top of page

Explorers & Botanists

Native plants have been systematically collected and documented for science since the beginning of the 17th century. Glimpse into this history and you will find the people and places associated with the plants and the wildlife in your Heritage Garden. Include in your Heritage Garden plants whose names honor these explorers, botanists, and in one case, the name of a ship that brought them here.

First Explorers

Columbia Rediviva

In 1792, Captain Gray sailed the Columbia Rediviva into the river that he named after his ship. The river, its basin, and numerous flora now bear the name Columbia. Look for plants with names including Columbia, Columbian, columbianum, columbiana.

Columbia Rediviva entering the mouth of the river. 

Lewis & Clark

Between 1803 and 1806, the Corps of Discovery took Meriwether Lewis and William Clark along the Snake and Columbia Rivers where numerous plant species were discovered for western science. Many observations were made throughout their trek and indigenous territories and uses for various plants and animals were extensively described.


Include in your Heritage Garden species noted in Meriwether Lewis' journals or that were collected on the expedition. Look for plants with names including Lewis, Clark, Lewisia, Clarkia and lewisii.

William Clark

Meriwether Lewis

Famous Botanists

“When I consider the melancholy fate of so many of botany's votaries, I am tempted to ask whether men are in their right mind who so desperately risk life and everything else through the love of  'collecting' plants.”


- Carolus Linnaeus, "Glory of the Scientist," 1737

The Pacific Northwest’s
Top Self-Taught Botanists

Thomas Jefferson Howell (1842 – 1912)

An American botanist, Howell collected tens of thousands of specimens throughout Oregon and southern Washington. His specimens were sent to the Gray Herbarium, sold to other botanists eventually going to major herbaria in the U.S. and Europe. His publications include: A Catalogue of the Known Plants, (Phænogamia and Pteridophyta) of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho (1887); A Flora of Northwest America containing brief descriptions of all the known indigenous and naturalized plants growing without cultivation north of California, west of Utah, and south of British Columbia (1903). Look for plants with names including Howell, howellii: Such as Triteleia grandiflora Lindl. var. howellii; Brodiaea howellii (Howell’s Triteleia); Poa howellii (Howell's bluegrass).

William Conklin Cusick (1842 - 1922)

An American botanist, Cusick's primary areas of exploration were the Wallowa and Blue Mountains. He sent his collections to Asa Gray to be named. Gray was so impressed with his work that he sent his assistant to visit Cusick to show him how to improve his collecting techniques and record keeping. Charles Vancouver Piper also encouraged Cusick. Together they collected in the Wallowas. Cusick's herbariums went to the University of Oregon and Washington State University. See also William Conklin Cusick Papers. Look for plants with names including Cusick, Cusickiella, cusickii: Such as Dodecatheon pulchellum (Raf.) Merr. subsp. cusickii (Cusick's shootingstar); Helianthus cusickii (Cusick's sunflower); Poa cusickii (Cusick's bluegrass).

Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf (1850 - 1932)

German-American botanist that became one of the leading collectors of the Pacific Northwest. His drawings and specimens eventually led him to work for Dr. Asa Gray at Harvard. "Over that lifetime he pressed, mounted, and identified over 150,000 wildflower specimens. He collected nearly 400 plant specimens that were considered new to science. Seventy were named for him by his colleagues..." Suksdorf died in Bingen, WA. Additional information at Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf Papers; Suksdorf's story in the Washington Native Plant Society blog, Botanical Rambles. Look for plants with names including Suksdorf, suksdorfii: Such as Mimulus suksdorii (Suksdorf's monkeyflower).

Illustration from Frederick Pursh Publication

Frederick Traugott Pursh (1774 - 1820)

German born, Pursh came to North America where he worked for American botanist Benjamin Smith Barton classifying specimens provided by Lewis and Clark. He eventually left Barton and travelled to England, taking specimens from Lewis and Clark with him. In Europe he published Flora Americae Septentrionalis, A Systematic Arrangement and Description of The Plants of North America. There is no known portrait of him. Look for plants with names including Pursh, purshii.


Archibald Menzies (1754 - 1842)

Scottish botanist and naturalist, Menzies was the first civil servant botanist in the Pacific Northwest. He traveled with George Vancouver's voyage to the northwest coast of America in the 1790s, collecting plants along the way.


Look for plants with names including Menzies, Menziesia, menziesii, such as Amsinckia menziesii (Menzies' fiddleneck) and Delphinium menziesii (Menzies' Larkspur).

image-asset (1).jpeg

John Scouler (1804 - 1871)

Scottish naturalist, Scouler studied under William Jackson Hooker. Hooker secured for Scouler an appointment on board the Hudson's Bay Company's ship William and Ann on its expedition to the Columbia River. David Douglas accompanied Scouler on this expedition. Together they discovered many new plant species.


Look for plants with names including Scouler, Scouleri, scouleriana, such as Salix scouleriana (Scouler willow).

