Popular Science Monthly/Volume 74/February 1909/A Biographical History of Botany at St Louis, Missouri III




EXPLORATION in the Missouri country was commenced in 1835 by Karl Andreas Geyer, a collector who became well known for his botanical explorations in the northwestern section of the United States. His explorations extended over a number of years and ranged from Illinois westward to the Pacific. He traveled especially in the territory included between the Mississippi and the Missouri River as far north as North Dakota.

Karl Andreas Geyer[1] was born in Dresden, Germany, on November 30, 1809. His father was a market gardener of very moderate circumstances. The boy was naturally bright and studied Latin under the tutelage of a kind-hearted man who helped him with his lessons, which were studied while he was selling hi;? father's produce in the streets of the city. In 1826 he entered the garden at Zabelitz as an apprentice. In 1830 he removed to Dresden and engaged as assistant in the botanic garden there. In this place he had numerous friends, among whom was Dr. H. G. Reichenbach, whose lectures upon botany he attended with great regularity. He seems to have been a very likable and attractive person, drawing the attention of those with whom he came in contact. In February, 1834, he left Dresden for America. Here he collected plants during the summer months and worked at odd jobs in the winter, thus maintaining himself for several years. In one case he entered a newspaper office as compositor, but a few months later he was writing the leading articles for the same paper that he had helped set in type.

Geyer's first great journey in this country was in 1835, when he visited and explored the plains of the Missouri with a single companion. In 1836 and the succeeding years he went with Nicollet surveying the country between the Missouri and the Mississippi River. In 1840 he collected around St. Louis and in Illinois, making very considerable collections during this season. While in St. Louis he became acquainted with Dr. George Engelmann and this friendship seems to have lasted as long as Geyer was in this country. Engelmann seems to have worked over his collections, as we find him publishing upon them in 1844. He also came into possession of some of Geyer's collections, as it is definitely stated that they had been deposited in the Engelmann herbarium.

In 1841 Geyer went with Fremont to the Des Moines River in Iowa territory, where he found a number of new plants. In 1843 he explored the upper Illinois territory and formed the herbarium which was first offered for sale. In 1843 he began the journey from Missouri to the Pacific coast, lasting through the years 1843 and 1844. He explored the northwestern country very extensively and penetrated to hitherto inaccessible places by accompanying missionary trains on their visits to the different Indian tribes. He finally reached Fort Vancouver, and from there sailed on November 13, 1844, for England, going by way of the Sandwich Islands and Cape Horn. He arrived in England May 25, 1845, and spent some months at Kew, working over his collections and sorting out small lots of plants to sell. A large part of his profits from such sales was used in defraying expenses caused by a sickness brought on by his previous hardships. In September, 1845, he again returned to his home in Saxony, after an absence of eleven years. At first he entered the employment of head-gardener Lehman in Dresden, and later in the Royal Botanical Garden. His wanderings had shown him the value of a home, and on August 24, 1846, he married Miss Emma Schulze. Besides his duties for the garden he taught students the English language, his pupils coming from every class in Meissen. Geyer also took a prominent part in the local society for the advancement of science. During the last three years of his life he was editor of Chronik des Gartenwesens und Feuilleton der Isis, a periodical published at Meissen on the first and fifteenth of the month, from January 1, 1851, to December 15, 1853. Geyer's death occurred just before the end of the third volume, and it was discontinued with the third volume. While in no wise neglecting his duties at the garden, he came in written communication with the prominent botanists of the time and rounded out his collections. Heart disease troubled him considerably in his latter days and finally caused his death on November 21, 1853.

In 1835 a physician, George Engelmann by name, settled in St. Louis and soon built up a lucrative practise. During his spare moments he worked upon botanical problems, and before long he had established a reputation among botanists such that at his death he was ranked among the foremost of botanical workers.

Dr. George Engelmann[2] was born at Frankfort-on-the-Main, February
Fig. 9. De. Geo. Engelmann; by courtesy of the Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

2, 1809. He was the eldest of thirteen children. Aided by a scholarship he went to the University of Heidelberg in the year 1827, where he had as fellow-students and companions Karl Schimper and Alexander Braun. Political embarrassments caused him to go in the autumn of 1828 to Berlin University for two years, and finally to Würzburg, where he took his degree of Doctor of Medicine in the summer of 1831. His inaugural dissertation, "De Antholysi Prodromus," published at Frankfort in 1832, testifies to his truly scientific mind.

