Validating these Identifications

One of my concerns with the above identifications is their accuracy.  For thisreason, I have taken several avenues to identify these plants.  These are as follows:

  1. Read Cadwallader’s descriptions of the plants in Latin, translate these, relate them to personal background knowledge and field experience with these plants.  For nearly 7 years (1979-1985) I worked at the Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences as a taxonomist and “Herbarium Director”, during which time I made my first attempts to identify many of Jane’s plants as told in the book on her manuscript.  
  2. When Cadwallader Colden’s writings in Latin became available for viewing (ca. 1991, NYC), I jotted down some notes, made some identifications, and determined this required considerably more effort on my behalf.  
  3. From then to the present, I went through innumerable medical and botany books from the time, representing core works for the New York area in medicine and botany, and came to a better understanding of the local uses for most plants.  It was during that time that I realized there was a problem dealing with Latin nomenclature that had to be addressed, since the same plant could have numerous correct Latin names over the years.  Then there was the problem with species.  In the Coldens’ case, Jane or Cadwallader could be looking at a plant that they identify as the most common species, but in fact be a “similar” such as another species yet to be differentiated correctly and thereby identified as a new species.  Plants with numerous look-alikes of different species were most likely to experience this problem.  
  • Was a local Aster or Hawthorn being identified, for example, a very specific local species, or more common species diffusely spread throughout the region? 
  • Was a particular species, now no longer a native of New York, once considered a native species in New York and Canada, or in New York and Pennsylvania? 
  • Were any species that the Coldens noted introduced into the New York region?
  • Or is it possible that these plant names of supposedly foreign or introduced plants actually names used by the Coldens because they were unable to identify the plant to the proper Genus, due in part to lack of knowledge and in part due to lack of adequate documentation by Linne himself on some of these new plants? 

It ended up that all of these were true. 

Jane’s illustrations provide valuable insight into some of the plants identified by her and her father in New York.  In general, I have come to realize that everything and anything possible has come to bear regarding how she and her father came upon the plants they wrote about.  Some plants were brought into New York by botanists in Pennsylvania such as William Bartram.  Finnish explorer and botanist for the Linnean Society Pedr Kalm brought a few plants, that he personally identified and carried samples of with him, to the Coldens’ attention.  As the result of an excursion into the Catskills, or due to a friend of the Colden’s passing through from the Catskills, Jane managed to obtain as least two species which she noted to be unique to the “Kaatskills”.  Some plants were obviously imported into New York from down south–such as the Castor Bean (Ricinus) plant, for which no obvious look-alike exists locally.  There were also several other species that were identified that were most certainly introduced to New York for the time.  Whereas many of these plants did die away since their popularity in gardens ebbed, some species remained native to the region.  An example not noted by the Colden’s is the prickly pear cactus or Opuntia.  One which the Coldens did note is Serratula, like Opuntia this was an import from New Spain.

Now, there are some identifications still in need of further review, such as Abutilon, Sophora (madder), Cruciatu, Doronicum, Helzine, and Lagopus.  This the reason for the next stage in this review. 

4.  My fourth attempt to tackle this issues of identification involved my merging of Jane and Cadwallader’s plant lists to see how much they possibly overlapped.  Since the two produced very different works with very different plant descriptions, this had to be done by Genus alone.  Then, by reviewing the Genus, I was able to determine what were the more likely species to be found in New York during the Coldens’ lifetimes there.  As a part of this step I took on the assumption that some of these species may now be extinct, so neighboring habitats and climate settings had to be considered as well, with the assumption that Canadian and New England species may have once occupied parts of New York, even as far into this region as Coldengham. 

For this reason, a major step had to be taken to make sure my plant identifications were correct is to cross compare the descriptions of these questionable plants.

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