Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Botanists and the Study of Trees

Trees played an important part in the Quaker interest in plants.  Saplings were transported across the Atlantic in both directions, trees were described in books, and arboreta were created both for study and to enable the public to see many different species.

When William Penn set up his Greene Countrie Towne in Pennsylvania he insisted that settlers preserve one acre of trees for every five acres that they cleared. He also required oak and mulberry trees to be preserved for ship building and for the silk industry. He imported many trees from England including fruit trees, hawthorn, walnuts, and hazelnuts to grow alongside the native trees.

Penn’s interest in trees was shared by many others. Quaker botanists Peter Collinson, John Lettsom, and John Bartram all took a great interest in trees, for example. For others, the early arborists, the main focus of attention was trees.

Thomas Story (c1670 - 1742) was fascinated by trees of every shape and form.  This interest may have been stimulated by William Penn whom he met and became friendly with in Pennsylvania.  When Story returned to England he bought Justice Town, an estate near Carlisle.  Here he planted many trees, both English and American, some from seed given to him by Quaker botanist Peter Collinson, who also provided him with some saplings and horticultural advice.  Story encouraged fellow landowners to plant trees and to take care of their woodland and provided the saplings for some of these woods.

Humphrey Marshall (1722 – 1801), an American cousin of John Bartram, became renowned for his botanical work.  He studied and produced a catalogue of American Trees and plants entitled ‘Arbustrum Americanum: The American Grove, or, an Alphabetical catalogue of Forest Trees and Shrubs, Natives of the American United States’.  The work was intended as a list of trees and shrubs as well as a catalogue for botanical clients.  It is alphabetically arranged and describes the usefulness of the trees and plants for medicine, agriculture, and horticulture.  It employed the newest Linnaean taxonomic nomenclature.  Marshall saw it as a starting point to spur additional research on American Botany.  He felt that an exhaustive survey of American plants

Cannot be compiled at once, or by one man; but is the duty of every one to contribute what he can towards it.

The Arbustrum did not sell well in America but attracted interest in European scientific circles and was translated into German and French.  Marshall’s description of John Bartram’s discovery of Franklinia Altamaha, a plant collected by Bartram and not recorded in the wild again since its discovery, caused Marshall’s nephew Moses to lead an expedition to Carolina and Georgia in 1790 to look for this plant on behalf of Sir Joseph Banks.  He discovered it growing along the banks of the Alatamaha River.

Samuel and Joshua Pierce, twin brothers, inherited about 189 acres of land in Philadelphia, in 1798. Their ancestor George Pierce had purchased the land from William Penn, in 1700. They planted an arboretum stocking it with American and other exotic trees such as ginkgoes, purchased from the local nurseries that were beginning to appear around Philadelphia. They went on tree hunting expeditions within Pennsylvania, Maryland and also north to the Catskills.   By 1850 they had one of the finest collections of trees in the country, many of which were planted in rows.   After the sale of the land to DuPont Pierce’s Farm was renamed Longwood Gardens, and is well-known to this day.

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