It is a morphological study founded chiefly upon monstrosities, and it had the honor of receiving the notice and approval of Goethe, who offered to place in Engelmann's hands his notes and sketches, which intention was frustrated by his death before it had been carried out. This first paper has been very favorably commented upon, and compared with much more extended and pretentious works of a similar nature.

The spring and summer of 1832 were passed at Paris in medical and scientific studies with Braun and Agassiz as companions. He then became the willing agent of his uncles, who had resolved to make some land investments in the Mississippi Valley, and he sailed from Bremen for Baltimore in September. He joined some of his relatives

Fig. 10. Residence of Dr. Geo. Engelmann in St. Louis, Missouri:
by permission of the Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

who had previously settled in Illinois near St. Louis, and made lonely journeys on horseback through southern Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas. He finally established himself in St. Louis as a doctor of medicine late in the autumn of 1835. At this time St. Louis was a frontier town of eight or ten thousand inhabitants. Beginning in poverty, he soon built up a large practise and so established himself in his profession that he was able to go back to Germany for some months. While there he married his cousin. Miss Dora Hartmann, in June, 1840.

Again in 1856 he left his practise for a two years' absence, devoting the first summer to botanical investigations at Cambridge, and then visiting his native land in company with his wife and son. In 1868 the family again visited Europe for a year, the son remaining to study at Berlin. The mother died in January, 1879, and Englemann's own health failed alarmingly. A journey to Germany was taken in 1883 and the voyage was so beneficial that he was able to resume his botanical work. Serious symptoms soon caused him to return and the ocean voyage again proved very restorative and he resumed his labors with increased vigor. Increasing infirmities, however, gradually reduced his working powers until his death, which took place on February 4, 1884.

Upon first coming to this section of the country Dr. Engelmann traveled on horseback through southern Illinois and in Missouri and Arkansas; and during the latter part of his life he explored the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, the Lake Superior region and the Rocky Mountains and contiguous plains in Colorado and adjacent territories, thus being able to study in place, and with the acuteness of judgment which characterized his work, the Cacti, Conifers, and other groups of plants which he had investigated for years. In 1880 he made a long journey through the Pacific states, where he saw for the first time growing naturally many plants which he had described and studied over thirty years before.

Dr. Engelmann's papers are voluminous even for a man who could devote all of his time to botany; but it must be remembered that he had a large practise as a physician, which took most of his time, and that botany was taken up only in spare moments. When this is taken into account, together with the fact that he was also interested in other sciences (especially meteorology), their extent is nothing short of marvelous. The memorial volume of his papers published by Henry Shaw contains eighty-seven different papers of varying length. These have been grouped in this volume under the following headings or general topics: Cuscutineæ, Cacteæ, Juneus, Yucca and Agave, Coniferæ, Oaks, Vitis, Euphorbiaceæ, Isoetes, Miscellaneous, Lists and Collected Descriptions of Plants, and General Notes. It was the custom of Dr. Engelmann to take any scrap of paper and make notes upon it which might occur to him, together with sketches showing characters of the plant in hand. All such notes were at his death collected and mounted in a set of large books which are now in the possession of the Missouri Botanical Garden. These notes were so numerous that they made a library in themselves, filling sixty of these books.

His method of working was to take a single group of plants and work it out systematically so far as was in his power. His treatment of the genus Cuscuta in his first monograph of that group increased the number of species from one to fourteen without going west of the Mississippi Valley. Seventeen years later, after an investigation of the whole genus in the principal herbaria of this country and of Europe, he published a systematic arrangement of all the Cuscutæ, giving seventy-seven species, besides a number of varieties.

Dr. Engelmann's authority upon the Cactaceæ was of the very highest. He established the arrangement of these plants upon floral and carpological characters. This work was carried on through a series of papers beginning with his sketch of the botany of Dr. A. Wislizenus's expedition from Missouri to northern Mexico, and continued in his account of the giant cactus of the Grila, in his synopsis of the Cactaceæ of the United States, and in his two memoirs upon the southern and western species contributed to the Pacific Railroad Reports and to Emory's "Report on the Mexican Boundary Survey." He Fig. 11. Nicholas Riehl;
from a photograph kindly loaned by his son, Mr. E. A. Riehl.
had made preparations for a revision of at least the North American Cactaceæ, but upon his death much knowledge of this difficult group was lost.

His papers on the American oaks and the Coniferæ are of the highest interest, and are some of the best specimens of his botanical work; and the same is also true of his study of the vines. Nearly all that we know of this genus scientifically is directly due to Dr. Engelmann's investigations.

