Competition

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photo: Gaillardia blossom

Great blanket-flower (Gaillardia aristata Pursh)8
Collected "on dry hills" along Beaver Creek near Lewis and
Clark Pass, Lewis and Clark Co., Montana, 7 Jul 1806
Photo © 2000 James L. Reveal

Pursh abandoned his idea of publishing in the Transactions of the Linnean Society, and turned instead to the Botanical Magazine, a monthly publication designed to promote species of potential horticultural importance. In August he published Bartonia decapetala (bar-TONE-ee-ah, for Benjamin Smith Barton [deck-a-pe-TAIL-ah, having ten petals]), the gumbo-lily, or what is today known as Mentzelia decapetala (meant-ZEE-lee-ah). However, in this battle of publications, Nuttall was destined to win.9

At the same time Nuttall was meeting with Pursh in London in the spring of 1812, he was also visiting the nursery operated by John and James Fraser, the sons of John Fraser. Nuttall arranged to have his seeds raised at the Frasers' nursery located at Sloane Square in Chelsea. The effort was highly successful, and in the early fall of 1813, Nuttall published, through the nursery, A catalogue of new and interesting plants collected in Upper Louisiana.10 In this fashion, Nuttall validly published several of the new species he found before Pursh could describe the same plant based on the collections made by Lewis and Clark and another, now nearly forgotten, botanist and Pursh's second questionable acquisition of a collection of plants.

When Nuttall went up the Missouri River in 1811, he traveled with the American fur trader William Price Hunt, who was bound for the Columbia River on behalf of John Jacob Astor and the American Fur Company. He was also accompanied by another botanist, the English collector John Bradbury.11

While both Nuttall and Bradbury generally followed the Missouri, Bradbury traveled overland from the Great Bend to the old Fort Mandan site, gathering many prairie species not found by Nuttall, who remained along the river. When the "Overland Astorians" finally headed westward, Bradbury returned to St. Louis, and Nuttall followed in the fall. Although the two botanists talked to one another along the river and in St. Louis, they pretty much traveled separately so that Nuttall arrived in New Orleans before Bradbury. There he was able to book passage for England, and departed. Bradbury, on the other hand, tarried and in so doing became caught up in the War of 1812 and remained in the United States. His plant collection, however, was shipped to England.

There, in a curious series of events, duplicates of Bradbury's collection came into the possession of Lambert and thus they were seen by Pursh. Pursh then added a supplement to his Flora wherein he described most of the 40 new species found by Bradbury. Deeply offended and with his fame as a collector and discover of new plants stolen, Bradbury did little in botany after that. Nuttall, however, went on to a distinguished career, making botanical forays onto the Red River of Texas and across the continent on the Oregon Trail in the 1830s.

photo: Yellow avalanche-flower blossome

Yellow avalanche-flower (Erythronium grandiflorum Pursh)
Collected along the Lolo Trail, Idaho Co., Idaho, on 15 Jun 1806;
on 16 Jun 1806 Lewis wrote "the dog-tooth violet is just in blume."
Photo © 2000 James L. Reveal


8. Nuttall named this species Virgilia grandiflora (ver-JILL-ee-ah gran-DEE-floor-ah) in his 1813 listing of plants in Fraser's catalogue. Later in the year, Pursh proposed Gaillardia aristata (guy-YARD-ee-ah air-eh-STAY-tah, pointed or sharp). If this had been noted long ago, according to our rules of nomenclature the specific epithet, "grandiflora" should have been transferred to the genus Gaillardia. However, by the time this was discovered in 1956, there was already a species called Gaillardia grandiflora (published in 1857), so Pursh's name is the correct name, although it was not the first name to be published for the plant.

9. Pursh was not the first botanist to propose a generic name to honor Barton. In 1801, Carl Ludwig Willdenow (1765-1812) proposed Bartonia for a small genus of herbs in the gentian family. There were some botanists who felt that the genus was not worthy of recognition, so in 1812 Pursh proposed Bartonia for a different genus of herbs in the loas family. Under our modern rules of nomenclature, the Pursh name was a later homonym--that is, there was an earlier use of the name. Constantin Rafinesque recognized this error and proposed Nuttallia (nuttall-EE-ah; for Thomas Nuttall) in the American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review in 1817. While most current taxonomists consider Pursh's species to be a member of Mentzelia (described originally from specimens of a different species found in Mexico), a few recognize Nuttallia.

