Drawings and Descriptions

Page 4 of 8

Scarlet gilia, Ipomopsis aggregata (Pursh) V. E. Grant

Collected along the Lolo Trail, Idaho Co., Idaho, 26 Jun 1806

photo Scarlet gilia blossoms

Photo © 2000 by James L. Reveal

Great purple monkey-flower, Mimulus lewisii Pursh

Found at "the head springs of the Missouri," 12 Aug 1805

photo: Great purple monkey-flower blossom

Photo © 2000 by James L. Reveal

Elegant Mariposa-lily, Calochortus elegans Pursh

Collected near Kamiah, Idaho Co., Idaho, on 17 May 1806

photo: Mariposa lily blossom

Photo © 2000 by James L. Reveal

Lewis and Pursh met in Philadelphia by mid-April of 1807 and Pursh was employed to prepare a catalogue of the expedition's plants. Receiving $60 from Lewis to begin the work, apparently Pursh first did a series of drawings with Lewis reviewing the results. Clearly the two men talked about the overall aspect of some of the species, but Lewis's time was limited and Pursh was scheduled to leave at the end of April on his second collecting trip under Barton's patronage. Only limited progress on the plants was made at that time.

During the winter of 1807-1808, Pursh lived at the home of Bernard M'Mahon in Philadelphia. Here he worked on the drawings and descriptions of Lewis's western plants. By the end of May of 1808, Pursh had completed the initial work and was anxious to see his report—or at least the new species—published. Pursh was also anxious to be paid for his labors.

The relationship between Pursh and Barton was beginning to strain. In January of 1809, M'Mahon wrote to Jefferson reporting Pursh's displeasure at the delay in publication. To what extent Barton felt he (and Lewis) had hired Pursh to do a job, and that it would be Barton who would publish the new species, was probably also a factor. Soon thereafter, M'Mahon recommended Pursh to Dr. David Hosack 5 of New York, who had just started the Elgin Botanic Garden and was in need of a gardener. By April of that year, Pursh left Philadelphia and was heading for New York. He took along a significant portion of the Lewis and Clark plant collection, most of his drawings, and apparently all of his notes

How it came that Pursh carried part of the collection with him to New York and, after a falling out with Hosack late in 1811, took it to London, has never been fully answered. The events and circumstances are still being researched, and perhaps new evidence will come to light while the nation celebrates the Lewis and Clark bicentennial.

The death of Lewis on October 18, 1809, was soon made known to Pursh. There is indirect evidence that, by this date, Pursh had completed his study of whole of the Lewis and Clark plant collection. In January of 1810, Clark was looking for the plants and drawings in Philadelphia. He recovered the portion then in the possession of Bernard M'Mahon; these eventually were returned to the American Philosophical Society. He probably paid Pursh for the finished drawings, but it is not certain he ever received the plates. Some of Pursh's ink sketches are now at the American Philosophical Society, but none of them is what one might consider a finished plate.

It is unclear what Clark did immediately with the plants he received from M'Mahon. It is possible they went back to Barton in the hopes he would still prepare a report on them for the expedition's report. It is also possible Clark returned them to the Philosophical Society. At any rate, at some time, the first 30 specimens sent to Jefferson by Lewis in 1805 disappeared. None has been found to date although a label, written by Lewis, for plant number 26, came onto the market as a Lewis autograph in the 1970s. Its original owner is not known and the fate of the specimens is a continuing mystery.

In late 1810, apparently in poor health, Pursh sailed for the West Indies to collect plants for the Elgin Botanic Garden. He returned nearly a year later but was probably already planning his departure for England. He arrived in London, possibly in November of 1811, and immediately fell into a period of remarkable good fortune.


5. The name of Dr. David Hosack (1769-1835) shows up in many different places in American history. Besides establishing the Elgin Botanic Garden on what is now Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, he was one of the founders of Bellevue Hospital and the New-York Historical Society, and the attending physician for the Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton duel in 1804. He was appointed professor of botany at Columbia in 1795, and later became the professor of materia medica at the same institution. He was an early advocate of the use a stethoscope and smallpox vaccinations. David Douglas suggested, and John Lindley published, the genus Hosackia in Edwards's Botanical Register in 1829, an English journal devoted to new plants of potential garden interest. The genus is not accepted today, being considered a synonym of Lotus, the bird's-foot-trefoil.