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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00023

Merritt Lyndon Fernald papers

Scope and Content

The Fernald papers contain field notes, plant identification records and notes, manuscript material, proofs, notes, illustrations for publications, certificates of membership, maps, photographs, and correspondence pertaining to Fernald’s botanical work. The bulk of his correspondence is filed separately with the Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria.

Published maps are described on the finding aid and also have individual catalog records. They are stored in the Gray Herbarium Archives Map Case. Most of the hand drawn or annotated maps are stored with the collection.


  • 1887-1951
  • Majority of material found in 1887-1934


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available by appointment for research. Researchers must register and provide two forms of valid photo identification. Please contact for additional information.


3.6 linear feet (12 boxes, 1 flat oversize box, oversize materials in flat file, 4 oversize maps folders in Archives Map Case)


Merritt Lyndon Fernald was born in Orono, Maine on October 5, 1873, to Mary Lovejoy and Merritt Caldwell Fernald. He attended Orono High School and entered Maine State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1890. He began publishing notes and articles in the “Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club” shortly thereafter. Impressed by the strength of these writings and a letter he received from Fernald in January 1891, Sereno Watson offered him a position at the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University. Two months later Fernald moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to work half time in the herbarium while continuing his studies. In the fall of 1891 Fernald enrolled in the Lawrence Scientific School where he completed a B.S. in 1897. Fernald married Margaret Howard Grant in 1907. They had three children, Katherine, Henry, and Mary.

Fernald is best known for his work on phytogeography. He combined field work with herbarium work, and was an expert on the flora of eastern North America. He collected extensively in Maine and eastern Canada, especially in the Gaspé Peninsula, frequently in the company of Brown University professor J. Franklin Collins. The two men made some of the first botanical explorations of the Gaspé Peninsula on several trips starting in 1904. Heart problems forced Fernald to scale back his explorations and in later years he turned his attention to the plants of Virginia.

In addition to his work at Harvard, Fernald was instrumental in establishing the Alstead School of Natural History in Alstead, New Hampshire and taught there during the summers from 1899 to 1901. He was a member of more than a dozen scientific societies and organizations, including the New England Botanical Club. Fernald also contributed to over 800 publications in his lifetime. He collaborated with Benjamin Lincoln Robinson on the seventh edition of “Gray’s New Manual of Botany” published in 1908, and completed the eighth edition (“Gray’s Manual of Botany”) which was published in 1950. He received honorary degrees from Acadia University in 1933 and the University of Montreal in 1938. In 1949 he was awarded the Marie-Victorin Medal for services to botany in Canada. Fernald died on September 22, 1950, in Cambridge.

Curatorial Positions
Assistant at the Gray Herbarium
Curator of the Gray Herbarium
Director of the Gray Herbarium
Teaching Positions
Instructor of Botany
Assistant Professor
Fisher Professor of Natural History
Professor Emeritus


Merrill ED. 1954. Merritt Lyndon Fernald, 1873-1950. Biogr. Mem. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 28:45-98.

Pease AS. 1951. Merritt Lyndon Fernald 1873-1950. Rhodora. 53(626):33-39.

Series Description

The collection is divided into 8 series by subject:
  1. Series I. Field notebooks and collecting notes. This series includes notebooks, bound typed volumes, and loose notes pertaining to plant distribution and regional floras, especially of Canada, dated from 1904 to 1925.
  2. Series II. Unpublished manuscripts. This series contains unpublished manuscripts and supporting materials, mostly for articles on phytogeography.
  3. Series III. Edible Wild Plant materials. Galley proofs, notes, and illustrative matter for “Edible Wild Plants.”
  4. Series IV. Gray’s Manual Revision Materials. Notes used in the revision of “Gray's Manual of Botany.”
  5. Series V. Membership certificates and honors.
  6. Series VI. Maps.
  7. Series VII. Teaching photographs. Mounted black-and-white photographs of plants and collecting activities used in instruction.
  8. Series VIII. Gaspé Correspondence. Correspondence to and from Fernald, plus documents related to Fernald's travels and research, including receipts, research proposals, telegrams, and a fishing license, dated 1890 to 1929.


The bulk of Fernald’s papers likely remained at the Gray Herbarium after his death. No record has been found of gifts or bequests. The manuscript on Antennaria megacephala was given to the Gray Herbarium archives by Richard Alden Howard on June 5, 1984.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria:
  1. Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria, 1890-1965
  2. Asa Gray correspondence files, 1832-1892
  3. Botany Libraries photograph collection
  4. Field notes and plant identification records, approximately 1804-2000
  5. Jane Gray autograph collection, 1563-1908

Processed by

Lynn McWhood

February 1982

Processing Information

Processing note

When the collection was first processed, notebooks and manuscripts were given consecutive numbers. Many of the notebooks have a sticker with the number on the cover. Over time, additional material was added to the collection and that material was not numbered. In many cases, the original numbers were not retained. However some notebooks and manuscripts still have original numbers, they are noted as the item identifier.

In February 2020 some materials were rehoused and the finding aid was updated. Oversize folders that were housed in box 3 were moved to the flat files. Card files that were in box 3 were moved to box 13.

In April 2021, Series VIII title was changed from Gaspé Peninsula correspondence to Merrit Lyndon Fernald correspondence because the file contains both Gaspé related correspondence and general Fernald correspondence.

Fernald, Merritt Lyndon, 1873-1950. Merritt Lyndon Fernald papers, 1887-1951, bulk 1887-1934: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University Repository

The Harvard University Herbaria houses five research libraries that are managed collectively as the Botany Libraries. The Gray Herbarium Library specializes in the identification and classification of New World plants with emphasis on North American plants. The Archives of the Gray Herbarium houses unique resources including personal papers, institutional records, field notes and plant lists, expedition records, photographs, original artwork, and objects from faculty, curators, staff, and affiliates of the Gray Herbarium.

Harvard University Herbaria
22 Divinity Ave
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-2366