Forster Collection at the Academy of Natural Sciences

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History of the Collection 1

Johann Reinhold Forster & Georg Forster in Tahiti, by J. F. Rigaud, 1780.

There are 24 plant specimens in the Herbarium of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia which were collected on Captain James Cook's second voyage of exploration to the Pacific, 1772-75, by the expedition's naturalist, Johann Reingold Forster and his son, Georg Forster. All of the Academy's Forster specimens are in the Type Collection. Whether or not these specimens are types or isotypes depends on further research by specialists who are familiar with specimens preserved in other herbaria. Both Carolin (1963) and Merrill (1954) state that the Academy of Natural Sciences possesses the only Forster specimens in the United States. The rest of the existing Forster specimens are in European herbaria—see Carolin (1963) and Merrill (1954).

The 24 Forster specimens appear to have been donated to the Academy of Natural Sciences by Thomas Nuttall in 1834. J. E. Graustein (1967, p. 291) attributes them to Nuttall, and cites as her source the unpublished Minutes of the academy, March 18, 1834 . However, the minutes themselves do not cite Forster's specimens directly; they merely state that Nuttall donated about 4000 species of exotic plants from the Cape of Good Hope, New Holland, New Zealand, Straits of Magellan, East and West Indies, Siberia and Europe. The only other piece of evidence that Nuttall donated the Forster specimens to the Academy is an old typewritten file card in the Academy's Botany Department stating that the Academy was given Nuttall's large exotic herbarium, which included New Zealand and South Sea plants collected by Forster.

Nuttall probably acquired these specimens from Aylmer Bourke Lambert, a late 18th to mid-19th century British botanist. Mrs. H. P. Miller (personal correspondence) states the Lambert had two sets of Forster specimens, one bought as a part of Pallas' herbarium in 1808, the other bought for Georg Forster's father-in-law, Professor Heyne of Göttingen in 1798, four years Forster's death. The plant names on the labels of the Forster specimens in the Academy, except one, are in Lambert's handwriting, and the locality and collector's name are in the handwriting of Charles Pickering, the second curatorial worker in the Academy's Herbarium. Thus, it appears that Lambert gave Nuttall the Forster specimens, and that Nuttall later donated them to the Academy 2.

1) Taken from: Apfelbaum, J. 1971. "Collections of J. R. and J. G. A. Forster in the Herbarium of The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia" Notulae Naturae 437. Download Apfelbaum, 1971 [.pdf, 2.3MB]

2) After this 1971 publication, two more specimens at the Herbarium were discovered to be part of the Forster Collection, bringing the total number of specimens to 26. The collection includes 15 isotypes.


Prepared by: Emily VanDam (PH) August 2006