A visit to Bartram’s Garden with the Philadelphia Botanical Club

The first Philadelphia Botanical Club field trip was to Bartram’s Garden on the 14th of February 1892. To commemorate that, on Saturday the 25th of February, 2012, beginning at 10AM, we revisited the site, discussed its history, and looked for plants that would’ve been seen on that first trip, such as Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite), Ptelea trifoliata, and Aralia spinosa.  (there’s also historical interest related to rhubarb and hawthorns, there)

The meeting minutes for the Philadelphia Botanical Club are in the archives of the Academy of Natural Sciences (filed under “Philadelphia Botanical Society” – collection #88; NB: the Philadelphia Botanical Society was a different organization from the Philadelphia Botanical Club), and the meeting minutes for February 25th 1892 include the following:

“Mr. Crawford for the Field Committee reported that a trip had been taken to Bartram’s Garden’s [sic]

Ptelea [‘Tillia’ is stricken and replaced with ‘Ptelea’] trifoliata was reported growing on the Railroad above Bartrams Gardens [sic], opposite the block tower, at the intersection of the West Chester Branch with the P. W. & B R.R. but it is fast disappearing.  Aralia spinosa was also reported.

Mr. Frank Day suggested the advisability of having such rare occurrences noted in the herbarium so that they would not be [?buried?, ?burned? – this word is partially illegible] up”

NB:  Ida Keller and Stewardson Brown, in their 1905 Hand-book of the Flora of Philadelphia and Vicinity, published by the Philadelphia Botanical Club, note Bartram’s Garden as a locality for Aralia spinosa; that species doesn’t appear to be there anymore (we didn’t see it), though Aralia elata is reasonably common there.  And as for Ptelea trifoliata, as Joel Fry, curator, Bartram’s Garden, notes “There isn’t any Ptelea trifoliata left on the railroad cuts around Bartram’s although other interesting things still grow there. [We have one rather sickly plant of Ptelea in the garden, I assume, planted in the 1920s or later.]”.

There isn’t an Aralia spinosa collection at the Academy of Natural Sciences (here in Philadelphia) from Bartram’s in 1892, though there is one (by Clyde F. Reed) from 11 August 1977, and so for that species, we don’t have a physical record of it being there for that first field trip, though we do have the written record above, of course, and so it’s pretty clear it was there.  Additionally, in a letter dated “June the 21st, 1743”, from John Bartram to Peter Collinson, he writes “The Aralia spinosa I brought from Virginia. It grows well with me.” (from William Darlington’s Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall, 1849).  Barton (1818) notes of this species: “Easily recognised by its thorny stems and branches. It is common in gardens where it sometimes attains a great size, as at Lemon-hill. It grows wild in a stony thicket not far from Mantua-village.” [he also gives it the following common names: “Thorny Aralia. Shot-bush. Pigeon-weed. Angelica-tree.”]

Also, not mentioned in the minutes quoted above, but in the herbarium at the Academy of Natural Sciences, there’s a collection of Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite) from Bartram’s Garden, dated 14th of February 1892, collected by Alexander MacElwee – from that first field trip, mentioned above.  (I thank Joel Fry here, for suggesting I look for that collection – I would not have found it otherwise.)  There are other collections of winter aconite from Bartram’s Garden – on the 28th of April 1894 Alexander MacElwee collected it again there, and on the 19th of April 1896 Dr. Ida A. Keller collected it there, as did Albrecht Jahn on the 14th of February 1895, and M. E. Eastwick on the 19th of March in 1880 (this collection arrived to the Academy via the Charles E. Smith Herbarium), and Joseph Crawford on the 30th of April 1892, and J. Bernard Brinton on the 16th of February 1890, and John Harshberger on the 6th of March 1889, and associated with that Harshberger collection is a handwritten letter from George Vasey, of the Division of Botany of the US Department of Agriculture (in DC), dated 29th of March 1889, in which he writes “I wish to thank you for the specimen of Eranthis hyemalis which we received this morning from you.  We have in the herbarium another specimen from the Bartram garden [sic] collected by Mr. E. C. Smith many years ago, with the note on the ticket that it grows also at Media, Penn.”.  This is most likely a duplicate of yet another collection of the Bartram’s winter aconite at the Academy, whose label notes the collector as C. E. Smith, with a collection date of March 1882.  Also, to make a Quaker connection – there are collections at the Academy from Westtown School (by Edgar Wherry, 6 May 1954) and “Naturalized in wooded tract around house of Humphry Marshall.  Marshallton.” (by Edgar Wherry, 30 April 1954).  Finally, there is a collection by Miss M. Eastwick, from the 28th of February 1880, with a label stating “Escaped from Bartram’s Garden and well established there – near Philadelphia. also found at Marshallton Chester Co. + elsewhere about old gardens.”  (Keller and Brown also list an Eranthis hyemalis (as Cammarum hyemale) locality of Bartram’s Garden; it’s also mentioned here and here)

