The Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library has a wonderful rare book collection, and soon it will be able to share some of those rare gems with the world.
Selections from The Language of Flowers collections are being digitized and conserved with a new grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and those selections will be uploaded to the Biodiversity Heritage Library. This work will add to the body of knowledge on the subject of language of flowers, at the intersection of art, botany, and poetry.
Also being digitized is Garden Talk, the Chicago Horticultural Society’s membership magazine that was published from 1945, 1953-2007. Chicago’s gardening trends and fads, techniques, and ecological strategies were all fodder for editorial content. Once digitized, the columns will be available at the Illinois Digital Archives with new grant funding from the Illinois State Library.
Note: Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations on this web page do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Drop by the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library to see rare book illustrations of hand-colored orchids in Asia that give a new perspective to Asia in Bloom: The Orchid Show.
Of all the rare orchid books in the library’s collection, it’s a challenge to select illustrations for an exhibition to complement the Garden’s annual Orchid Show. Since the Orchid Show is so colorful, featuring 10,000 orchids in bloom, we usually try to showcase things that really pop. And although there are some extraordinarily colored illustrations in the library’s free rare books exhibition Asian Orchids Illustrated, I wanted to focus on the scientific and historical aspects of the works.
Displayed in the first case of Asian Orchids Illustrated is a rare 1874 volume of Japanese physician Yokusai Iinuma’s botanical encyclopedic compendium, Shintei Somoku Zusetsu. It features a partially hand-colored illustration of the orchid Cypripedium japonicum, which can be found in China, Japan, and Korea. The plant has been used in China to treat malaria, snake bites, and lower back pain.
Also featured are three oversized tomes of the Annals of the Royal Botanical Garden, Calcutta, featuring partially hand-colored orchid plates by Indian artists and lithographers. The orchids featured in this case are Dendrobium densiflorum; the leaves are ground into a paste and used for bone-setting in India, and Goodyera biflora, which is used for tuberculosis, as an anti-inflammatory, and for snake bites.
And finally, the third case contains six different volumes showcasing the interesting history of the Rothschild slipper orchid, often claimed to be one of the most expensive and sought-after orchids of our time. This poor orchid has been through the proverbial ringer, so to speak. Not only has it had its name changed without being consulted, from Cypripedium Rothschildiana to Paphiopedilum Rothschildianum, but it has been often mistaken for other species of orchids, has been misrepresented by collectors, and has had its bloom time genetically modified. Lastly, but most importantly, it has been to the brink of extinction. On display at the Orchid Show is a hybrid Paphiopedilum that’s related to the Rothschild’s slipper orchid.
On Sunday, February 25, and Tuesday, February 27, the Lenhardt Library hosts a free talk at 2 p.m. about these extraordinary books that contain orchidaceous history on their beautifully illustrated and typeset pages. After the talk, you will be invited to view a few more “orchid-delectables” in the library’s Rare Book Room.
During the Age of Botanical Exploration, there were no journals, workbooks, or even articles on newly discovered plants. As more and more tropical and foreign plants were brought back to Europe, there was an explosive interest in these plants, but no documentation on the growing culture or uses had been provided.
That is, not until (Curtis’s) The Botanical Magazine began publication in 1787. This exciting new publication contained three to four scientifically accurate hand-colored engravings and descriptions of each plant, including information about cultivation and growth habit.
Curtis’s ran without competition until 1815, when one of the chief illustrators, Sydenham Edwards, left the magazine and began the Botanical Register in 1815, paving the way for even more, although short-lived, botanical journals.
But Curtis’s Botanical Magazine holds the claim as the longest running botanical magazine. The Chicago Botanic Garden is celebrating that accomplishment with an exhibition, Curtis’s: The Longest Running Botanical Magazine, through January 21, 2018, in the Lenhardt Library. A free talk will take place at 2 p.m. November 5 in the Lenhardt Library. There will be an opportunity to view the first volume of The Botanical Magazine from 1787, as well as other volumes of Curtis that are not included in the exhibition.
About once every quarter, I receive a call from my colleague Christine Schmid, who is the Library Technical Services Librarian who manages serial subscription renewals here at the Lenhardt Library. That call always begins, with “Hi, Stace, Curtis is here.” I gleefully unearth myself from six tons of paper and reference questions and go and take a look. Each time, I am amazed at the production quality and the longevity of a journal that features plant portraits reproduced from watercolor originals by leading international botanical artists, highly defined photographs, and detailed articles that combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation, and economic uses of the plants described.
The Moutan, or Chinese Tree Peony (Paeonia Moutan)
The Botanical Magazine, as it was called on its London debut in 1787, was published by William Curtis in response to a public demand for more information on all the new plants reaching the British Isles from ongoing botanical explorations. Curtis, the former apothecary demonstrator at the Chelsea Physic Garden and creator of the Flora Londinensis, earned his “bread and butter” as he referred to it, with the publication of the magazine. The magazine popularized and encouraged the cultivation of these newly discovered plants and influenced generations of gardeners and nurserymen on the way in which the plants could be maintained or propagated.
The magazine was not only filled with the most scientifically accurate text on the plants, but each plant was also scientifically illustrated by master botanical illustrators. Featured in the exhibition are hand-colored engraving by Sydenham Edwards (1769–1819), Walter Hood Fitch (1817–72), John Nugent Fitch (1840–1927), and the first director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, William Jackson Hooker (1785–1865).
