Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker

Portrait of Joseph Dalton Hooker, Darwin's fri...

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I’ve just finished reading On the Vegetation of the Galapagos Archipelago, as compared with that of some other Tropical Islands and of the Continent of America by Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, who was born 194 years ago today.

In 1844, Darwin asked Hooker to work up his botanical samples from the Galapagos and thus began their life-long friendship. In working them up, Hooker included specimens collected by others, although Darwin’s collection was by far the largest. He read his findings to the Linnean Society in 1846 and the paper was published in 1851.

In this study, you can see how Hooker gravitated toward establishing biogeography as a science. He noted that all flora from any country can be separated into two classes: indigenous and introduced. In the Galapagos, the introduced species were most closely related to plants in the West Indies and Panama whereas the indigenous species were most closely related to mountainous and other “extra-tropical” parts of the Americas.

But the part of the work that most caught my eye was his description of the Compositae (now Asteraceae).

The Compositae are in every respect the most remarkable family in the Galapagos, both as regards number of new species and new genera, and from their forming much of the wood of the islands.

“Their forming most of the wood of the islands.” – I have been astonished to find Asteraceae trees here in Panama, and now I learn that they accounted, in Darwin’s time anyway, for most of the wood in the Galapagos!

He continues:

They also are the most instructive, as the species are very clearly defined: the peculiar genera have representatives in the different islets; and whilst the new species are almost wholly allied to plants from the Andes or extra-tropical parts of America, the old are almost universally the weeds of the low coast of the same continent.

Just the opposite of other families! As noted above, in the other families the introduced species were most closely related to plants in the West Indies whereas the indigenous species were most closely related to continental parts of the Americas. He attributes this distinction to the methods of dispersal – that the seeds of the Compositae are wind-blown whereas many of the other seeds can be carried on ocean currents.

Hooker was a highly respected botanist and, like his father, became director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. We’ll probably be seeing more mention of him toward the end of the year, when the 200th 100th anniversary of his death will be marked on December 10.

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In the Seven Woods

I have heard the pigeons of the Seven Woods
Make their faint thunder, and the garden bees
Hum in the lime-tree flowers; and put away
The unavailing outcries and the old bitterness
That empty the heart. I have forgot awhile
Tara uprooted, and new commonness
Upon the throne and crying about the streets
And hanging its paper flowers from post to post,
Because it is alone of all things happy.
I am contented, for I know that Quiet
Wanders laughing and eating her wild heart
Among pigeons and bees, while that Great Archer,
Who but awaits His hour to shoot, still hangs
A cloudy quiver over Pairc-na-lee.

William Butler Yeats
(13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939)

In celebration of William Butler Yeats, born 146 years ago, here is the lime tree of which he speaks:

Yeats's Lime Tree (wikipedia)

It is Tilia tomentosa, in the Family Malvaceae, which includes hibiscus, and mallow, and okra.

I know well the hum of bees among flowers, but the thought of the faint thunder of pigeons. . . wonderful!

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Banana Relatives in Sitka, Alaska?

Matt Goff has collected a dozen truly interesting posts about plants for the 40th edition of Berry Go Round. Not only are the posts themselves of interest, but he managed to tie the subject matter of each one with plants that he’s familiar with in Sitka.

How did he manage to tie in bananas with anything that grows there?  If you’re curious enough to go see for yourself, you’ll be rewarded with good writing and links to articles that range from violets to sphagnum moss.

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Great Roundup of Readings about Plants

Sally at Foothills Fancies has posted the 39th edition of Berry Go Round, the blog carnival about plants. It’s a superb piece of writing and points to lots examples of good reading.

Two of my favorites will give you a sense of the range of posts that Sally has featured. One is a study of the changes in tree canopy at Columbus Circle. Having lived in New York City for a number of years and having spent my share of time at the southwestern corner of Central Park, I found the research and photographs fascinating.

The other is a post featuring Erythrina crista-galli – and a fabulous photograph – from Argentina. I’ve seen several species of the Erythrina genus here in Panama, all of them interesting, and every time I work at identifying the species, I run across descriptions of E. crista-galli. Now I see why it’s such a beloved flower.

So, go enjoy BGR #39!

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