10. This rare publication has been the source of some debate among those interested in botanical nomenclature. First, Thomas Nuttall's name does not appear on the printed copy; it is only found on the copy owned by Nuttall, and that was written in ink in his own hand. He listed numerous new species, but not all of the names were associated with descriptions--a requirement for valid publication according to the rules of botanical nomenclature. Some taxonomists in the mid-1950s questioned whether or not any of the names were correct according to the rules. The debate largely ended in 1968 when a young graduate student published a detailed review of the subject and concluded the names were valid. There is no evidence that Nuttall, in publishing his new species in 1813, was determined to discredit the efforts of Lewis and Clark, but he certainly made every effort to secure his names before Pursh described the same species using the specimens gathered by John Bradbury.

11. If one looks in the usual indices of botanical literature or compilations of scientific names, at least one person of note is missing, John Bradbury. His only claim to fame, and one he certainly objected to, is the long list of his 40 newly-found species described by Pursh in a last-minute supplement added to Flora americae septentrionalis. Bradbury would always feel his discoveries were "pirated" by Pursh, but this may be somewhat of an overstatement. There is no doubt Bradbury knew nothing of Pursh's actions until well after December of 1813. Bradbury was born in 1768 near Stalybridge in Lancashire and had an early interest in botany, which he sandwiched in among his duties as an employee in a cotton mill. His avocation resulted in his being elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1792 at the age of 24. Living in Manchester in 1808, married and with a family, he petitioned the trustees of the Liverpool Botanic Garden for funding to visit America and collect plants. In this he was successful but not entirely as a result of his skills in natural history. His sponsors were also interested in having Bradbury work to improve the supply of cotton from America to Liverpool. Upon arriving in the United States, Bradbury met with Thomas Jefferson, who recommended that instead of setting up his base of operation in New Orleans, Bradbury should go to St. Louis. Jefferson wrote Meriwether Lewis on August 16, 1809, introducing Bradbury, little anticipating that Lewis would be dead two months later, so that when Bradbury reached St. Louis the last day of December in 1809, the letter's recipient was in no position to render aid.

During the follow year, Bradbury collected about the city, sending his dried plants and seeds to Liverpool in the late fall of the year. With the arrival of fellow Englishman Thomas Nuttall, the two took several collecting trips together. When Nuttall and Bradbury went up the Missouri River with the "Overland Astorians" in 1811, the two men were associated with different boats. Also, Manuel Lisa of the Missouri Fur Company and his men were traveling upriver as well and, having a friend with that party, Henry Marie Brackenridge, Bradbury often traveled with them. Bradbury's specimens from the upper Missouri were sent from New Orleans in December of 1811, being addressed to his son, John Leigh Bradbury. Instead of selling the collection, John gave the lot to William Roscoe of the Liverpool Botanic Garden. It was Roscoe who sent duplicates to William Jackson Hooker at the Royal Botanic Garden in Kew, Sir Joseph Banks in London, and to Aylmer Bourke Lambert. Lambert, in turn, gave the specimens to Pursh, who described the new species.

Bradbury remained in the United States until 1816. In 1817 he published his Travels in the interior of America, in the years 1809, 1810, 1811. A second edition appeared in 1819 with an accompanying map of the United States. In his book he wrote that Pursh deprived him "both of the credit and profit of what was justly due to me." Bradbury died in 1823 having accomplished nothing else in botany. Two final asides may be given. First, in April of 1842 the Bradbury specimens seen by Pursh were sold by Sotheby as part of the Lambert estate. A Dr. Thomas B. Wilson purchased the lot and presented them to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, where they may be examined today. Second, in 1817, Rafinesque proposed Bradburya (brad-BURY-ah) and in 1842, John Torrey and Asa Gray established Bradburia. Neither is used today.