooling but had a keen mind and interest in plants. He educated himself through reading, studying Greek and Latin and observing his surroundings.

He decided to become a botanist late in his life, while plowing the fields in his farm outside Philadelphia. His interest in plants began from his use of herb medicines to treat his neighbours. He began his botanical exploration and collection at about the time of his first wife's death in 1727.

In 1728 Bartram bought a small house and about 25ha of land along the river about 5km outside Philadelphia. He married his second wife, Ann Mendenhall, and began his famous botanical garden, which is regarded as the first in America.

He travelled throughout the eastern United States, from Lake Ontario in the north to Florida in the south and the Ohio River in the west. He discovered plants like the spice bush and sassafras, the insectivorous plants of the South, the tulip tree, the American lotus, and the American cyclamen.

Although he never visited Europe, in 1732, Bartram started a correspondence with Peter Collinson, a wealthy London cloth merchant who was interested in botany. Collinson wanted seeds, bulbs, and cuttings of American plants and was willing to pay for them. Bartram received advice, encouragement, money and books on natural history. Although the two men never met, they wrote to each other for more than 60 years, until Collinson died in 1768.

Through this correspondence, word of Bartram spread in Europe and he began exchanging seeds and cuttings with other European botanists. This exchange of specimens introduced many American plants into Europe and established some European species in the New World.

Bartram served as an unofficial teacher to many aspiring botanists. He founded Bartram Botanical Gardens in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was one of the co-founders, with Benjamin Franklin, of the American Philosophical Society in 1742.

Bartram received many honours and distinctions. He became a member of several foreign scientific societies, as well as a contributor of papers to the Philosophical Transactions, London. He was appointed botanist to King George III in 1765, a post he held until his death in Kingsessing, Pennsylvania, on September 22, 1777.

Bartram had nine children from his two marriages. His third son, William, was a famous ornithologist.

Source: Sunday Mail; Kuala Lumpur ...


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