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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00042

Frederick Pursh plant list

Scope and Content

This collection consists of a manuscript plant list entitled "A list of plants observed at or in the vicinity of Permansion in the Island of Dominica." The manuscript is 24 pages stitched in two separate signatures. Each page is divided into three columns: Botanical Names, English or Provincial Names, and Places of Growth. Plants are listed alphabetically by Latin binomial.


  • circa 1811


Conditions Governing Access

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


1 collection (in File Cabinet 11)


Frederick Traugott Pursh was born on February 4, 1774, in Grossenhain, Saxony. He studied horticulture under Johann Heinrich Seidel in Dresden and moved to the United States in 1799. He spent some time in Baltimore before being appointed gardener on the estate of William Hamilton in Philadelphia in September 1802 or 1803. Pursh developed friendships with a number of American botanists and gathered information about North American plants with the intention of publishing a North American flora. In Philadelphia he met Benjamin Smith Barton, who later became Pursh’s patron and financed two collecting expeditions, one to the Carolinas, Maryland, and Virginia in 1806 and another through Pennsylvania, New York, and the Green Mountains of Vermont in 1807.

Following the second expedition Pursh accepted a position with nurseryman Bernard McMahon, describing and drawing plant specimens grown from seeds and roots collected on the Lewis and Clark expedition. In 1809 he moved to New York to work at the Elgin Botanic Garden but did not stay long. Poor health forced him to leave for the West Indies where he spent several months recuperating in 1810 and 1811.

Returning from the West Indies Pursh found there was little likelihood of publishing his flora in the pre-war atmosphere of the United States. He departed for England in late 1811 or early 1812. With the support of British naturalists Joseph Banks and Aylmer Bourke Lambert, Pursh consulted private botanical libraries and collections and continued to work on his flora in England. After “Flora Americae Septentrionalis” was published in 1814 Pursh spent a few years working on catalogs of the gardens at Cambridge, England and in St. Petersburg, Russia.

He returned to North America in 1816 and resumed his botanical explorations in Canada. Pursh died in poverty in Montreal on July 11, 1820. Portions of his herbarium were destroyed in a fire the previous winter. However, much of the collection was purchased prior to this incident and survives in herbaria around the world. In 1857 Pursh’s remains were transferred from the Old Burying Ground to a new plot at Mount Royal Cemetery under the auspices of the Botanical Society of Montréal. A monument was erected soon after.


Barnston JG. 1857. Proceedings of the Botanical Society of Montreal. Canad. Naturalist Geol. 2(1):77-80.

Ewan J. 1951. Frederick Pursh, 1774-1820, and his botanical associates. Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc. 96(5):599-628.

Gray A. 1882. Remarks concerning the Flora of North America. Amer. J. Sci. 24(143):323-326.

Hooker WJ. 1825. On the Botany of America. Amer. J. Sci. Arts. 9:263-284.


The Pursh manuscript was given to Asa Gray by Edward Tuckerman, likely in 1842. Letters from Tuckerman to Gray dated February 1, 1843, and July 10, 1857, indicate that Tuckerman purchased some of Pursh’s specimens held in Aylmer Bourke Lambert’s herbarium. Lambert died in January 1842 and his herbarium was sold the following June while Tuckerman was traveling in Europe. He may have acquired the manuscript at that time. Tuckerman met Gray that fall and likely gave him the manuscript then.

Note: The 1857 letter refers to a manuscript map attributed to Pursh which Tuckerman was intending to give to Gray; the map has never been found.

Related Materials

In the Manuscript Collections of the American Philosophical Society Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Journal of a botanical excursion in the Northeastern parts of Pennsylvania and in the state of New York, 1807 (Mss.580.P97)

Processing Information

Processed by Lynn McWhood

Pursh, Frederick, 1774-1820. Frederick Pursh plant list, circa 1811: 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.

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