Library of the Gray Herbarium

Library of the Gray Herbarium




Frederick Pursh was born in Grossenhain, Sachsen, on February 4, 1774, although he once claimed to have been born near Toboltski, Siberia. After studying horticulture in Dresden, he came to the United States in 1799. He arrived at Baltimore and spent several years in that city and in the vicinity of Philadelphia. Under the patronage of Benjamin Smith Barton, he made two long botanical exploring trips, one to the south in 1805 and one to the north in 1806. After the northern trip, he went to work on the Elgin Botanic Garden in New York, until ill health led him to travel to the West Indies in 1810-1811. During his stay in the U.S., Pursh developed friendships with a number of American botanists and accumulated much information about North American plants with the aim of publishing a flora of North America. On his return from the West Indies, Pursh found that there was little likelihood of being able to publish his flora in the U.S. in the pre-war atmosphere, so he left for England in late 1811 or early 1812. There he was able to consult a number of private botanical libraries and collections, and the patronage of Aylmer Bourke Lambert enabled him to write and publish his flora by the end of 1813. After finishing his flora, Pursh worked on catalogs of the gardens at Cambridge, England, and St. Petersburg, Russia. In 1816 he returned to North America and continued botanical exploration in Canada. He died in Montreal on July 11, 1820, in poverty; his herbarium had previously been destroyed by fire.



The Canadian Naturalist and Geologist 2 (1857): 78-79.
Barnhart, John Hendley. Biographical Notes Upon Botanists.
Elliott, Clark A. Biographical Dictionary of American Science.
Gray, Asa. "Remarks concerning the Flora of North America." American Journal of Science 24 (1882): 323-326.
Hooker, William Jackson. "On the Botany of America." American Journal of Science and Arts 9 (1825): 269-274.
Pursh, Frederick. Flora Americae Septentrionalis .... London: White, Cochrane & Co., 1814. Preface.


Scope and Content:

The Pursh papers consist of a manuscript titled, "A List of Plants observed at or in the vicinity of Permansion in the Island of Dominica." The manuscript consists of 24 pages, each of which is divided into three columns: Botanical Names, English or Provincial Names, and Places of Growth. Listings are alphabetical by botanical names; common names and notes on places of growth have not been supplied throughout the whole manuscript. A note with the manuscript, probably by Asa Gray, says "Two sheets of mounted plants go with this ms. The specimens were scattered through the sheets." The manuscript must date from 1810-1811, when Pursh was in the West Indies.



The Pursh manuscript was probably given to Asa Gray by Edward Tuckerman in 1842. A cryptic note in Asa Gray's handwriting on the upper right corner of the first page of the manuscript appears to say: "Pursh (Given by E. Tuckerman, Esq." Based on comments in two letters from Tuckerman to Gray, one dated Feb. 1, 1843, and the other dated July 10, 1857, Tuckerman appers to have purchased Pursh plants at the sale of the herbarium of Pursh's patron, Aylmer Bourke Lambert. [Lambert died on Jan. 10, 1842, and his library and herbarium were sold on April 18, 1842, and June 27, 1842, respectively.] Tuckerman was in Europe from 1841 to 1842, returning at some point before September, 1842, when he and Asa Gray made a trip to the White Mountains together. Most likely Tuckerman gave the Pursh manuscript to Gray shortly after returning from Europe.

Note: The 1857 letter refers to a manuscript map probably by Pursh which Tuckerman was surprised to find in his papers, thinking he had already given it to Gray. The letter indicated that he was planning to give it to Gray, which means it should also be in the archives here. It has not yet surfaced.




Indexed in main file under:
Pursh, Frederick 1774-1820
Tuckerman, Edward 1817-1886


| Gray Herbarium Archives Home Page |
| Botany Libraries Home Page | Harvard University Herbaria Home Page |