His work is characterized by a minuteness and carefulfulness of observation, coupled with a nicety of discrimination which made him a master in systematic work, his treatment of the yuccas and agaves, the genera Juncus, suphorhia, Sagittaria, Isoetes, the Loranthaceæ, Sparganum and Gentiana giving him an eminence among fellows botanists to which few attain. His name was upon the rolls of many societies devoted to the investigation of nature, and he was the recognized authority upon those departments of his favorite science which had most interested him. His name has been given to a monotypical genus of plants, Engelmannia, by Torrey and Gray. Numerous species also bear his name.

Shortly after Dr. Engelmann settled in St. Louis, Nicholas Riehl. a native of France, came to his city and settled on a piece of land on the Gravois Road in South St. Louis, and began to collect botanical specimens.

Nicholas Riehl[3] was born in Colmar, province of Alsace, France (now Germany), about 1808. His father's business was that of manufacturing cloth; not liking it, Nicholas sold it after the death of his father, and divided the estate. He took his share and traveled over much of Europe and America, coming as far west as St. Louis. Taking a liking to this part of the country, he returned to his old home and married. The two returned to St. Louis in the spring of 1836, and settled on a piece of ground on the Gravois Road in Carondelet, just outside the St. Louis city limits, and established a nursery. This is believed to have been the first nursery in St. Louis county, if not in the state of Missouri. The nursery business he carried on with success and profit until the time of his death in September, 1852. Riehl evidently collected botanical specimens some years before he came to this country, as specimens in his herbarium bear dates as far back as 1830, which were collected in the vicinity of Colmar. He also collected considerably in the vicinity of St. Louis in 1838. He had printed labels made for the collections made in this year, and they number not far from two hundred. Besides the specimens bearing the printed labels, there are many with incomplete labels which undoubtedly were collected here also. His entire collection was sold to Mr. Henry Shaw, who was at that time just starting to develop his botanical garden. The larger part of them were collected in Europe or were exchanged with European collectors. Mr. Riehl was a friend and admirer of Dr. George Engelmann, and was much interested in the work which he was doing. The Riehl nursery furnished Mr. Shaw the first trees which he planted in his newly started botanical garden.

In the forties Theodore C. Hilgard was collecting the native plants of the vicinity of St. Louis.

Theodore Charles Hilgard[4] was born at Zweibrucken, Ehenish Bavaria, on February 28, 1828. His father, Theodore Erasmus Hilgard, was a lawyer, who in 1836 resigned from the Supreme Court of the province and emigrated with his family to America, settling on a farm near Belleville, Ill., which at that time was the home of many other educated Germans who for political reasons had preceded him. Theodore was the sixth of a family of eight. The schools being poor and few in number, Theodore with the other younger children received his primary education from his elder sisters and elder brother Julius, while all received their higher training, especially in the languages, from their father. The boys aided in the farming operations and Theodore early manifested a marked interest in the natural sciences, and especially in botany; in which, however, his father could not help him. He soon found an enthusiastic helper in his younger brother Eugene, and together they made extensive collections of the native plants and insects of the vicinity. Dr. George Engelmann, a second cousin, greatly assisted the boys in their botanical studies.

Early in 1847 Theodore went to Europe and entered the University of Heidelberg as a student of medicine. Henle, Chelius and Hasse then made Heidelberg the most notable center for medical study outside of Vienna, while Bischoff represented botany. Hilgard at once began to make what subsequently became a very complete collection of the flora of central Europe. The revolutionary agitation of 1848 somewhat Fig. 12. Dr. Theodore C. Hilgard; by courtesy of Dr. Eugene Hilgard. disturbed the regularity of the course of study, but no actual interruption occurred until, in the spring of 1849, active revolutionary movements took place in Baden itself. Theodore then (with his brother Eugene, who had meantime joined him) went to Zürich, and there passed three semesters, studying especially microscopy under Naegeli, and physiology under Ludwig, besides attending the natural history lectures of Oken. During this time the brothers made extended excursions on foot through Switzerland and collected the Alpine flora. In 1851 Theodore went to Vienna to study, where were then such medical celebrities as as Rokitansky, Oppolzer, Bednar and Hebra. After nearly two semesters, during which he gave much time to botanical study in the great Endlicher collection, he was obliged to go to Malaga to bring back his widowed sister. While there he made an extensive collection of Mediterranean plants which greatly interested him. On his return he went to Würzburg, where he graduated in June, 1852, summa cum laude, as doctor in medicine, surgery and obstetrics. He then went to Berlin to study ophthalmology with Graefe, as well as surgery. In the summer of 1853 he returned to America, taking a position as ship physician on an emigrant vessel, on which he experienced an epidemic of cholera.

