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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/511

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THE FLORA OF NORTH AMERICA

shame, finally became so voluminous and so lacking in a system that it must needs be put in order. This was accomplished by Linnæus, who proved in his 'Species Plantarum' of 1753 that the indexer is sometimes as important as the real discoverer, and this may give encouragement to the often unthanked class of librarians and bibliographers without whose work our best efforts would often be squandered in fruitless searchings of the literature of the past. Since this work of Linnæus has been fixed upon as the initial point of priority of names, it is well to pause long enough to see how a page of it really looks. Like many of the standard books even of recent descriptive botanical literature it is all in Latin, which goes to prove that in botany, at least, Latin is not a dead language. I venture the assertion that as much Latin is read daily within the walls of the museum of the New York Botanical Garden as in any building in New York city, not excepting the departments of Latin in its colleges.

But space forbids us to follow farther the general development of our knowledge of the world's flora as depicted in the various works emanating from the geniuses of the generations. We can only mention in passing a few of the landmarks that stand as beacons along the course of systematic botany. Here is an early one at Berlin where the brilliant Willdenow, though dying at forty-seven, gave us a rational 'Species Plantarum' the fourth since Linnæus and the first that really described plants from their characters. Here stands another on Lake Geneva where Augustin, most brilliant of four generations of De Candolle botanists, commenced the 'Prodromus,' which was the next great attempt to set in order our increasing knowledge of the world's vegetation. Here is a third at Kew, where George Bentham actually grappled with death and forced it back, that he might complete his masterly 'Genera Plantarum.' And here is a more recent, wide-reaching, and more useful if less brilliant beacon again set up at Berlin under the leadership of the Bismarck of German botany—who, though Regierungsrath, modestly and democratically subscribes himself, 'A. Engler.'

Turning now to the real subject in hand, let us take a glimpse at the progress of our knowledge of the American flora. It can be only the merest glance because of the natural complexity of the subject; we must look at landmarks here and there, and note only the general trend of a few of its more salient features.

Among the early observers of plants in the American provinces was John Clayton, of Virginia, for whom our little spring-beauty is named. He made collections of the plants noted in that province and sent them to Gronovius, who published a 'Flora Virginica' in 1739—a work known to Linnæus and constantly cited as his authority for American plants. Gronovius' plants are still preserved in the British