ISSN 1188-603X

No. 182 January 29,
Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2


From: Dr. Frank A. Lang (

[What follows is an amalgam of two radio scripts broadcast over Jefferson Public Radio, Southern Oregon University's regional radio station. Nature Notes has been on the air since 1989 and features the people, places, and things of the natural world in short 3-4 minute sound bites.]

Here we feature two early western botanists, Edward Lee Greene and Marcus E. Jones. As you will discover they didn't like each other very much. At least Jones didn't like Greene very much, but then Jones didn't have much good to say about very many people. According to Willis Linn Jepson's obituary of Jones published in Madroño (1934, 2:152-154), none of the targets of Jones' vitriolic personal attacks ever answered his assaults.

February 27, 1876, an Episcopal priest, Edward Lee Greene, wrote a letter to a regular correspondent, Professor Asa Gray, the Professor of Botany at Harvard University, if not the United States. Greene wrote:

"The place where I am going I am sure it will please you to hear the name of, unmusical and to my ear sounding like a cross between ancient Greek and modern Digger Indian though it be. My address is to be Yreka, Siskiyou County away up between Mount Shasta and Klamath River!! I can hardly sleep nights since I have secured my appointment to that field of missionary labor, so delighted am I."

"I have now a pretty ample supply of sermons on hand: don't mean to compose a new one all next spring, summer and fall: but to herborize to my heart's content ..."

Greene's tenure at Saint Laurence's, now Saint Mark's, Yreka, was brief. Details of his departure are not known, but it probably had to do with his greater enthusiasm for herborizing; that is, botany, than for sermonizing. By April 9, 1877, a year later, Greene was writing Gray as the Episcopal priest in Silver City, New Mexico. His entries in the Report of Official Acts at Saint Laurence's abruptly ended January 21, 1877. The next entry, on April 8, was by the Right Reverend J.H.D. Wingfield, Bishop of Northern California.

Greene had much better luck as a botanist at Yreka. Of the numerous specimens he collected and sent to Professor Gray, two were outstanding. Greene's Mariposa lily blooms in July in the oak woodlands north of Yreka near the Oregon-California border and near Little Shasta Meadow to the east. If cows or deer haven't nipped off the buds, the plant's 3.5 centimeter (that's about an inch and a half) long, bright purplish or lilac blossoms are hard to miss.

The other equally handsome plant, the Siskiyou four-o'clock, Mirabilis greenei, is in full bloom on the rock bluffs above the highway to Irongate Reservoir in early May. Its clustered stems with thick, ovate leaves bear purple petal-like sepals to four centimeters long that are very showy. If you should be fortunate enough to see these plants in the wild, please don't dig them. Leave the plants for others to enjoy.

Marcus E. Jones, the Utah mining engineer turned botanist, had an almost pathological dislike for Greene. He also had a small botanical journal, "Contributions to Western Botany." [Greene published botanical journals "Pittonia" and "Leaflets of Botanical Observations." - AC] Jones, a number of years after the death of his arch enemy Edward Lee Greene, wrote his infamous epitaph of Greene:

"Greene, the pest of systematic botany, has gone and relieved us from his botanical drivel. They say that the good that men do lives after them, but the evil they do is interred with their bones. I suspect his grave must have been a big one to hold it all."

Jones expressed his dislike for Greene whenever possible:

"Greene was first, last and all the time a botanical crook, and an unmitigated liar, when it suited him to try and make a point against someone else."

As you might suspect, that unspoken someone else was often Jones. But Jones gets even:

"Recently I have been going over Greene's Leaflets and notice his treatment of Rhus trilobata, which makes one feel like committing murder, but fortunately, Greene has passed beyond human retaliation. His case makes one half inclined to believe in hell, for no other place would be suitable for him." ... "Greene's assurance was limited only by his opportunities, and his assumed superiority in first-hand knowledge was sublime to those of us who knew he did not know what he was writing about." ... "Greene was a man who never had any personal friends, his overweening opinion of himself, which he was always injecting into his conversation, repelled people. He was a moral reprobate, a retired Episcopalian minister, kicked out of the pulpit because of sexual vices, and a conscienceless liar."

