The following individuals were identified as important to Hudson Valley history.   Each played an important role in the establishment of a herbarium and/or library of information pertaining to the local flora.  Several of these people resided in the Valley, others played a role in local history due to their experiences in the Valley as botanists or physicians, and a few remaining botanists were important due to their influences on the local culture and world of science.

Local Botanists

  • Cadwallader Colden
  • Jane Colden
  • Samuel Mitchell
  • David Hosack
  • Asa Gray

Travelers and Journalists

  • Peter Kalm

Influential Scientists and other Associates

  • John Bard
  • John and William Bartram
  • Alexander Garden
  • Gronovius
  • Linnaeus

Prior to the Revolutionary War, a considerable number of books were published pertaining to North American botany.  Excluding those books which discuss botany as just one part of a much larger treatise on the region or area as a whole, we still find there to be a significant number of books focused on colonies or regions and their natural flora.  One reason for this focus on botany was the potential for discovery of new products of considerable value to the cultures in the Old World.  Another major reason the New World plants were explored and documented pertained to the growing interst in gardening and the use of plants as decoratives.  The following are examples of books that were published fairly early on the flora of the other colonies.  It was these early publications that many of the Dutchess County plants had to be related to as part of the typical taxonomic tradition of assigning names to plants, an important role which Karl Linne or Linneaus played in this piece of American Science history.

A number of important publications need to be mentioned before delving too far into the difference aspects of this piece of Hudson valley history.  We often learn about the major publications produced pertaining to the local botanists, including Colden.  However, as soon as these manuscripts were published by the appropriate science journals, impacts could be seen on other writings.  These impacts are not reviewed of covered as much as the original writing.  Some of the more important impacts of Colden’s discoveries regarding the local plants included the following:

  1. Verification of previously documented discoveries made by close associates, friends and colleagues.
  2. Impacts upon other local scientists and physicians in the more local and immediate sense.
  3. Documentation of medical uses for particular plants that within just a few years would lead to other botanists producing more complete and useful documention e of these new discoveries, in particular related to plant uses as medicines. 
  4. Providing additional background ecological and taxonomic information needed for future botanists to make the best use of this information when evaluating the plants further as part of an overall taxonomy movement initiated by the Linnean system use to document and interpret plants.

Evidence for this we find when we review the available pages of his treatise published by the Linnean society:  Plantae Coldenghamiae in provincia Noveboracensi Americes sponte crescentes : quas ad methodum Cl. Linnaei sexualem, anno 1742, &c. 

This treatise was published in two parts.  The first part appeared in 1745 followed by the second in 1747, within the following journal produced and published by the  Royal Society of Upsala.

The following were the members of this special group.  (Note the inclusion of Emmanuel Swedenborg.)


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Table of Contents

The Influences of Colden upon Linneaus and others

Several scarce and rarely reported documents have surfaced as part of this research on Colden’s role in local history as a botanist.  These findings provide some very useful insights into the process plants underwent as their taxonomic and medical uses became clearer with the passage of time.  In general, it seems to take just a few years to one or two decades for plants to be discovered, documented for publication, related to other plants with a similar botanical heritage, and evaluated multiple times in relation to their anthropological uses in comparison with their uses identified by the European and American scientists and writers.

The Influences of Colden upon other Hudson Valley botanists

Colden had his greatest influence of course upon his daughter Jane Colden.  During his later years, with loss of sight becoming an issue in Colden’s life, his appreciation for the study of plants continued to play an important role in his life.  Once his daughter began showing interest in this method of study and research, he assisted her in learning all she could during the mid-years of her life. 

Colden also had significant influences upon others, with Dutch botanist Gronovius influenced the most by Cadwallader Colden’s communications with him as a fellow botanist and taxonomist of the New World.  Gronovius helped to establish Colden’s closest professional links to Karl Linne, during the peak of the early exploratory years of botany as it was pursued in the original thirteen colonies.  Aside from these two leaders of the field, Colden had interactions with British and Scottish botanists, including Alexander Garden, who helped his daughter become famous during the years to come as the country’s first female botanist.  Colden’s work in botany, and on occasion the local ethnobotany-related medical practices involving the plants he was researching, led in turn to his impact upon several colonial physicians as well, the most important being members of the Bard Family (especially John) and John and William Bartram.

This new generation of botanists to take on and define this field of Medical Botany (a term created and used in a book related to American flora for the first time about 1800), were subsequently impacted by  Colden’s work and helped pass these influences on down to subsequent medical botanists, scientists and curiosity seekers.  As a result, the following travellers, botanists and physicians benefited greatly from Colden’s work in the years following the Revolutionary War:

  • Benjamin Smith Barton, author of the first important post-war book on American plants medicines
  • A number of traveller and adventurers made familiar with particular new World species through Colden’s work (exs?)
  • Dr. Elgin, creator of the first botanical garden for the New York medical school.
  • David Hossack, successor to Elgin in the field of botanical medicine as it came to be a part of the regular medical curriculum.

Even though direct linkages are at time difficult to produce between Colden’s work and early nineteenth century medical botany work, his influences are not doubt there.  This review of Hudson valley botanists is meant to fill in some gaps pertaining to Colden’s training and practice in plant taxonomy and medicine, and to review how these activities he engaged in influenced others in the fields of botany and medicine.