ISSN 1188-603X

No. 383 November 14, 2007 Victoria, B.C.
Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2


From: Larry Hodgson [Originally published in the Canadian Gardening Fall 2007, p. 82; permission to post it in BEN is gratefully acknowledged.]

Few people left as big a mark on Canadian botany as Michel Sarrazin, better known historically as the king's physician of New France (now Quebec).

Born in Bourgogne, France, in 1659, he headed across the pond in 1685, where he served as a surgeon to the colonial troops. (At the time, surgery was a separate profession from medicine: surgeons performed blood-letting and amputations; physicians diagnosed and treated health problems.) However, after a long recovery from a grave illness, Sarrazin returned to France in 1694 to study medicine.

While there, he visited the Jardin Royal des Plantes (the forerunner of France's principal botanical garden) and decided to study plants under the celebrated botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort. By the time Sarrazin returned to New France in 1697 with a degree in medicine and a new title, king's physician, he had a fresh passion: botany. The only doctor in the colony, Sarrazin spent almost every spare minute he had wandering the region, collecting and analyzing plant specimens and making notes.

Although Sarrazin had to brave tumultuous river crossings, a harsh climate, wild animals and hostilities, he managed to send hundreds of dried and living plants back to the Academy of Sciences in France, along with copious notes on their habits and medicinal uses.

The most intriguing specimen Sarrazin discovered was likely the one later named for him: Sarracenia purpurea, the pitcher plant. He had suggested that the plant was catching and eating insects, a notion considered laughable by scientists of the time. (It wasn't until Charles Darwin published Insectivorous Plants in 1875-nearly 150 years after Sarrazin's death - that the physician's theory was finally validated.)

Eventually, Sarrazin fell out of favour in botanical circles, due in part to his suggestion of the habits of carnivorous plants, which was too radical for the times, and his insistence on using plant-based remedies learned from the aboriginal Canadians-a practice denigrated by the French medical establishment. Though his heretical approach meant he was unable to get his 1708 tome, Histoire des plantes de Canada, published, the book remained available for research purposes and served as the basis for most botanical studies in Canada for the next 100 years; his observations are still used today.

Sarrazin's name lives on in history books as Canada's first physician, a title to which "and botanist" should certainly be added.

Main achievements:


From: David Brownstein -

[This piece is drawn from research contained in David Brownstein (2006): Sunday Walks and Seedtraps: The Many Natural Histories of British Columbia Forest Conservation, 1890-1925, unpublished PhD thesis, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, UBC, Vancouver.]

British Columbia botanical study underwent a significant generational change between 1910 and 1925. We can learn about this shift by examining the competing aspirations of James Robert Anderson of Victoria and John Davidson of Vancouver. This BEN entry will trace some of the conflicts that ensued as each man attempted to build and maintain an herbarium in a province that was not inclined to support even one such institution.

Neither man held a university degree, but the B.C. government considered Davidson to be their botanical expert possessing greater authority than Anderson, who had made the study of British Columbia flora a life-long passion. This competition represented some of the first steps in the professionalization of BC nature study and epitomized the traditional political rivalry between Vancouver Island and the Bitish Columbia mainland.

James Robert Anderson (1841-1930) was born on June 19 at Fort Nisqually, then located in the Hudson's Bay Company commercial empire. The young Anderson, one of thirteen children, was "the almost constant companion of his father," Alexander Caulfield Anderson (1814-1884). Anderson senior was the Hudson Bay Company employee in charge of the fort. Later the family moved to Victoria and miscellaneous diary entries beginning in 1879 indicate that James Robert was active in collecting botanical specimens as a diversion from his business pursuits. He became an accountant in the "Government Buildings" and was later appointed the "Collector of Statistics" for Agriculture in June 1891.

The Department of Agriculture was initiated to advise BC's immigrant farmers on which crops were best suited to which regions of the province. Scientific agricultural advice was to help overcome the lack of arable land in B.C., as assumptions of agrarianism pervaded government policy through to the 1920s. Science was thus a tool for economic development, and in his first Departmental report Anderson described topics that ranged quite broadly to include climate, the specific crops being grown in various districts, the hindrances to each such as diseases, and animal pests.

From the outset Anderson infused his new post with his natural history interests to such a degree that within four years it became absolutely impossible to tell his legislated role apart from his leisure hour pursuits. He never drew a boundary between his public office and his private time. Anderson would later write,

"During my tenure of office, I voluntarily added to my duties the collection and classification of the botany of the province, which, when I left, amounted to some thousands of specimens... I may add that I voluntarily did this work, it being no part of my duties, and spent most of my holidays and spare time towards its accomplishment with the view of ultimately building up a Botanical Department for the Provincial Museum in Victoria."

Anderson joined the Natural History Society of British Columbia in 1895, and he had far more success collecting herbarium specimens than the agricultural statistics that were the original purpose of his job. His title eventually changed from Statistician to Deputy Minister of Agriculture, a re-naming that accurately reflected his increased activities.