For the most part, Greene was none of these things. He was an Episcopal priest, for a time at Yreka, and later at Saint Mark's in Berkeley. He was, in spite of Jones' assertion, a highly regarded botanist, who was appointed the first botanist at the University of California after giving up on the priesthood. His forced departure from the Episcopal church was more likely because of his uncertainties about theology rather than a sexual preference for choir boys.

Greene was not the only target for Jones' pen. Take his report of the death of Wilhelm Suksdorf, Bingen, Washington resident and avid Columbia River Gorge botanist:

"At this writing (October 1932) there comes news of the death of Suksdorf, by being run over by a train he was trying to board. It seems he was 82 years old and crippled by rheumatism so that he did not get off the track soon enough after flagging the train. He recently made himself odious by publishing a hundred new species carved out of Amsinckia intermedia, a-la-Greene. He never seemed to have discovered that Greene and Rydberg are botanically dead. One would expect more sense than that in a field botanist, but some people are hard to convince with a club. Suksdorf lived in the Columbia Basin most of his life, and also was, for a time, an assistant of Gray at Harvard. He was always a hopeless splitter."

Jones just can't seem to leave Greene alone, can he? Although such feelings probably occur between rival botanists today, they are much more private. That might be related to the number of lawyers in modern society.

Jones' career ended at Pomona College in 1934 when he died, not of gun shot, but in an automobile accident. I heard or read somewhere that at his funeral his colleagues placed a floral tribute on his grave ...of wildflowers described by Greene. One would like to believe the truth of this, even if it never happened.

Thanks to the Harvard University Herbarium Library for permission to quote Greene's letter to Asa Gray.


From: Olivia Lee (

It is the time of planning for another field season. I have had some calls about the plant press straps that I made. I would like to see if there are more people interested before I decide to make a new batch of plant press straps or not.

Plant Press Straps:
2" x 6' heavy weight black nylon web straps with heavy duty plastic buckles. Each strap has a light colour blank label for names etc. Cost is $25.00 CDN. (material & labour) per pair + postage.

Anyone interested please get in touch with me, Olivia Lee, at, before March 1998.


Hebda, R.J. & J.C. Haggarty. [eds.] 1997.
Brooks Peninsula: An ice-age refugium on Vancouver Island. Occasional Paper No. 5, B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Victoria. Irregular pagination. ISBN 0-7726-3139-5 [soft cover] Price: CDN$40.00

Ordering information:
Crown Publications Inc.
521 Fort Street, Victoria, B.C.
Canada V8W 1E7
Phone: (250) 386-4636, Fax: (250) 386-0221

In 1981 the Friends of the British Columbia Provincial Museum (now the Royal British Columbia Museum) supported a multidisciplinary expedition to Brooks Peninsula, a ragged area on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The results of the expedition were prepared for publication and rewritten several times, but was only when Brooks Peninsula became a provincial park that the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks published it as Occasional Paper. No. 5.

The publication has 16 chapters that deal with various aspects of the Brooks Peninsula (geology and soils, plants and vegetation, terrestrial arthropods, fishes and vertebrates, and ethnographic history and archaeology of the area). Bob Ogilvie's excellent chapter on vascular plants of the area (48 pages) gives a complete list of species and discusses phytogeographical problems, a chapter on vegetation (Richard Hebda et al.) describes the main vegetation formations, and palaeobotanical explorations are summarized by Richard Hebda (48 pages). Chromosome numbers of 30 vascular plants are discussed by C.C. Chinnappa, and Wilf Schofield provided a list of bryophytes collected on Brooks Peninsula.

All the chapters brought evidence of the ice age refugium on Brooks Peninsula. This ice age refugium is reflected in the richness and uniqueness of flora and fauna and it was an important stepping stone in the distribution of plants and animals along the Pacific Coast of North America.

The final chapter summarized the role of a museum in the interdisciplinary expeditions and concluded that

"Museums and other institutions involved in advancing knowledge should make efforts to continue the great tradition of the scholarly expedition. It is more than an effective research tool, but also a powerful force in exciting the public imagination."

This publication presents an excellent example of a scholarly multidisciplinary expedition. It is a valuable reference for anyone interested in this unique area.

Submissions, subscriptions, etc.: BEN is archived at