Archived Online Exhibit

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Henry William Ravenel (1814-1887)

Archived Online Exhibit

John Nelson
Chief Curator, A.C. Moore Herbarium

Patrick Scott

Director, Rare Books & Special Collections

Originally displayed at the Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina

Archived September 27, 2013

Table of Contents

Archived Online Exhibit 1

Introduction 2

Introduction to the Botanical Collection 3

Applied Botany: Some Cultivated Plants 6

Ravenel in the South Caroliniana Library 7

Type Specimens in the Ravenel Collection 10

Some Rare Plants 12

Some Noteworthy Plants 16

A new species of a fresh-water alga 18

Weedy Plants from South Carolina 19

Specimens from Some of Ravenel’s Southern Colleagues 20

Specimens from some of Ravenel’s Northern Colleagues 23

Plants named after Ravenel 26

References 28


Henry William Ravenel (1814-1887) was one of the foremost botanists of the American Civil War era.  Born in Pineville in present-day Berkeley County, he was a student at South Carolina College from 1829 until he graduated in 1832.  He soon established himself as an eager student of natural history, and his interests in botany, and especially mycology, continued through his middle and later years.  Ravenel developed friendships and correspondence with an extensive range of contemporary botanists, and he shared with them many of the specimens he collected.  His scientific interests focused especially on the collection of fleshy fungi;  Ravenel’s five-volume sets of dried fungal specimens, Fungi Caroliniani Exsiccati (1853-1860), and his contributions to the 8-volume series Fungi Americani (London, 1878-1882),  were widely distributed, upon a subscription basis, and many of these collections now figure heavily into the systematic taxonomy of fungi. exhibition poster

Ravenel was also, throughout his life, a serious collector of vascular plants, and his personal herbarium, with over 6,500 individual plant specimens, remains of great research significance, especially for current understanding of the flora of the southeastern United States.   Ravenel’s Private collection of vascular plants, which was housed for many years at Converse College in Spartanburg, is now located in the University of South Carolina’s Department of Biological Sciences, as the H. W. Ravenel Collection of Converse College, within USC’s A. C. Moore Herbarium.   We were especially pleased to have several colleagues from Converse with us at the exhibition opening, including Vice-President Jeffrey H. Barker, Prof. Joe Ann Lever, Prof. Robert Powell, and Prof. Douglas Jensen.  We are grateful also for the support and interest of Prof. Nelson’s emeritus colleagues at USC, Prof. John H. Herr and Prof. David Rembert; of Prof. Harry Shealy of USC-Aiken; and of members of the Ravenel family.

The current exhibition brings together a wide-ranging selection of the plant specimens from that collection, together with manuscript and other items from the Ravenel papers in the South Caroliniana Library, and selected botanical books from Thomas Cooper Library’s Rare Books & Special Collections.  The contemporary photographs in the upright cases are reproduced from Ravenel’s own album in South Caroliniana.  The exhibition has been curated by John Nelson (Department of Biological Sciences), in collaboration with Patrick Scott (Rare Books & Special Collections), and with Henry Fulmer and Beth Bilderback (South Caroliniana Library, manuscripts and the photographic materials).

Introduction to the Botanical Collection

Ravenel’s South Carolina
Rand McNally’s New Business Atlas of South Carolina

Chicago: Rand McNally, 1892.  Courtesy of the Map Library. 
Henry William Ravenel was born in St. John’s Parish, Berkeley County, brought up there at Woodville, Pineville, and Pooshee, and educated nearby in Pineville and at college in Columbia.  Following his marriage in 1835, he settled near his parents, building a main home at Northampton, and a summer home at Pinopolis (area indicated by red arrow).  In 1853, he moved for health reasons to Aiken, living first at Hampton Hill outside the city and then in Aiken itself (area indicated by purple arrow).

The third (red) arrow on the overlay indicates Society Hill, the South Carolina home of Ravenel’s friend and correspondent Moses Curtis, who supplied him with specimens from that area of the state.

Henry William Ravenel
From the original photograph in Ravenel’s album.
Courtesy of South Caroliniana Library.
henry william ravenel



The Social Basis of South Carolina Botany

John L[innaeus]. E. W. Shecut, 1778-1831.
Flora carolinensis: or, A historical, medical, and economical display of the vegetable kingdom; according to the Linnean or sexual system of  botany. 