In addition to the exhibition and free Library Talk, the Lenhardt Library has a full run of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. Issues are available for consultation upon request only. The magazine is now published for the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, United Kingdom.
Brazil’s native flora has amazing diversity with differing biomes, including tropical rainforest, subtropical forest, tropical savanna, mangrove forest, tropical dry forest, wetland, and savanna.
Of the approximate 400,000 known plant species in the world, 55,000 are endemic to Brazil, and most of these are from the Amazon forest.
Many of the foods we eat (like acai), industrial products we use (rubber tree and mahogany), medicines—even our houseplants in the Chicago region (orchids), depend on plants from this region. The unique flora of this area continues to be threatened by deforestation and urbanization, and plant species are at risk.
Books on display through October 15, 2017, in the Lenhardt Library’s Flora Brasil exhibition depict a plant exploration map, Brazilian aroid, and Brazilian bromeliads. An untitled original artwork by Brazilian landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx on loan from Longwood Gardens complements our main Joutras Galley exhibition of Marx’s work.
The library exhibition opens with an eighteenth-century map of South America with “the coast of Brazil being corrected” bound into the third edition in English of Voyage to South America: Describing, at Large, the Spanish Cities, Towns, Provinces on That Extensive Continent by Don Antonio de Ulloa and Don George Juan, 1772. Ulloa and Juan explored the region, observing and describing the flora, fauna, geology, minerals, indigenous population, and politics they encountered.
A Brazilian aroid Philodendron cannaefolium (today known as Philodendron ‘Burle Marx’) is the centerpiece with a 24-inch-by-30-inch detailed chromolithograph that is both scientifically accurate and stunning. This 1879 work, Aroideae Maximilianae by Heinrich Schott, features 42 plates with delicate colors and clean lines. Schott was an Austrian botanist who traveled in Brazil from 1817 to 1821. He specialized in Araceae and throughout his career, he named 587 new-to-science species of aroids; by comparison, Linnaeus named six aroid species.
Come also learn about Margaret Mee, who was an exceptional botanical artist, plant explorer, and environmentalist. Four reproductions of Mee’s “Brazilian Bromeliads” are on view. These are from a limited edition set published in Brazil in 1992.
Mee traveled to Brazil often, and went on fifteen botanical expeditions, mainly into the Amazon region. On these expeditions, she discovered several new plant species, painted more than 400 gouache pieces, and kept travel diaries detailing her adventures. Her passion for Brazilian flora coincided with the large-scale commercialization of the Amazon rainforest. She became an outspoken environmentalist, calling attention to the dangerous destruction of the biodiverse region.
Noted Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx cultivated plants that Mee brought back from her expeditions and used them in his landscape designs. Known for his bright and bold color choices, Marx was inspired by Mee’s paintings. Like Mee, he was concerned about the environmental impacts of the commercialization of the Brazilian Amazonian region.
Learn more about Mee, Marx, and Brazilian flora at our free Library Talks on July 16, August 22, and September 12 at 2 p.m. in the Lenhardt Library.
If you’ve been around the Regenstein Center in the past couple of months, you may have seen me around the librarian’s suite, Skyping in the library’s rare book room, training at the circulation desk or maybe having lunch in the break room. I’m Alicia Esquivel, a new addition to the library staff for 2017 who will be working at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library as a resident on a collaborative project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
My cohort and I are hosted at different institutions across the United States (including the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, Natural History Museum Los Angeles, Smithsonian Libraries, Missouri Botanical Garden, and the Chicago Botanic Garden) and we are all researching best practices for digital libraries and making recommendations for improvement to the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL). BHL is a group of natural history and botanical libraries that work together to digitize books and articles about biodiversity and make them freely available to access and use. Over the past ten years, BHL has uploaded more than 50 million pages of biodiversity literature for public use.
My particular project is to define how much biodiversity literature is in the public domain and how much of it still needs to be added to BHL. This content analysis will help focus future digitization efforts by BHL and fill in gaps in the collection. By making this material available online for free, scientists and researchers from all over the world can have access to research needed to make new discoveries. This is especially helpful for scientists who may not be located near a library with the materials that they need. For more information on all of our projects and updates throughout the year, follow our blog!
I’m excited to be hosted at the Chicago Botanic Garden this year—this is my first time working at a botanic garden and I have a lot to learn about how a living museum functions and operates. I got to meet Boyce Tankersley from Living Plant Documentation and was blown away by all of the data his department is responsible for managing and all of the work his volunteers do. We have similar missions of creating and maintaining open data that can be linked and shared with other platforms to make discoveries.
Working at the Garden has inspired me to do some small-scale gardening (apartment living) of my own. After checking out a couple of books from the library, I started a windowsill planter of mixed herbs from seeds this spring. If anything goes wrong (quite possible), I know I can ask the Plant Information Service for help!
Alicia Esquivel is a National Digital Stewardship Resident hosted at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library. Before moving to Chicago, she received a B.A. in art history from the University of Houston and a M.S. in information science from the University of Texas at Austin. Alicia is enthusiastic about transforming data into useful information to facilitate research. In her free time she enjoys reading fiction, baking bread, and watching live comedy.