Soon after his arrival he went on a visit to the west to see whether he had best practise his profession there. On the way he sustained a severe shock to his spine in a steamer accident. It took him several weeks to recover somewhat, but he never fully recovered. He was disappointed in the outlook and returned to the east, where he took up practise in Philadelphia. There he became a friend of Elias Durand, a druggist and botanist, who in the latter capacity was requested to elaborate the botanical collections made by Heermann while with the Williamson Pacific Railroad Expedition. Durand proposed to Hilgard that they should collaborate in this work, and the latter being by nature an expert draughtsman, he not only described, but drew the illustrations of a large number of the "Plantæ Heermanianæ" accompanying the final report of the expedition. The strain of this work seemed to develop the spinal injury into a serious inflammation, from which he was prostrated for months. After recovery which was, however, never complete, he resolved to begin practise in St. Louis, and removed there in 1855.

He continued to practise in St. Louis from that time until 1870, much handicapped by the spinal weakness which obliged him to refuse much lucrative practice. His spare time was chiefly devoted to botanical studies, now more especially to the cryptogams, whose development he studied under the microscope, in the use of which he became very expert. In these studies he found that the then current classification and nomenclature of these-organisms was seriously at fault, many merely developmental forms being classed as separate species, genera and even orders. He also worked zealously in devising a system of arrangement of the phanerogams which would express their mutual cross relations, the best graphic presentation of which on a flat surface he found in the pentagrammatic form. Comparative anatomy and the homotaxy of organs and structural parts also formed a favorite subject of investigation. Most of his work on these subjects was published in the Proceedings of the St. Louis Academy of Sciences, of which he was a charter member; also in the Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and in the St. Louis Medical Reporter. He also helped in the organization of the "Humboldt Institute" library which for some time had a very useful cultural influence. In 1865 he married Miss Georgina Koch, daughter of Mr. A, Koch, of Zeuglodon fame. No children came of this union.

As the state of his health precluded his acting as an army surgeon, he remained at St. Louis during the war in hospital and private practise. After the war medical practise seemed to become more and more incompatible with his strength, and he gave it up and joined his brother Eugene at the University of Mississippi, where at that time a lectureship of botany was contemplated. But it failed of realization, and he accepted a position in the U. S. Coast Survey as observer in the magnetic survey then being made on the basis of the "Bache Fund." In this he continued until 1873, when he found it necessary to settle to a quiet life. The last year of his life was passed at New York City, where in March, 1875, he died of an abscess of the lungs.

The Hilgard collection of plants, embracing about 12,000 species, was taken by his brother Eugene to the University of California, where it was destroyed by fire in 1897.

Shumard in his presidential address before the St. Louis Academy of Sciences in 1869 spoke as follows concerning a collection of plants given by Hilgard to the Academy:

Our botanical collection embraces an extensive series of lichens and mosses amounting to several hundred species, chiefly from western states and territories. These were collected by Dr. T. C. Hilgard, of this city, and by him presented and arranged in our museum.[5]"

In the fire which destroyed part of the academy museum a few years later, this collection was also destroyed.

(To be continued)

  1. Anonymous, Chronik des Garteniwesens, 3: 185-187, 1853.
    Reichenbach, H. G., Kew Garden Miscellany, 7: 181-183, 1855.
  2. "Gray, Asa, Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts and Sci., 19: 516-522, 1884.
    Sander, Enno, Trans. St. Louis Acad. Sci., 4: 1-18 (Supplement).
    Anonymous, Pop. Sci. Monthly, 29: 260-265, 1886. Trelease, Wm., and Gray, Asa, "Botanical Works of Engelmann," 1-548, 1887.
    Sargent, C. S., "Silva of North America," 8: 84, 1895.
    White, C. A., "Biogr. Mems. Nat. Acad. Sci., 4: 3-21, 1896.
  3. Information and photograph supplied by Mr. E. A. Riehl, of Alton, Illinois, son of Nicholas.
  4. This sketch is adapted with very slight changes from a manuscript kindly furnished by Professor Eugene W. Hilgard, brother of Theodore.
  5. Shumard, Trans. St. Louis Acad. Sci, 3: XII., 1869.