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COLLECTION Identifier: orc00003

Botanical illustrations from the Oakes Ames Orchid Herbarium

Scope and Contents

This collection contains ink and pencil sketches, watercolors, chromolithograph and photocopy reproductions, photographs, and negatives of orchid illustrations from the Oakes Ames Orchid Herbarium at the Harvard University Herbaria. Artists include Blanche Ames, Oakes Ames, Dorothy O. Allen, Ruth Barton, Gordon Winston Dillon, Lesley Andrew Garay, J.G. Hall, James Laird Macfarlane, Dorothy H. Marsh, Henry G. Moon, Magdalena Peña de Sousa, Eleonar B. Phillips, Charles Schweinfurth, Elmer W. Smith, Charles Storer, and unknown artists.

Photographers include Edward A. Eames, Chas. Macnamara, and various unknown photographers.

Many of the illustrations were made for scientific publications and some of the original artwork pertains to Oakes Ames’s botanical work.


  • 1893-1975

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research by appointment but the illustrations may be fragile so staff may need to handle the materials for researchers. Researchers must register and provide one form of valid photo identification. Please contact for additional information.


1 collection

Biographical note: Oakes Ames

Oakes Ames was born into a wealthy and influential family on September 26, 1874, in North Easton, Massachusetts. He was the youngest son of Oliver Ames, a politician and the 35th Governor of Massachusetts, and Anna Coffin Ames (née Ray). Ames attended Noble and Greenough School in Boston and entered Harvard College in 1894, receiving A.B. and A.M. degrees in 1898 and 1899, respectively. In 1900, he began his professional career at Harvard as Instructor of Botany. In May of that year, he married artist Blanche Ames (no relation). The couple had four children, Pauline, Oliver, Amyas, and Evelyn, and collaborated on many publications, including the seven-volume monograph Orchidaceae.

Ames's childhood interest in botany and horticulture was nurtured by his father, with whom he collected and identified wild flowers. It was in the greenhouses at their family home in North Easton that Ames first encountered orchids. His interest in orchidology was further influenced by Nathaniel Lord Britton, Director of the New York Botanical Garden. Ames amassed a large collection of living orchids, as well as an extensive orchid herbarium, a library, and a collection of orchid images (including drawings and paintings by Blanche).

Ames was also interested in economic botany and was encouraged in that field by George Lincoln Goodale, Director of the Harvard Botanical Museum. He began teaching the subject in 1909 and in the course of his work and travels compiled a collection comprising thousands of specimens, plant products, and publications on economic plants. Ames and his former students also aided the war effort during both World Wars, helping to identify alternative sources of scarce materials and new uses for raw plant products.

Ames published numerous books and articles on orchids and economic botany and held a variety of teaching and administrative positions at Harvard. However, his accomplishments were not limited to scholarship and collecting. He helped convince Edwin F. Atkins to establish the Atkins Garden in Cienfuegos, Cuba; brought William C. Darrah to Harvard to renew interest in the paleobotanical collections of the Botanical Museum; increased endowment funds for the Botanical Museum and the Arnold Arboretum; and started the Botanical Museum Leaflets.

Ames was a member of many scientific societies, was an elected Fellow of the Linnaean Society of London, and received a number of awards, including an Honorary Doctorate from Washington University in 1938. He gave his orchid herbarium, library, and collection of orchid photographs and paintings to Harvard in 1938. He donated his economic botany herbarium in 1940. Ames died in Ormond, Florida, on April 28, 1950.


Mangelsdorf PC. Oakes Ames 1874-. In: Ames O. Orchids in Retrospect. Cambridge (MA): Botanical Museum of Harvard University, 1948. p.ix-xv.

Sax K. 1950. Oakes Ames, 1874-1950. J. Arnold Arbor. 31(4):335-337.

Schultes RE. 1951. Oakes Ames, 1874-1950. Rhodora. 53(627):67-78.

Biographical note: Blanche Ames

Blanche Ames was born on February 18, 1878 in Lowell, Massachusetts, the daughter of Civil War General Adelbert Ames and Blanche Butler Ames. She graduated from Rogers Hall School in Lowell and entered Smith College in 1895. After leaving to serve as a nurse during the Spanish-American War in 1898, she received a B.A. from Smith 1899. She married Oakes Ames on May 15, 1900, and took the married name Blanche Ames Ames.

Blanche accompanied Oakes on many of his field expeditions and travels and began illustrating his publications early in their marriage. This collaboration continued throughout their marriage and resulted in hundreds of drawings, watercolors, and etchings. Blanche’s artistic talent was not limited to botanical illustration. She specialized in portraiture and experimented heavily with color analysis, developing special color charts to assist in her watercolor painting.

Blanche's interests and accomplishments outside of art and botany were wide-ranging. She was a staunch supporter of women’s suffrage and a co-founder as well as the first president of the Birth Control League of Massachusetts. She was also an inventor and architect, designing the Ames’s home, Borderland, in North Easton. She continued to work well into her eighties and published a biography of her father in 1964 in response to John F. Kennedy’s criticism of General Ames in the book Profiles of Courage.

Blanche suffered a stroke and died March 1, 1969, at the Ames’s home in North Easton.


Crane BL. 1982. Blanche Ames: Artist and activist (1878-1969). Brockton (MA): Brockton Art Museum.

Plimpton PA. Introduction to Oakes Ames, jottings of a Harvard botanist, 1874-1950, Edited by Pauline A. Plimpton. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 1979.

Other Finding Aids

There is an item level inventory in the repository. For more information contact


Oakes Ames donated his orchid library and orchid herbarium to Harvard University during the academic year of 1938-1939. His collection, called The Orchid Herbarium of Oakes Ames, contained approximately 57,000 orchid specimens, 3,000 flowers in glycerin, 4,000 specimens in liquid, and hundreds of line drawings that supplement the specimens. He also donated his 1,800 volume orchid library.

The Orchid Herbarium of Oakes Ames was incorporated into the larger Oakes Ames Orchid Herbarium that represents many notable collectors including Rudolf Schlechter, Rudolf Mansfeld, and Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach and is estimated at 131,000 orchid specimens.

Over time, some orchid illustrations from the Oakes Ames Orchid Herbarium were transferred to the Harvard Botany Libraries. Those illustrations make up the Botanical illustrations from the Oakes Ames Orchid Herbarium and consist of orchid illustrations created by various artists.


Ames, O. 1979. Oakes Ames, jottings of a Harvard botanist, 1874-1950. Botanical Museum of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Angell, B. and G.A. Romero. 2011. Botanica Collected - Orchid Illustrations at Harvard. The Botanical Artist. 17: 20-21.

Oakes Ames Gives Orchid Collection to Harvard Museum. 1940. The Harvard Crimson. Website ( Accessed 24 Sep 2020.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria: Oakes Ames Orchid Herbarium records; Oakes Ames orchid manuscripts; Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria; Archives of Rudolph and Leopold Blaschka and the Ware collection of Blaschka glass models of plants; Harvard Botanical Museum records; Field notes and plant identification records, approximately 1804-2000.

Botanical illustrations from the Oakes Ames Orchid Herbarium, 1893-1975: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Oakes Ames Orchid Library, Harvard University.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Orchid Library of Oakes Ames, Harvard University Repository

The Harvard University Herbaria houses five comprehensive, non-circulating research libraries that are managed collectively as the Botany Libraries.The Oakes Ames Orchid Library specializes exclusively in the identification and classification of the orchid family (Orchidaceae). The Archives of the Oakes Ames Orchid 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 Orchid Herbarium.

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