Friday, February 22, 2013

The Father of Texas Botany

In 1801, Ferdinand Lindheimer was born in Frankfurt, Germany. He received scholarships and studied at universities in Wiesbaden, Jena, and Bonn. It wasn’t until Lindheimer was past the age of 30 when he immigrated to North America. But, after his in depth study of thousands of different plant specimens, the German native has become known as the Father of Texas Botany.

Before settling in Texas, Lindheimer lived in Illinois, Louisiana, and spent a year working on a banana plantation in Mexico. When Texas declared independence from Mexico, Lindheimer decided to fight with Texas against Mexico. Although he missed most of the action due to travel delays, he finally made it to Texas in 1835, finding a German colony to settle into—New Braunfels.

Lindheimer spent his free time delving into his newfound hobby—exploring the flowers, trees, and grasses of his new home. He began to collect plant specimens and sent them to an old friend, George Engelmann, who was studying medicine as well as botanical research. Using collected knowledge and available resources, Lindheimer logged the date, location, and habitat of each of the plant species he collected, giving them names and trying to sort them into the correct family.

By 1845, with the help of Engelmann and another professor, Asa Gray, Lindheimer’s work was published in the Boston Journal of Natural History. In 1846, Lindheimer married his wife, Eleanor Reinarz and they raised four children.

The texts of many letters written between Lindheimer and his colleagues, Engelmann and Gray, can be found in A Life Among the Texas Flora: Ferdinand Lindheimer’s Letters to George Engelmann (Texas A&M University Press,1991). Author Minetta Altgelt Goyne has written and lectured extensively about the German language and culture.

--Madeline Loving

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