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Biography of Famous Botanist and Scientist John Bartram Part 1

About the famous scientist and botanist John Bartram, history and biography of the man.

JOHN BARTRAM (1699-1777).

Linnaeus, the father of botany, called John Bartram "the greatest natural botanist in the world," but today Bartram is largely unhonored in his own country.

Like Benjamin Franklin, his friend and benefactor, Bartram was a self-educated man. Legend has it that he decided to become a botanist late in his life, while plowing the fields on his farm outside Philadelphia. Bartram, the story goes, stopped to rest for a few moments beneath a huge oak and picked a daisy growing at the base of the tree. Plucking the petals from the flower and dissecting it, he began wondering about the mysterious processes of nature. For several days after the incident, he fought the notion of forsaking farming and devoting his life to science, but finally he could resist no more and rode into Philadelphia. There a bookseller sold him a botanical treatise in Latin and a Latin grammar with which to translate it.

The story may be apocryphal, although Bartram himself often told it, but there's little doubt that the honest plowman could barely read and write and had no knowledge of foreign languages when he made his choice. Teaching himself, reading while he wandered the countryside, his keen eye and sense of the unusual soon enabled him to secure the patronage of several Europeans, to whom he supplied New World plant specimens. It wasn't long before he was able to buy another farm on the Schuylkill in Philadelphia, which was closer to the intellectual capital of the time and where he later entertained Franklin and Washington, among other American notables.

Bartram is indisputably the 1st native American botanist and although his weak grasp of theory made it impossible for him to become one of history's great scientists, his determination and energy did indeed make him the greatest of "natural" botanists. None of Linnaeus's correspondents furnished the Swedish giant with such an abundance of original material. Bartram was the 1st in America to travel through the Colonies seeking samples for classification. His travels brought to light the spice bush and sassafras, the insectivorous plants of the South, the tulip tree, the American lotus, and the American cyclamen, to mention just a few discoveries.

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