Given how picked over by eager botanists the winter aconite patch was at Bartram’s, it is a testament to this plant’s strength that it is still there – and we saw it flowering on the 25th of February, 2012, still going strong, after all these years.

And they are still there in 2014, as is clear from the following photo:

BartramsGarden_15951 March 10 2014

Honeybee (Apis mellifera) on winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), Bartram’s Garden, 10th of March 2014, mid-afternoon; Photo credit: Ken Frank

There were many honeybees on the flowers there, on the afternoon of the 10th of March – we saw at least a dozen, actively crawling on the blooms (these bees were most likely from the beehive that is kept at Bartram’s).

On the 11th of January 2016, Joel Fry wrote: “We had winter aconite in bloom on the west side of the Bartram House at the end of December [2015], struggling up through the construction debris. We removed most of the plants along that side of the house before the work began, but a few stragglers remained. I don’t think I ever saw any of the winter aconite in bloom before February here.”

That first field trip, of the Philadelphia Botanical Club, was noted elsewhere – the following is from Stewardson Brown’s “A Brief History of the Philadelphia Botanical Club” (Bartonia 1:2-4; 1909):

“February 14, 1892, the Club held its first field trip at Bartram’s Garden, but little was noted other than the condition of some of the trees.”

Who was at that field trip?  Well, it would’ve been members of the Club.  Who were members of the Club?  To find that out, we go back to the literature.  This is the opening line of the above mentioned article (Brown 1909):

“On the afternoon of December 1, 1891, eight men, Dr. J Bernard Brinton, Thomas Meehan, Isaac C. Martindale, Uselma C. Smith, Witmer Stone, Joseph Crawford, George M. Beringer, and Stewardson Brown, met in the Council Room of the Academy of natural Sciences.”

The next paragraph includes:

“The second meeting found six additional prospective members present, Dr. A. W. Miller, Benjamin Heritage, Charles D. Lippincott, Albrecht Jahn, Frank Miles Day, and Richard H. Day.”

A later paragraph:

“December 22d another meeting was held, when five additional members, John W. Harshberger, J. Bernard Morris, Edward Pennock, Morris E. Leeds, and Arthur N. Leeds, were added to the roll.”

That seems to be the last meeting before the 14th of February 1892, and so suggests who might have been there, at Bartram’s Garden, on Valentine’s Day 1892.

Others might have been there that day as well, as there were certainly others going there around that time, to botanize – if we look in the herbarium of the Academy of Natural Sciences, at the collections of Ptelea trifoliata, there’s one without a date that was from the Charles E. Smith herbarium (which arrives at the Academy in June 1900) that says “Grays Ferry and Bartram’s” and there’s another one, collected by Biddle on 3 June 1892 “near Bartram’s Garden”.

And so then, as is still the case now, there were lots of people going to Bartram’s Garden to look at the plants, and to enjoy a beautiful locale.

For more information see here:


or here:


And for another piece of botanical history related to Bartram’s, see:

The Identity of the Genus Adventina Raf., by S. F. Blake, in Rhodora, Vol. 24, 1922.

“In 1836 Rafinesque described under the name Adventina a new genus of Asteraceae which he had found growing as a weed in the Bartram Garden at Philadelphia. …it is clear that he was describing with considerable accuracy the characters of Galinsoga, and that his two species correspond to the plants now generally known as Galinsoga parviflora Cav. and G. aristulata Bicknell.

Rafinesque’s notice of these two species is of further interest as affording the first record of either plant in the United States “

And here:


And here:



2 thoughts on “A visit to Bartram’s Garden with the Philadelphia Botanical Club

  1. From Joel Fry: “The winter aconite started blooming here this week — the first single blooms on Monday, March 9th and then many more each day. And again it is covered with honeybees. Prior to this week, there wasn’t even any trace of the aconite plants above ground–but of course it was mostly covered with snow since the beginning of February.”

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