home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives What’s Blooming this Week: Red Valerian

What’s Blooming this Week: Red Valerian

Not far from the false indigo we featured last week, just outside the west entrance to Ellis Library, there's a beautiful red valerian in full bloom. The scientific name for this plant is Centranthus ruber.  It's also called Jupiter's Beard or spur valerian. 


While red valerian is a member of the family Valerianaceae, it's not really a valerian. True valerian is known scientifically today as Valeriana officinalis.  Its roots were used medicinally and were thought to have a sedative effect.  Centranthus ruber has no known medicinal uses, although some sources claim it's edible. I didn't try it, and I don't advise you to, either!

In the past, Centranthus ruber and a few other members of its genus were thought to be closer relatives of true valerian than scientists believe they are today.  In 1816, the plant was published in Curtis's Botanical Magazine with a list of various other Valeriana species.  The plant pictured here, identified as Valeriana montana rotundifolia, is now known as Centranthus calcitrapa.  It is a hardy perennial, native to southern Europe. 


This post wraps up our weekly series celebrating the connections between our collections and the Mizzou Botanic Garden – for now, at least.  I'll continue to use Special Collections to research the plants around us periodically over the summer and fall.  Have you seen a plant on campus or elsewhere that you'd like us to feature?  If so, let me know!

home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives What’s Blooming this Week: False Indigo

What’s Blooming this Week: False Indigo

We're visiting the west entrance of Ellis Library again this week to see what's blooming in the Mizzou Botanic Gardens just outside our doors.  This week, it's the spiky blooms of false indigo, or Baptisia.  We have two different varieties growing here on campus, yellow and blue.  Both types of false indigo were once used to make dye, but they aren't related to true indigo, which yields a very dark blue dye.



Baptisia australis, the blue-flowering species, is native to the southeastern and midwestern United States.  It was illustrated in Curtis's Botanical Magazine in 1800, and there it was listed under the names Sophora australis and Podalyria australis, along with the following note: "It is a native of Carolina, and an old inhabitant of our gardens, having been cultivated by Mr. Philip Miller in 1758."  By the time the white-flowered species was illustrated in 1808, the genus Podalyria had been separated from Sophora.  The yellow false indigo we have here is a hybrid cultivar, but Curtis also includes a couple of other Baptisia species native to the Midwest: a yellow false indigo now called Baptisia tinctoria, and a white species, Baptisia alba.




What’s Blooming this Week: Iris

It's been unseasonably chilly here in Columbia this week, but that means the irises blooming all over town have been an even more welcome sight.  There's a beautiful planting of Iris pallida 'Argentea Variegata' near the west entrance to the library, and I captured it on my walk into the building this morning. There are many different species of iris growing across the northern hemisphere.  According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, Iris pallida is native to Croatia and the southern Alps, and it has a sweet fragrance.  The variegated subspecies growing on campus here has striped leaves of pale green and cream. 


In 1542, the physician and botanist Leonhart Fuchs included a different iris species in his herbal, De Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes, which is part of a long tradition of books that describe plants and their medicinal uses.  Although Fuchs wasn't interested in the plants' ornamental value, he hired three professional artists to illustrate the herbal to the highest degree of naturalism.  Fuchs wanted physicians to be able to use the book to identify medicinal plants, and the resulting publication is filled with detailed, hand-colored illustrations that depict species both familiar and exotic.  Iris germanica, illustrated below, is probably native to southern Europe, and it is the ancestor of most garden irises today. 


home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives What’s Blooming this Week: Columbine

What’s Blooming this Week: Columbine

Right across Lowry Mall from the tulips I posted a couple of weeks ago, and under the magnolias that kicked off this series, there's a beautiful bed of columbine in full bloom.


Columbines are part of the genus Aquilegia and grow wild throughout the nothern hemisphere.  The ones in the Mizzou Botanic Garden are derived from the species Aquilegia vulgaris, also known as European Columbine.  This week's illustration is from Johann Theodor de Bry's Florilegium renovatum et auctum (1641), an updated version of his Florilegium novum with engravings by his son-in-law, Matthäus Merian.  Some of the flowers on this page have double blossoms, and you can still find this type of hybrid columbine under cultivation.  The recognizable spurred bloom of the columbine appears right in the middle of the page.

