Botany Trail Contributed by Neal Ratzlaff
The study of all
plants, including trees, grasses, wildflowers, berries,
bushes, vines, etc.
are ‘Lewis and Clark plants’?
This does not have a simple answer. It includes plants they already knew and
which they occasionally noted in their journals –
however, this was valuable in that it extended knowledge of
the ranges of those plants. It includes the plants
that were collected and pressed; the specimens that are in
the Lewis and Clark Herbarium.
It includes plants that were described but are not in the
was botany a part of the expedition?
President Thomas Jefferson was knowledgeable and interested in
all aspects of natural science, and needed to know what to
expect in that part of the country.
In his lengthy letter of instructions to Meriwether Lewis of
June 20, 1803, he requested information on “ordinary occupations in agriculture [of
the native inhabitants and] their food”
“the country, it’s growth & vegetable
productions, especially those not of the U.S.” and ”the
dates at which particular plants put forth or lose their
flowers, or leaf.”
did Lewis determine what plants to note?
Much the same as our method would be,
or unlike” approach, comparing a specimen with one we
are familiar with. He
was familiar with plants back east.
His mother was a well-known doctor of simples in the
Charlottesville, Virginia area, and thus he knew many
medicinal plants. He
learned much from President Jefferson when he was his
had been sent to Philadelphia to meet with Dr. Barton, the
foremost botanist in the country who had just published the
first American botany book. He carried reference
books with him on the expedition, including Dr. Barton’s
botany book and two Linnaean books.
many plants did they discover?
The oft-quoted numbers are 178 plants and 122 animals new to
it is not known how many were collected, or would have been
new. Not all the first
shipment from Fort Mandan in North Dakota is accounted for. All the specimens collected from Fort Mandan
to the Great Falls of the Missouri in Montana were lost. Later, some of the specimens in Philadelphia
were lost due to disintegration or other reasons.
is “new to science’?
Ones that had not been previously described and published and
thus known to the scientific community.
Some of the expedition crew were French men from St. Louis who
had previously been part way up the Missouri River, and they
had names for some of the plants and animals, but were still
unknown to science. Ironically, since Lewis
and Clark’s planned book did not get published, credit
went to others who did describe and publish.
did they find in the Iowa and Nebraska area?
They already knew much of what they saw
in our area. Spring was over by the time they came, and
spring blooming flowers had likely disappeared.
Since their days seemed very busy, opportunities for observing
and collecting plants may not have been always present.
references do we use for identifying their plants?
Two great sources are
books by Moulton and Cutright.
At times, the botanical or scientific name (Genus
species) differs between the two authors, as some plants
are hard to classify and botanists have changed their
Moulton is more recent, it may be considered more current.
Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, by Gary E.
Moulton, Editor, 1986-1999, University of Nebraska
2 and 3 include the time period of their outbound
journey, July 11 – September 8, 1804, when they were
on waters that bordered Nebraska. In addition, Vol. 3
includes a discussion of the list of plant specimens Lewis
sent to President Jefferson from Fort Mandan, ND, April 7,
8 includes the time period of their return journey,
August 31 – September 11, 1806, when they were again
on the waters that bordered Nebraska. Volume 12 is a
listing of all the plant specimens in the Herbarium of the
Lewis and Clark Expedition and a photocopy of each sheet.
Most of these are in the Academy of Natural Sciences in
Philadelphia. Hereinafter referred to
& Clark: Pioneering Naturalists,
by Paul Russell Cutright, 1969,
University of Nebraska Press.
While he listed the plants that were in the Herbarium, his
main list was of plants “new to science.”
Therefore his list differs from that of Moulton’s
Herbarium. Hereinafter referred to
as Cutright.Other Links:The Lewis & Clark HerbariumNebraska Arboretum