When the 67-year-old Anderson contracted severe pneumonia, the Minister forced his retirement on September 8th, 1908. Retirement meant an opportunity for Anderson to concentrate on the portions of his job that he loved the mostNthose botanical activities that he had voluntarily added to his duties. In the process the government became possessive of Anderson's herbarium, still housed in the government buildings, and was reluctant to transfer it to the Provincial Museum. Cabinet declined Anderson' s offer to maintain the herbarium for a modest pension and they began to limit his access to the specimens that he had collected as a volunteer. Even more insulting was the rumour that "a stranger" had been employed by the government to work up a herbarium representative of the B.C. flora, a project that Anderson had claimed as his own life's work.

At the request of the Natural History Society, in February 1909 Anderson undertook to compile a work on the flora of B.C. for a fee of $100. He submitted a complete manuscript in March 1910, but there was no money to publish and distribute it. Anderson submitted his draft manuscript to the provincial secretary, Henry Esson Young, for evaluation and possible publication as a government document. Anderson was explicit in his instructions that "whatever is decided I am averse to my paper being subjected to the criticism of any one less acquainted with the subject than I am." Through a friend in Vancouver, Anderson learned that his manuscript had been handed to John Davidson for evaluation, the same "stranger" who had been recently employed as Provincial Botanist to produce a B.C. flora; worse still in Anderson's mind was the fact that Davidson was "now preparing a paper [of his own] of those subjects."

The minister responded that he had "taken the matter up with my expert, Mr. Davidson, of the Botanical Department," who deplored the inactivity of the Vancouver and Victoria Natural History Societies. Davidson had counselled Young that Anderson's paper was exactly the sort of publication that should come out of the amateur society and that there should not be any need for its publication by the government. This advice was one of several events that soured the relationship between the natural history societies on Vancouver Island and the mainland. Anderson's piece was eventually published, by the Department of Education in 1925, under the title Trees and Shrubs, Food, Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of British Columbia. Anderson died in Victoria five years later, having achieved success as a collector but never attaining much recognition for his efforts.

Who was this mysterious "stranger" in Vancouver? John Davidson (1878-1970) had worked in the Botany Museum at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland from 1893 to 1911. He emigrated to Vancouver in 1911, at which time Henry Esson Young, Provincial Secretary, appointed him to assist G.K. MacLean in conducting a botanical survey of B.C. Conflict between MacLean and Davidson regarding their mandate prompted Young to re-appoint MacLean elsewhere, and Davidson became British Columbia's Provincial Botanist. Young was also in charge of the Ministries of Education and Health, so in anticipation of the future University of British Columbia, Davidson immediately began work on a provincial herbarium and a botanical garden.

Davidson's botanical garden was located at Essondale on the grounds of the provincial mental hospital (courtesy of the minister). This was an enormous opportunity, but one that left many questions as Davidson did not know how long it would be until the work of the Botanical Office would be transferred to the University. Young had not made it clear whether he intended for the Office to continue after a University Botanical Department had been established, or whether the latter would absorb the former.

One of Davidson's first tasks was to examine Anderson's collection, which he described as representing "much field work enthusiastically pursued." Davidson considered it "splendid" and said that it "would have formed a very good nucleus for a Provincial Herbarium were it organized by species rather than alphabetically." Davidson's initial collecting activities put him in direct competition with J.R. Anderson's retirement project in Victoria. Davidson thought of himself as a botanical pioneer and downplayed his lack of a degree, doing his utmost to differentiate himself from self-taught locals such as Anderson. Anderson saw himself as having a lifetime of local botanical experience and Davidson as knowing a great deal about taxonomy, but little of the local flora.

For the next five years Davidson worked hard botanizing around Vancouver, his priority to record the names and locations of plants so that in future years researchers could tell which species were native and which were due to "man's interference with nature's order of things." Through this work he met and then collaborated with members of the B.C. Alpine Club, to whom he gave night classes in natural history.

In the spring of 1914, Minister Young asked Davidson to apply for a position in the soon to be created provincial university, something that pleased the 35-year-old botanist to no end. University president Frank F. Wesbrook was not so impressed by Davidson's qualifications however, and he wrote that Davidson's training appear to be rather along the lines of collecting, classifying and preserving plants for museum purposes rather than the conduct of a large botanical department, of which the museum would be but a single feature and sub-department.

Wesbrook felt that the post of a junior in the botany department, such as that which Davidson sought, should wait until "after the appointment of the professor."

The Botanical Office suffered a great blow when Henry Esson Young was replaced as Minister of Education by Thomas Taylor on December 15, 1915. Without the protection of his former patron, Davidson's office and activities were threatened with abolition " on the ground of economy" due to the war that was then raging in Europe. Davidson was instructed to cease operations on March 31, 1916, at which time he was to dismiss his staff and hand over all of the specimens to the University of British Columbia.