Columbines from de Bry's Florilegium

Merian's daughter, Maria Sybilla Merian, would go on to become an accompished artist and naturalist herself.  Check out Julie Christenson's blog post about her for more information and some beautiful images.

home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives What’s Blooming this Week: Flowering Tree Extravaganza

What’s Blooming this Week: Flowering Tree Extravaganza

One of the great things about Ellis Library, apart from the fact that it's the largest research library in the state, is that it's surrounded by beautiful flowering trees courtesy of the Mizzou Botanic Garden.  This week we're featuring the weeping crabapples next to the north entrance of Ellis Library, the redbuds in the lawn in front of the State Historical Society, and the dogwoods across from the northwest corner (just adjacent to that bed of tulips I wrote about last week).*



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Two of the featured trees this week are native to Missouri.  Cornus florida, or flowering dogwood, and Cercis canadensis, or Eastern redbud, grow wild throughout the eastern United States.  The dogwood is also our Missouri state tree.  Crabapples are members of the genus Malus, along with their cousins the domestic apple; various species are native to North America and Europe.  While the fruit is edible, its bitter taste and woody texture mean you probably wouldn't want to eat it. 

The illustrations featured here are by Mary Vaux Walcott, an artist who specialized in botanical illustration.  In 1925, the Smithsonian published reproductions of her watercolors of American plants in five portfolios entitled North American Wild Flowers.  Our copy was originally part of the government documents collection and is now in the closed shelf collection.  Of the dogwood, Walcott writes,

Dogwood grows abundantly in the favored regions which it inhabits.  When the tree is in bloom in early spring, the profuse blossoms appear like a crowd of great snowflakes falling through the interlaced branches.




*While the photos of the redbuds and dogwoods are from this week, I'll admit it: the photos of the flowering crabapples were taken over a week ago. Some years, the flowers don't last long. 


Kelli Hansen

Kelli Hansen is head of the Special Collections and Rare Books department.

home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives What’s Blooming this Week: Tulips

What’s Blooming this Week: Tulips

Nothing says "spring" like a cheerful tulip! This week, we're featuring a colorful planting of them from the Mizzou Botanic Garden.  These can be found on Lowry Mall, just off the northwest corner of Ellis Library.  In the photo, you're seeing the iconic dome of Jesse Hall and the windows of Tate Hall in the background.

Tulips are native to the Mediterranean and Asia, and they were introduced to Western Europe around the end of the sixteenth century.  They were (and still are) prized for their bright, showy flowers, and they became a symbol of status and luxury.  You've probably already heard about the tulip craze in the Netherlands during the seventeenth century, during which tulip bulbs sold for exorbitant sums to speculators.  The tulip market reached a bubble in 1636 and crashed in 1637. 

Unsurprisingly, tulips play a major role in one of the finest works on flowers published in the Netherlands during this period.  Crispijn van de Passe's Hortus floridus (1614) is a florilegium, a book on flowering plants that discusses their ornamental, rather than medicinal uses (as we saw last week).  Hortus floridus illustrates each plant at ground level, as it would have grown in a garden, and the plants are arranged by their bloom season.  The beautifully detailed engravings were meant to be hand-colored, with descriptions noting what colors to use.  Striped tulips, seen in the engravings below, were the most highly valued during this period.





MERLIN catalog record

home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives What’s Blooming this Week: Lenten Rose

What’s Blooming this Week: Lenten Rose

For this last week of Lent, our featured plant from the Mizzou Botanic Garden is helleborus orientalis, or Lenten Rose.  You'll find them blooming on the west side of Ellis Library.  The plants in the photo are just outside the entrace to Ellis Auditorium.

Lenten rose

Helleborus orientalis is native to Anatolia and was not introduced to European gardens until the mid-1800s.  It is grown primarily for its ornamental value. However, there are several other species in the hellebore family, and they were used medicinally in Europe for thousands of years.  In Medical Botany (London, 1790), William Woodville provides illustrations of two hellebores related to those growing on campus: Helleborus foetidus, or Bear's Foot, and Helleborus niger, or Christmas Rose.



Woodville’s book is a work on plants, but he’s primarily interested in their medicinal uses.  Woodville writes that Helleborus niger was introduced in England in 1596, while Helleborus foetidus was “constantly used in medicine from the time of Hippocrates [and] was the only species of Hellebore known in the Materia Medica of our pharmacopoeias.”   He notes:

The smell of the recent plant is extremely fetid, and the taste is bitter, and remarkably acrid, insomuch, that when chewed, it excoriates the mouth and fauces; it commonly operates as a cathartic, sometimes as an emetic, and in large doses proves highly deleterious.  (54)

Of course, the Helleborus orientalis growing on our campus may have different properties than its cousins H. foetidus and H. niger.  It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: the information provided here is most certainly not meant to provide any form of medical advice!

