Saturday, July 3, 2010

Guide to the Flora of Washington and Vicinity / Lester F. Ward -- Washington DC: GPO, 1881

Flora of Washington is a monograph in the series Bulletin of the United States National Museum, published by the Department of Interior under the direction of the Smithsonian Institute. It is the first "scientific" attempt to catalog the flora of Washington and the surrounding region since the 1830 catalog entitled Florae Columbianae Prodromus, and it contains lists of plants found by several botanists (mostly Ward) over the years 1878-1880.

The volume begins with 59 pages describing the range and localities where plants were collected with various information about the flowering of plants, their statistical frequency, and the methods for classifying them, but the heart and bulk of the volume is a list of the Latin names of the collected plants. Usually accompanying each entry is the name of the collector, the common name or names of the plant, the times when it flowers and fruits, and, when the plant is not commonly found in the region, the locale where it was found. Sometimes further information is included in a note.

Ward's list of plants includes an indication as to whether the plant appeared on the 1830 Prodromus list, providing a valuable record of the impact of the growth of the Washington D.C. on the flora of the region. Unfortunately, the method of classifying plants has changed since 1881, making current use of the list difficult. However, many names are consistent with our names today. For example, Ward writes that Cannabis sativa grows in "waste lots in the city." Somethings haven't changed. Throughout the work, many current concerns about invasive species and habitat destruction are raised, though the concern is understandably less critical than it is today.

The final 28 pages are "Suggestions to Beginners," explaining in extraordinary detail the equipment needed to identify, collect, transport, preserve, and mount plants to be included in one's herbarium. Ward even recommends methods for mailing one's plant inventories and duplicate plants to other botanists when making trades. (By including nothing in writing in the packages of plants, one could take advantage of a cheaper postal rate.)

Flora of Washington contains a final gem: a 31" x 24" fold out map of the Washington D.C. region, printed in 1882. The region ranges from the Rockville and Laurel post offices in the north to the confluence of the Occaquan and Potomac Rivers in the south; and from the Bull Run post office in the west to the Patuxent River in the east. Along with the river system of the region, roads also appear on the map. Some have retained their names to the present, others have changed, but hardly any follow the same routes of their descendant roads today.

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