In 1803 the Woodlands, the country estate and botanical garden of William Hamilton, had as its gardener a young man who had come from Germany in 1799 – Frederick Traugott Pursh. In the dozen years he spent in the United States he was employed by some of the country's leading botanists, including William Bartram, Bernard McMahon and Benjamin Smith Barton.
In lieu of a portrait of Pursh, of which none are known to exist, it seems appropriate to represent him by one of the hand-colored engravings that he published in his Flora Americae septentrionalis (Flowers of North America) in 1813. Undoubtedly it was the unusual shape of its petals, and its striking color, that inspired Lewis to call it "a singular plant". Pursh, the first laboratory or "cabinet" botanist to describe it in proper terms and details, officially named it Clarkia pulcella – "Beautiful Clarkia" – in honor of William Clark. --J.M.
To the dismay of American naturalists, the resulting treatise describing and depicting 130 of Lewis's specimens was published in Europe. Pursh made no attempt to disguise his indebtedness to the work of the two explorers, but on the other hand made no effort to return the specimens he had carried away. He returned to North America – to Montreal – in 1816, where a fire destroyed materials he had collected for a projected volume on the flora of Canada. He died in poverty at age 46.
Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, Challenge Cost Share Program.