Asa Gray (1810 - 1888)

One of the most important American botanists of the 19th century, Asa Gray collaborated with many collectors to classify and document plants. In the 1870s he travelled to West and, along with Joseph Dalton Hooker, collected many specimens.


Look for plants with names including Gray, Grayia, grayi, such as Grayia spinosa (spiny hopsage).

Dr. David Lyall (1817 - 1895)

Scottish botanist and friend of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, the genus Lyallii was named after him by Hooker. He accompanied in the survey of the boundary line between British Columbia and the United States possessions, from the Gulf of Georgia to the summit of the Rocky Mountains, bringing home a magnificent herbarium. His work resulted in the first scientific portrayal of various zones of vegetation in British Columbia.

Look for plants with names including Lyall and Lyallii, such as Astragalus lyallii (Lyall's milk-vetch).


Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785 - 1865)

An important English botanist, his son Joseph Dalton Hooker, also became a famous botanist. Flora of North America, by John Torrey and Asa Gray is dedicated to Sir William Jackson Hooker.

Look for plants with names including Hooker, hookeri, hookerianum in honor of either or both Hookers.

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817 - 1911)

British botanist and explorer, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, is considered the most important botanist of the 19th century. He was friends with Charles Darwin, corresponding with him on botanical observations and evolution. Hooker travelled to the American West in 1877 with his friend Asa Gray. 

Look for plants with names including Hooker, hookeri, hookerianum in honor of either or both Hookers.

image-asset (5).jpeg

Thomas Nuttall (1786 - 1859)

English botanist who joined Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth and John Kirk Townsend in exploring the American West. They traveled the Snake and Columbia Rivers, Nuttall worked at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia where he contributed to the Flora of North America being prepared by Asa Gray and John Torrey. Various flora and fauna are named after him.

Look for plants with names including Nuttall, nuttallii, nuttalliana, such as Delphinium nuttallii (Nuttall's larkspur)

Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth (1802 - 1856)

An American businessman, Wyeth led expeditions in the Northwest seeking business opportunities. Thomas Nuttall and John Kirk Townsend joined Wyeth's later expeditions across the Rockies to the Pacific where Nuttall collected and identified several species, naming the genus Wyethia in his honor. The correspondence and journals of Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth, 1831-6; a record of two expeditions for the occupation of the Oregon country, with maps, introduction and index... By: Wyeth, Nathaniel J. 1802-1856. Published: (1899)

Look for plants with names including Wyeth, Wyethia, wyethii such as Lupinus wyethii (Wyeth's lupine).

John Kirk Townsend (1809 - 1851)

An American naturalist, highly-respected ornithologist and collector, Townsend was invited by Thomas Nuttall to join him on one of Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth's expeditions. A Narrative of a Journey Across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River, by John Kirk Townsend, tells the tale of one expedition into our region of the West. He collaborated with John James Audubon on the naming of new bird species.

Look for fauna with names including Townsend, townsendi, townsendii and you will find many birds and mammals named after this naturalist. However, in the naming of plants, note that the Townsendia genus of Asteraceae is named for David Townsend, a friend of William Jackson Hooker (ref. The Botanists of Philadelphia and Their Work, by John William Harshberger).

Charles Vancouver Piper (1867 - 1926)

An American botanist and authority on plants of the Northwest, Piper lived in the Washington Territory, graduating from the University of Washington (BS degree 1885 and MS degree 1892), and Harvard receiving a MS degree in 1900. Piper taught botany and zoology. In 1903 he was appointed to the Department of Agriculture where he was in charge of the Grass Herbarium and Forage Crop Investigations. Piper compiled the first authoritative guides to flora in the Northwest including Flora of the State of WashingtonFlora of Southeast Washington and Adjacent Idaho and Flora of the Northwest Coast


The orchid genus Piperia is named after him. See also Charles Vancouver Piper Papers.


Other Trained Botanists

Resources Worth Further Exploration

Jack Nisbet 

Spokane-based teacher and naturalist, Jack Nisbet is the author of several books that explore the human and natural history of the Intermountain West. He honored us by authoring the foreword to our book, Plant Selection Guide, Heritage Gardens of the Columbia River Basin, and has been a guest speaker at our Heritage Garden workshops.

Biographies of Scientists and Explorers Honored in the Names of Plants

"Knowing about the people who collected, studied, described, named, and cataloged the plants of an area gives us a better understanding of the history of that area, the relationships among scientists and explorers at that time, the progress of science, and the rigors endured in the quest for knowledge and beauty." -Al Schneider

"People who are Plant Explorers are different from those who are plant hunters, in that their goal is discovery more than acquisition. Plant Explorers today are often botanists or botanical photographers and painters, but can be anyone with a real love for nature and plants. If you are a Plant Explorer, or just someone who loves plants, then this site is for you..."

bottom of page