2012 Annual Dinner Lecture Report

The Global Migrations of Ornamental Plants

Plants migrate across the globe by hitching rides on exported building materials, riding as seeds in the entrails of animals, stowing away in the luggage of plant-loving travelers, or simply floating on wind that sweeps across continents. Author-neurologist Judith M. Taylor not only traced the migratory movements of numerous plants but also introduced botany’s earliest explorers, collectors, and researchers at the Institute’s 2012 annual dinner on November 9.

After noticing that geraniums, begonias, and petunias abound in gardens worldwide, Taylor wondered how that had happened. She decided to examine a standard horticulture encyclopedia with 15,000 entries. “I turned it into a database,” Taylor said, “listing the name of the plant and where it came from. Leaving aside hybrids, the encyclopedia contained about 6,000 species of plants.” The beauty of this approach was that it covered plants likely to be grown in ordinary people’s gardens.

The database showed that “a majority of plants grown in this country are of foreign or exotic extraction,” says Taylor. “It’s an application of statistics not widely used in horticulture.” About 29% of plants come from Asia; 18% from Europe; 17% from North America; 11% from Africa; 9% from South America; 5% from Mexico; and 4% from Australia. The crossover seemed to have been complete by the 1870s, according to Taylor’s maps and statistics. Many plants originated in unexpected locations: roses in China, for example, spreading to Turkey and Iran and eventually, to Italy, where three towns specialized in growing them. The wallflower is associated with England but originated in  France. Taylor traced the wallflower to building materials exported from Normandy to Dover, where imported stones were used to build fortresses and castles. “Everybody thinks the tulip is Dutch, but many originated in Russia and the Crimea,” says Taylor. “Greece, Turkey, and the Greek islands were primary sources.” Gradually, tulips spread westward and flourished in Holland because of the flat land, excellent soil, and climate.

Early plant collectors were explorers, adventurers, and couriers for governments and businesses. William Dampier (1651-1715) was a scholarly Englishman of high birth. He became a maritime explorer and started plundering ships on the high seas, eventually earning the sobriquet “the pirate with the exquisite mind.” In 1699, Dampier sailed down the west coast of Australia, where he was the first European to go ashore. He took the Dampiera, the Wildampia, and a gorgeous red Sturt’s pea back to England, where the actual specimens are still in existence, in the botanical museum at Oxford. He became so respected that his portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

For years, Francis Masson (1741-1805) collected bulbs in South Africa and sent them back to the Horticulture Society of London. Masson carefully packed the bulbs, but invariably some died during long months at sea. Throughout the late 1700s, seafaring was a hazardous undertaking, and most plants transported as cargo died en route.

London dentist and amateur botanist Nathaniel Ward (1791-1868) cultivated ferns. To protect his beloved plants from dirty city air, he built a glass-sided box, soon known as the “Wardian Case.” Built in large numbers, these cases solved the plant mortality problem. “After 1830, these plants survived in large numbers,” says Taylor. “The glass sides allowed sunlight to enter the case. Moisture enclosed at the outset, continued to condense and recirculate without evaporating.”

Scotsman Robert Fortune (1812-1880) collected plants in China while employed by the East India Company. He found plants in Shanghai nurseries and private gardens, but he preferred hunting them in the wild. In 1858, the U.S. government sent Fortune to China to collect tea plants. Fortune sent numerous tea plants to the patent office in Washington D.C., but the federal government never established tea as an American crop.

Because plants have traveled ever since the wind has blown, animals have trodden, and people have ridden, the English cottage garden is now a multiethnic melting pot. And because of Taylor’s database, we also know the exotic ancestry of every plant in that melting pot.

