Lewis's Choices

Part 2

James Reveal, Professor Emeritus, Botany University of Maryland

Recorded at Packer Meadows in the Clearwater Forest near Lolo Pass
on the crest of the Bitterroot Range, July 3, 2003.


Lewis's collecting activities were not described by him, but looking at contemporaries, it is clear that Lewis used a small hand press. This allowed him to collect small samples that he would then dry over a period of days. Because he had no other means of drying these plants other than sunshine he was very careful what he collected. For example; he avoided cactus and all kinds of succulent plants except for two—both sedums, or rock plants. He collected lots of grasses, because they were economically important as food. He collected crop plants that were grown by the native people. And he collected a bountiful number of wildflowers, particularly in 1806 as he crossed the Rocky Mountains.

Some of the plants that Lewis collected were found along the Lolo Trail in late June of 1806, and then across Lewis & Clark Pass in early July of 1806. Many of those species are represented in his herbarium and may be seen even today along the Lewis and Clark Trail.

Lewis's tendency was to collect specimens that he could, in a small sample, show all of the detail that he needed to show. Thus, he tended to collected plants in good flower and occasionally, if he felt it was important as a medicinal plant, in fruit, so he could then grow seeds from the plant once he returned the material to Philadelphia.

Seeds were commonly collected in 1805 particularly along the Columbia River. Very few seeds were collected in 1806 on the return trip. Numerous specimens and seeds were collected as they ascended the Missouri River in 1804.

Lewis's interest in the wildflowers of what we now call the Rocky Mountains was much as any individual's today. They are abundant and beautiful and easy to collect. The success of his collection resulted in the discovery of three new genera, one named for him, one named for Clark, and another named for the character of the plant. Several new species were collected. And, most that you see surrounding us here today were collected by Lewis and were named from his specimens.

Supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Governor's Lewis and Clark Trail Committee