Biography of Famous Botanist and Scientist John Bartram Part 2

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

JOHN BARTRAM (1699-1777).

It was in his mysterious valley or "great vale," what he called "my Kashmir," that Bartram made his most important finds. The uninhabited valley, 200 mi. long and set between mountain ranges, was kept secret by the botanist and for many years only he knew of the treasures that abounded in its flower-filled rifts. Today we know his vale as the Shenandoah.

Bartram's most amazing discovery was the Franklin tree (Gordonia alatamaha), which still continues to amaze later generations of botanists. On an autumn expedition in Georgia, he came upon the tree in full flower, its gorgeous blossoms astonishingly similar to the bloom of the tropical and oriental camellia plant. Bartram brought the tree back to his garden in Philadelphia, where he named it in honor of his friend Benjamin Franklin. But try as they have, scientists have never again been able to find the Franklin tree growing in the wild. All of the few Franklins growing in American gardens have been propagated from cuttings taken from the original tree Bartram found over 2 centuies ago.

Honors were heaped upon John Bartram in his own time, though his genius is much neglected today. A gold cup came from the founder of the British Museum, a gold medal from an Edinburgh society. Bartram also corresponded with Queen Louisa of Sweden and her brother Frederick the Great. "With him," someone has written, "Nature was a personal affair, a direct impact like weather on a bird." His life was that simple and graceful.

John Bartram died at 78, but his son William continued in his footsteps, further insuring the Bartram name a place in history with important discoveries like the flame azalea of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is said that Bartram's death was brought on by the fear he felt at the approach of the British Army--the old man was sure that the troops would ravage his botanical garden, the 1st of its kind in America. Today the master plantsman's house and garden can be seen in Philadelphia, where his farm is now part of Fairmount Park.

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