Many thanks to David Massey, a research specialist at Landscape Services, and to Pete Millier, director of the Mizzou Botanic Garden, for lending their wisdom for this post.

home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives What’s Blooming this Week in Special Collections

What’s Blooming this Week in Special Collections

Did you know that Mizzou is a botanic garden?  Our campus is gorgeous all year round, but it's particularly outstanding in the spring and summer.  We're celebrating the natural beauty around us with a new series that links Mizzou's campus gardens with the herbals, botanical books, and gardening manuals in Special Collections. 

We didn't have to go far to find inspiration this week.  These magnolia trees on the Ninth Street side of Ellis Library are show-stoppers every spring. Daffodils of several varieties provide a cheerful shot of yellow underneath. 



We found images and descriptions of these plants in Curtis' Botanical Magazine, a publication that started in the late 1700s with the aim "to unite systematic knowledge with the pleasures of the flower-garden."  William Curtis includes several types of narcissus throughout the publication; the ones illustrated here are only a few.  About the magnolia, Curtis writes,"There is a magnificence about the plants of this genus which renders them unsuitable subjects of representation in a work the size of ours."  We have to agree; in person they're really amazing.






Apologies for my fingers; these volumes of Curtis are really tightly bound!  Special thanks to Arthur Mehrhoff at the Museum of Art and Archaeology.  Be sure to check out his Pride of Place website, which provided an inspiration for this series.

Spring brings things

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And spring things bring people who collect them –naturalists and artists such as Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), the first to hitch entomology to fine art and to make a living doing so. Her interests were not limited to European species; she spent two years stalking the insects of Surinam, a colony the Dutch had acquired from the English in exchange for Manhattan about thirty years earlier. She devoted an equal amount of attention to giant flying roaches as to seemlier species, but there is no question that she had a special passion for caterpillars.

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Merian's interest in metamorphosis led her to develop a new form of composition. She would depict a single species at each distinct phase simultaneously. She arranged these in a composition on and around the plant that formed its principal food source. In the image on the left several saw-fly specimens pose on a tulip. The caterpillar sits atop a gooseberry at the bottom center, while the adult fly prepares to land on a petal at the top right. In between on a stem and leaf are the pupa and larva. As Ella Reitsma, curator of a recent exhibit, observes about Merian's work, "In the details the drawing is realistic; as a whole it is anything but. The beautifully balanced composition conjures up a seeming realism, for the successive stages in the development of an insect can never be found together!  Tricks have been played with time and place” (15)




Despite such innovation, Merian’s work languished for a long time under the misnomer “minor art.’ It has only recently come into its own, with exhibitions in Los Angeles and Amsterdam, and a digital exhibit hosted by The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library Rare Book Collection. She is even the subject of a children’s book. Ingrid Rowland notes her “crystalline accuracy, ” her “incomparable precision,” and the “electric intensity” of her use of color. She asserts, “there is no question that she was an artist. Her disquieting view of life in all its forms has carefully, cleverly shaped every one of the images that seem, so deceptively, to present intimate, dispassionate snapshots of reality.”

Pervading her works is a healthy Aristotelian sense that something must be known in all its variousness. Working alongside this cognitive disposition, and perhaps encouraging it, was a habit that she shared with many contemporaries: collecting. Her life-like compositions conceal the artificial taxonomizing and categorizing that lie behind them, making it appear as if she had discovered, rather than created the scene depicted.

These are qualities that Peter the Great evidently appreciated; he was an avid collector of her work, much of which remains in the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. In 1974  The Leningrad Watercolours is a facsimile edition featuring fifty of the works housed there. It is a large-format edition limited to 1750 copies.  Several prints from the collection  are available to view in our reading room. The entire collection collection (RARE QH31 .M4516 .A34 1974) is also available to consult.


Select Bibliography

Reitsma, Ella, Maria Sibylla Merian and Daughters: Women of Art and Science. Amsterdam : Rembrandt House Museum, 2008.

Rowland, Ingrid. “The Flowering Genius of Maria Sibylla Merian.” New York Review of Books. April 9, 2009.

Todd, Kim. Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis. Orlando: Harcourt, 2007.