Charleston: Printed for the author, by J. Hoff, 1806.  Black roan.  Phelps Memorial Collection.flora carolinensis

Ravenel bridged the transition in South Carolina botany from the informed gentlemen-amateurs to professional science.  The subscription list for this volume shows the range of prominent South Carolinians interested in botany in the early nineteenth century.  Nonetheless, Shecut, a Charleston physician, lost $1800 on publishing seven numbers of this Flora.

Botany at South Carolina College in the 1830's
[Edward W. Johnston], Catalogue of the Library of the South Carolina College.
Columbia, SC: the Telescope, 1836.catalogue of the library of the south carolina college

During Ravenel’s years as a student at South Carolina College (1829-1832), the College library already had significant holdings of books about botany.  The library catalogue published in 1826 was arranged by subject and indicates the library’s strength in this field. 

Botanical Illustration in South Carolina, I: The state flower
Unknown artist, c. 1765.
“The Humming Bird of South-Carolina and Yellow Jesemin.”
Current name: Gelsemium sempervirens (L.) J. Saint-Hilaire; “Yellow Jessamine.”
From the collection presented by Mrs. William Carroll Brown, Belton, S.C.
gelsemium sempervirens & yellow jessamine

This original sketch comes from the earliest surviving sizeable collection of natural history watercolors done in the United States.  This is a mid18th century album of 32 paintings from South Carolina and east Florida, depicting both plants and birds.  The album was acquired by Mr. and Mrs. William Carroll Brown in 1952, and donated to Thomas Cooper Library by Mrs. Brown in 1991.  At various times the sketches have been attributed to Mark Catesby (16831749), William Bartram of Philadelphia (17391823), John Abbot (17491840), or (most recently) to the South Carolinian amateur artist John Laurens (17541782), son of Henry Laurens, who was in east Florida in the relevant years.

The state flower of South Carolina, as collected by Ravenel
Gelsemium sempervirens Ait.
Aiken S.C.
Apr. 86                          
Current name: Gelsemium sempervirens (L.) J. Saint-Hilaire; “Yellow Jessamine.”yellow jessamine

No matter their source, herbarium specimens of vascular plants are always made with the same, simple demands: living plants must be pressed with sufficient pressure to flatten them, and they must be dried quickly enough to avoid the effects of mold.  Modern plant collecting techniques differ very little from those used by Ravenel and his contemporaries.

Gelsemium sempervirens, which was named officially as our state flower in 1924, is found in every county of South Carolina.   This specimen was collected by Ravenel in Aiken in April, 1886.  The specimen itself has been remounted: all that remains of the original sheet is the label, which has been taped onto the existing sheet. In remounting, the plant parts have been taped down.  The date of repair of this specimen is difficult to ascertain.  Although it is likely that a number of specimens were repaired and/or remounted by Ravenel himself, other specimens were clearly repaired and/or annotated while the collection was housed at  Converse College.   Many of the annotations on specimens were supplied by personnel at the Smithsonian Institution, indicating that much of the collection had been sent on loan from Converse to the Smithsonian, now the home of the United States National Herbarium.
A modern specimen of the same flower
Gelsemium sempervirens (L.) Aiton
Climbing vine¼Woodruff between Spartanburg and Greenville.
Jacquelin A. Clark #56  Apr 8, 01gelsemium sempervirens

This contemporary specimen of the same plant is from Spartanburg County, collected recently.  Modern herbarium specimens, and those at the A. C. Moore Herbarium, are mounted on acid-free, archival paper.  Generally, a printed label is attached (glued) to sheets.  (The star indicates that information from this specimen has been entered into the Herbarium's database.)  The plant materials on both of these sheets are hardly distinguishable as far as quality of preparation.  The recent specimen continues to feature the yellow color of the flower’s corolla; however, the colors of all a plant’s parts will eventually fade.   Transient features such as flower color, flower aroma, pollinators, plant stature, etc. are properly recorded on the label as observational data impossible to reproduce after the time of collection. 

Properly prepared specimens feature all the parts of the plant (as is practical).  Dried specimens of plants, in general, retain essentially all the morphological features necessary for systematic study, and thus very old specimens remain valuable.  Beyond outright measurements of the plant’s parts, many aspects of morphological study are available, including, among other techniques, investigations of stomatal patterns and density, epidermal features, trichome (hair) characteristics, and pollen features.   Herbarium specimens, depending on their condition and the taxon involved, may offer substantial sources of study involving anatomy, biochemistry, and even molecular characteristics, including DNA sequencing.

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