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COLLECTION Identifier: orc00001

Oakes Ames orchid manuscripts

Scope and Content

The Ames Papers consists of two manuscripts for articles on orchids of the Philippines. Orchidaceae Halconenses is a draft of an article bearing the same title, published in the Philippine Journal of Science in 1907. New Species, New Combinations contains descriptions of plants arranged alphabetically by Latin plant name. It is described as having been prepared for Fascicle V of Orchidaceae (1915), but is quite different from the published work in both scope and arrangement.


  • circa 1900-1915


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.


0.2 linear feet (1 box)

Biographical / Historical

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. 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.

Ames's career at Harvard followed two tracks, administrative and teaching.

Administrative Positions:
Assistant Director of the Botanic Garden
Director of the Botanic Garden
Curator of the Botanical Museum
Supervisor of the Botanical Museum
Director of the Botanical Museum
Associate Director of the Botanical Museum
Chairman of the Division of Biology, the Atkins Garden in Cuba, and the Arnold Arboretum
Chairman of the Council of Botanical Collections and Supervisor of the Biological Laboratory, the Atkins Garden in Cuba, and the Arnold Arboretum
Teaching Positions:
Instructor of Botany
Associate Professor of Botany
Professor of Botany
Arnold Professor of Botany
Research Professor of Botany
Emeritus Research Professor of Botany


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.


The manuscript Orchidaceae Halconenses: An Enumeration of the Orchids collected on and near Mt. Halcon, Mindoro, chiefly by Elmer D. Merrill was given by Ames to the Arnold Arboretum on September 11, 1931. The manuscript New Species, New Combinations and additions to the Orchid Flora of the Philippines was given to the Arnold Arboretum on May 26, 1932. The manuscripts were later transferred to the Archives of the Oakes Ames Orchid Library.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria: There are some 150 letters from Oakes Ames in the Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria, 1890-1965; Archives of Rudolph and Leopold Blaschka and the Ware collection of Blaschka glass models of plants; Harvard Botanical Museum records; Botanical illustrations from the Oakes Ames Orchid Herbarium ; Field notes and plant identification records, approximately 1804-2000; Oakes Ames Orchid Herbarium records; Roland Thaxter papers, William Gilson Farlow papers.

Processing Information

Processed by Lynn McWhood, March 1983

Ames, Oakes, 1874-1950. Oakes Ames orchid manuscripts, circa 1900-1915: 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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