Sir joseph dalton hooker's travels in the united states

[The early career of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817–1911), famed explorer, prominent botanist, and director of Kew Gardens, was described in the November Desert Breeze.]

Between 1839 and 1871, Hooker’s travels had taken him to Antarctica, New Zealand, Tasmania, India and the countries of the Himalayas, Syria, Palestine, and Morocco. In June of 1877, he accepted, at long last, an invitation from his friend Asa Gray (1810–1888) to visit the United States. Gray, professor of botany at Harvard and America’s preeminent botanist, organized an expedition to the western part of the country, beginning in Colorado, with their primary goal being to test their ideas about geographical plant distribution.

They began their expedition at La Veta Pass in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. From there, they climbed Blanca Peak (at 14,351’) and later, Pikes Peak and Grays Peak—Asa Gray now age 67 and Hooker a bit younger at 60. Hooker wrote to his assistant at Kew:

"I got up to 14,300 on Gray's peak without difficulty (on my legs) but I have not the wind & muscle I had & indeed the mountain climbing here is pretty severe work.”

From Colorado, Gray and Hooker traveled on to Utah and Nevada, ending up in California where they joined forces with John Muir (1838–1914) and collected plants on Mt. Shasta. Muir recalled their trip later in his tribute to Linnaeus:

“After supper I built a big fire, and the flowers and the trees, wondrously illumined, seemed to come forward and look on and listen as we talked. …of course we talked of trees, argued the relationship of varying species, etc.; and I remember that Sir Joseph, who in his long active life had traveled through all the great forests of the world, admitted, in reply to a question of mine, that in grandeur, variety, and beauty, no forest on the globe rivaled the great coniferous forests of my much-loved Sierra.”

Hooker’s ten-week, 8,000-mile American excursion yielded some 1,000 plant specimens for Kew and enough information for Gray and Hooker to write a paper on the geographical distribution of plants of the Rocky Mountain region that was published in the Bulletin of the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey in 1881.

During Hooker’s first days of botanizing in Colorado, he found the lovely Apache plume, Fallugia paradoxa. The following year, Curtis’s Botanical Magazine published Hooker’s brief telling of that encounter, accompanied by an illustration of the plant by Anne Henslow Barnard (1833–1899), one of Kew’s highly skilled illustrators and Hooker’s sister-in-law.

“I gathered it in company with Dr. Gray on the Sierra Blanca at about 7000 feet in elevation in the southern part of Colorado, bordering New Mexico, whence the seeds were sent to England in 1877. The copious large white blossoms on the slender branches, moving with the slightest breath of wind, gave the bushes a very beautiful appearance. The plant flowered for the first time in July of the present year [1882], in the royal Gardens, in an open border of the herbaceous grounds.”



This piece appeared in the December 2017 issue of The Desert Breeze, the monthly newsletter of the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society.