American Flora sets roots in Special Collections
The newest addition to the Louise B. Belsterling Botanical Collection housed in the Special Collections and Archives Division of Eugene McDermott Library is the notable four volume set of The American Flora, or History of Plants and Wild Flowers by Asa B. Strong, M.D.
A popular, albeit false, belief at the time of publication was that the study of botany was strictly for young ladies in boarding schools. However, as the subtitle of the volumes, “containing a systematic and general description, natural history, chemical and medical properties of over six thousand plants, accompanied with a circumstantial detail of the medicinal effects, and of the diseases in which they have been most successfully employed” suggests, The American Flora is set apart as an important color plate work with a strong scientific inclination and practical use for agriculturalists.
Originally a periodical published between 1846 and 1850, the bound set acquired by the McDermott Library includes the 1848 third issue of volume one, including a frontispiece, engraved title, and fifty plates, making it a highly desirable and most complete version of the issues. Even more exciting, a full set including the third and fourth volume is relatively scarce and not often found for sale.
All volumes include hand-colored lithographic frontispieces, additional titles for each volume and 188 lithographic plates, some printed in color and all finished by hand-coloring. An American-printed color plate book during this era is particularly interesting, as it was during a period of modernization moving toward chromolithography, rather than exclusively hand-coloring lithographic plates.
Asa B. Strong, M.D. (1811-1852) of Leverett, Massachusetts was a noted physician, botanist, and author. Plates in The American Flora were drawn by noted illustrators Edwin Whitefield (1816-1892), David W. Moody and others.