Davidson had cultivated supportive networks in every social stratum and sympathetic letters to the editor appeared in the Vancouver newspapers. What troubled Davidson however, was that the Vancouver Island natural historians, so closely associated with the Provincial Natural History Museum, remained mute while many others came to his aid. In his greatest hour of need since arriving in B.C., Davidson's previous activities and outlook had served to alienate those whose aspirations were strikingly similar to his own.

Correspondence between naturalists on the mainland and those on the island explain the problem. Charles Frederick Newcombe (1851 -1924) wrote that he had initially cooperated with Davidson in sending collections of specimens, but that he did not see Davidson's office as in any way necessary. This was because John Macoun (1831-1920), formerly the natural historian with the federal Geological Survey, had retired to the Island in Sidney, and he was always ready to assist local amateurs in identifying material. Newcombe recognized Davidson's "practical training" and had tried unsuccessfully to get him to "do something to help our Victoria collections." Davidson was "standoffish" in response to this request, which ended potential botanical cooperation across the Strait of Georgia. "Mr. Davidson's evident wish to run his office as a 'One man show' has alienated many would-be supporters, and his present 'S.O.S.' call meets with less sympathy than it would otherwise have done." Rather than cooperating with other botanists in publishing a tentative list of B.C. plant distributions for others to improve upon, Davidson kept this information in a card file in the Botanical Office. This increased his authority as an expert but at the cost of support and contributions from others equally qualified.

As the issue of the Botanical Office closure was debated in the editorial pages, a compromise emerged in March 1916 that Davidson and his staff should accompany the collections and continue their work at the University of British Columbia. Davidson moved what plants and shrubs that he could to Point Grey, but by then the trees were too well established so they remained behind at the Essondale site (where they still stand, now called Riverview). After a successful teaching career at UBC, Davidson would eventually retire in 1948. Within a few years the space occupied by his botanical garden was claimed for building construction and parking lots. A new botanical garden was established at a different UBC location in 1968. The UBC native plant garden is dedicated to Davidson's memory and countless Davidson sheets are still held in the UBC Herbarium.

Both Anderson and Davidson represent a time in which it was possible to become a self-taught botanical authority. They acquired their expertise through direct observation, assisted by natural history museums and amateur societies. Over the course of their lifetimes these institutions were being eclipsed by research universities as the primary centres of learning. John Davidson, being younger and located near the newly created UBC, was able to navigate this shifting terrain. James Robert Anderson was already too old to accommodate these institutional changes so his botanical legacy, equally impressive, is less well appreciated today.


From: Margaret Hubble, North Okanagan Naturalist Club, Vernon, British Columbia, Canada []
Scotter, George W. & Halle Flygare. 2007.
Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains. Whitecap Books, North Vancouver, BC, 255 p. ISBN 1-55285-848-0 ISBN-13 978-1-55285-848-6 [soft cover] Price: CDN$29.95 Available from:

I feel very privileged to write a book review of George Scotter's newest book called "Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains". This book is a revised and expanded edition to his previous classic book called Wildflowers of the Canadian Rockies, published in 1986. It now features wildflowers that can be found from northern British Columbia to New Mexico.

Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains is an extremely well laid out book from the beautiful color flower photos on the cover to the line drawings showing flower parts, leaf shapes and arrangements. Each detailed description of the 350 species of plants has a full-color photograph for easy identification. Plants are grouped into six sections, according to flower color: white; yellow and cream; green; pink; red, orange, and brown; and purple and blue. Included are all the most common species likely to be encountered along the roadsides and hiking trails in the Rockies. Also featured are some rare and shy beauties found in more remote areas.

The tips in Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains are a valuable aid to identifying a newly found flower. George lists a series of questions describing the characteristics of the flowers, leaves, stems, fruits, berries or seeds as well as the habitat of the flower. Often I think I have examined a plant thoroughly enough, only to find out later I should have checked, for example, the seed pods. Does the plant have seed pods and what do they look like, are the leaves linear shaped or arrow leaved shaped, green on top and grey underneath, or shiny green on both sides? Asking these questions helps focus on careful examination of the plant in question which results in accurate flower identification.

An important goal for George Scotter "has been to make this book user friendly, simple, enjoyable to read, and accurate in detail". To this end, he has succeeded! I feel, like George, that to be able to recognize and call a plant by its name is a first important step in a fuller understanding and appreciation of the natural world. He hopes we will see the beauty and fragility of the wildflowers of the Rockies and recognize the urgent need to protect and preserve them. George strongly believes that an informed public is necessary for ensuring the wise management of these majestic mountains now and in the future.

This newest field guide, Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains, by George Scotter, is one that I look forward to putting in my backpack for all my walks and hikes.

About authors

Dr. George W. Scotter has worked for the Bureau of Land Management in Idaho and as a range science professor at Utah State University. He won the prestigious J.B. Harkin medal for outstanding contributions to conservation.

Hälle Flygare, a member of the Swedish Association of Nature Photographers, has been photographing the flora and fauna of Alaska, Yukon, the Arctic and the Canadian Rockies for 30 years. He has worked as a forest technician for British Columbia and Alberta Forest Services, and as a park warden in Banff National Park.

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