Lewis and Clark Also Searched for Plants
President Thomas Jefferson's curiosity about native specimens was a driving force behind famous expedition.
E-mail This Page to Your Friendsx
A link to %this page% was e-mailed
Patricia Leiphart, of Ambridge, Pa., carefully positions a dried plant onto what looks like stiff construction paper. When it is in place, she gently pushes down on the stem and then the flowers, assuring that the glue applied during the preceding step would hold.
She was taking part in a workshop at Old Economy Village in Pittsburgh, led by James Reveal, co-author of Lewis and Clark's Green World, the Expedition and Its Plants. Leiphart and others were mounting plants in the same manner that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark might have during their journey more than 200 years ago.
Reveal explains that discovering plants was one of the driving forces behind the pair's expedition, which began in 1803.
"(President Thomas) Jefferson's instructions to Lewis were very simple. He was to report on all the plants they saw, when they flowered, when they formed fruit. He was specifically to look for plants that were of agricultural use, medicinal use, possible forage plants and plants that possibly were of value in the flowering garden." From 1804 until 1806, more than 200 specimens were sent back to Philadelphia. Many were new to science, and a wide variety still grows in our gardens today.
Reveal, emeritus professor at the University of Maryland, first fell under Lewis and Clark's spell as a graduate student in 1964. He examined the actual specimens the explorers sent back at the Academy of Natural Sciences herbarium in Philadelphia where the dried plants still reside.
Some of the plants sent back east were successful immediately. Most of those were agricultural in nature. Lewis was interested in currents and gooseberries, and those went instantly into cultivation.
Ornamental plants eventually made their way into the landscape. He mentions three in particular, mock orange and two named for the two explorers.
The first, Lewisia, is the state flower of Montana. The plant, also called bitterroot, fills the floor of the prairie in the spring with radiant flowers of white and pink.
"Indians tried to get him to eat it. He said it was terrible to taste but his American Indian compatriots readily ate it. Intriguingly, when he got back to Philadelphia the plant was still alive, and thus the flowers were saved." Clarkia, or pinkfairies, has very large, colorful bracts and tiny flowers. The combination makes it a beautiful garden plant. It's a long-blooming annual that enjoys a hot, sunny location.
Leiphart volunteers at the village and is fascinated by the history of the plants. She was especially interested in the local connection the expedition holds and explains what we can still learn from it today.
"I think it's important to teach visitors (that) the things that are growing in the natural world around them are things that were available for people to eat and to use and to heal themselves," she says, "and these types of plants are still growing."
Reveal wants people to gain a true understanding of the journey.
"Contrary to the advertised vernacular, Lewis and Clark's expedition was not a 'corps of discovery.' People tend to forget that Lewis was always with people, Americans Indians," he says. "...The plants were already known; they already had American Indians' names. The American Indians were the real discoverers — they were the corps of discovery. Lewis and Clark were observers."
On Hawaii's Haleakala volcano you'll find all things lavender -- crafts, soaps and recipes.