John Lyon, Nurseryman and Plant Hunter, and His Journal, 1799-1814

John Lyon, Nurseryman and Plant Hunter, and His Journal, 1799-1814

John Lyon, Nurseryman and Plant Hunter, and His Journal, 1799-1814

John Lyon, Nurseryman and Plant Hunter, and His Journal, 1799-1814

Excerpt

John Lyon was said by his contemporaries to have introduced thirty-one American plants into horticulture. It is true that the term "introduction" must be allowed in a broad sense for those plants not known to be currently in cultivation. Many so-called introductions were in fact re-introductions.

The value of John Lyon's journal, which spans the years 1799 to his death in 1814, is not simply that of a report of the ten trips that he made north and south along the central and south Atlantic states, vigorously carried out as they were, but as a business record of an occupation little known in early United States history. The field records of the occupational collectors, the Frasers, Aloysius Enslen, Matthias Kinn, and others, have not been located; and therefore Lyon's journal, published here for the first time, fills a want in our knowledge of the day to day activities of the plant hunter, a record of sales, and of customers.

The first decade of the nineteenth century was a brilliant one in American natural history. Thomas Jefferson, devotee of the sciences, was President; Lewis and Clark traveled overland to the mouth of the Columbia and returned; Alexander Wilson met William Bartram ( 1802); Michaux Flora was published ( 1803); Alexander von Humboldt visited Henry Muhlenberg; Vieillot published on North American birds in Paris ( 1807); the first edition of M'Mahon American Gardener's Calendar appeared ( 1806); Nuttall came to America and met Professor Benjamin Smith Barton ( 1808). During these years Peale expanded his museum, John Scudder opened his in New York, and David Hosack launched his Elgin Botanic Garden in that city. Samuel Latham Mitchell contributed a natural history paper nearly every year to the Medical Repository, and a growing number of botanical explorers were searching from the beaches and bogs to the mountain summits for new plants. From England came the Frasers, first the father then the son. From Austria came Bredemeyer, Boos, and Enslen, in search of horticultural prizes. A kind of botanical inventory of the decade began with the appearance in 1810 of the first volume of the second edition of William Aiton Hortus Kewensis, which recorded in the course of its five volumes thirty-one introductions of John Lyon.

Traffic in seeds and plants had long been encouraged by a lengthening list of reports in English, French, and German, particularly of the woody plants, native to North America, which were suitable for cool temperate gardens. The sources are not known for most of the American plants (for example, Lobelia cardinalis) grown in the garden of the Duke of Orleans, uncle to Louis XIV, at Blois under Robert Morison, from 1650 to 1660. John Banister had sent plants and seeds from Virginia between 1680 and 1692 which flourished in Bishop Compton's garden. Little known is the Catalogus Plantarum, A Catalogue of Trees, Shrubs, Plants and Flowers both Exotic and Domestic which are propagated for sale in the Gardens near London, printed in 1730 under the aegis of the Society of Gardeners. This listed more than one hundred and fifty trees and shrubs, the majority from the American colonies. Christopher Gray, prominent among the Society's members, was probably largely responsible for the Catalogus Plantarum, though we know little of Gray's life; and the Society is generally overlooked. A Hessian soldiersurgeon, Friedrich Adam Julius von Wangenheim ( 1747-1800), observed the trees between skirmishes of the American Revolution and in 1781 published a synopsis of them. Four years later Humphry Marshall published Arbustum Americanum, the most famous of these early descriptive accounts, certainly the first American imprint devoted expressly to forest trees, and soon translated into French. In a real sense Marshall's synopsis served as a checklist of American trees and was used as an exchange or "want list" by foresters and horticulturists in Europe. England held her lead in . . .

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