The Flora

Page 7 of 8

Prairie flax, Linum lewisii Pursh

Found in the "Valleys of the Rocky mountains" on 9 Jul 1806

photo: Prairie flax blossom

Photo © 2000 James L. Reveal

The printing of Pursh's Flora was completed the second week of December in 1813, and on 21 December, Pursh presented copies to various of his supporters as well as submitting a copy to the Linnean Society at their monthly meeting. The formal publication as announced by the printer was January 10, 1814, but by then several copies were already effectively distributed. For botanists, therefore, Flora americae septentrionalis was published in late December of 1813.

The two-volume work was a modest success. A few copies were sold with colored plates, but few buyers could afford the extra cost. In 1816 a second edition was published, but this was essentially a reprint with only minor corrections. It reception was not always kind, as several were aware of the new species others intended to publish that Pursh proposed first. The first published review did not appear until 1817. Rafinesque was particularly scathing in his comment published in 1819. Twenty-five years later, Bradbury was still bitter over his experience with Pursh.

For Pursh, the decline came rapidly. He published Hortus orloviensis [HOR-tus ore-lo-vee-EN-sis] in 1815 to no particular notice, this being a catalogue of the plants found on an island near St. Petersburg, Russia. At the same time, Pursh edited the eighth edition of James Donn's Hortus cantabrigensis (cant-a-bridge-EN-sis) without any notice of his and Nuttall's new American plants, and while that was a commercial success, Pursh apparently received little for his efforts. A ninth edition was published within three years.

In late 1814 Pursh received two interesting proposals. One was from Lord Selkirk for Pursh to serve as botanist to the Red River settlement in Canada. The other was an invitation to establish a botanical garden at Yale University. The latter, to his probable detriment, Pursh declined. In February of 1816, Pursh left England for Canada. There, in early June, he formally agreed to go to the Red River settlement in what is now Manitoba, Canada. Within two weeks, the expedition leader, Robert Semple, was murdered and the project collapsed.