—Elizabeth Nakahara

California and the West Events

Fall 2020: Revealing San Francisco’s Hidden 19th-Century Black History: A Tour of California Historical Society Artifacts, lecture by Susan D. Anderson, SF History Days (video here)

Summer 2020: Harlem of the West: The Fillmore Jazz Era and Redevelopment, online lecture by Elizabeth Pepin Silva

Fall 2019: An event-filled two-day excursion to Sacramento

Fall 2019:  Tour of Marin Civic Center and presentation by member Bonnie Portnoy on The Man Beneath the Paint: Tilden Daken

Summer 2019: Reading of Judith Offer's play, Scenes from the Life of Julia Morgan

Fall 2018: Public Program, "South Asians in the South Bay: The Privileged Immigrants"

Spring 2018: Excursion to Niles area of Fremont with historic train ride and silent film museum

Spring 2018: The California and the West study group initiated the two public programs on "The Future of the Past in the Digital Age" and Benjamin Madley's talk on An American GenocideThe United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846–1873.

Fall 2017: Martinez Adobe Fandango; Public Program: “Siberia and California: Connections During the Russian Revolution and Civil War”

Fall 2016: Amador County

Summer 2016: San Francisco Presidio

Winter 2016: Berkeley History Center

Spring 2015: Sonoma Plaza

Winter 2015: San Francisco Public Library

Summer 2014:  Red Oak Victory and World War II Homefront National Historic Park, Richmond

Spring 2014:  Los Gatos History Museum, "American Bohemia: The Cats Estate in Los Gatos”

Winter 2014:  Tour of California Historical Society exhibition on Juana Briones, January 25

Summer 2013:  Green Gulch Farm Zen Center visit, August 15

Spring 2013: Visits to Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum and the McCune Collection at the Vallejo Public Library, April 13

Play Readers Upcoming Meeting

In the abundance of caution recommended by heath authorities, the group has decided to take a break from regular meetings.

The group welcomes new members.  If you wish to be placed on our email list and receive announcements, contact Joanne Lafler.

Writers Group Upcoming Meetings

Sunday, January February 13, 1:30 pm, via Zoom. Dan Kohanski will present.


Public Programs

Thursday, July 22 2021,  7:00 pm, Public Program, via Zoom. Member Stephen E. Barton will introduce his new book, J. Stitt Wilson: Socialist, Christian, Mayor of Berkeley.

Steven Barton

Faced with the dramatic extremes of wealth and poverty that characterized Gilded Age America, Wilson (1868-1942) gave up a promising career in the ministry to advocate for “applied Christianity”—a democratic and socialist economy based on caring and cooperation that would embody Jesus’s message of love. His varied efforts included socialist evangelism in the Midwest, California and Great Britain; building an alliance between the Socialist Party and the labor movement in his campaigns for governor, mayor and Congress, and supporting Upton Sinclair’s End Poverty in California campaign within the Democratic Party. He and his family became an integral part of “Bohemian Berkeley,” and although his sons all died young, his daughters became socialists, feminists and stars of stage and screen. This will be an online event on Zoom; the link will be sent to those who register here. The event is cosponsored by the Berkeley Historical Study.
Public programs have included panel discussions, individual presentations, and film series. Programs are co-sponsored with other institutions, including public libraries, universities, museums, and archives. Read More...

Next Monthly Program

Sunday, February 22,  2:00 pm, Monthly Program, via Zoom.

George Daniel de Monfreid: Post-Impressionist Trailblazer & Gauguin's Best Friend

A Talk by Laure Latham
The French artist George Daniel de Monfreid (1856-1929) broke from mainstream impressionism early on, becoming a leading voice of the post-impressionist movement in his country. Monfreid befriended artists such as Degas, Maillol, and Redon, feeding his own hunger for creation with revolutionary ideas on color and light. When kindred spirit Paul Gauguin moved to the South Pacific, Monfreid became his constant and essential link with the European art world. After Gauguin's tragic death in 1902, Monfreid strove ceaselessly to celebrate the legacy of the friend he called "the Savage." In another split from mainstream art, which considered regionalism inferior to Parisianism, Monfreid also created a modern art movement in Roussillon, French Catalonia.
Institute member Laure Latham is a London writer, adventurer, and startup founder. She graduated from Sorbonne and Paris Dauphine universities to become a corporate lawyer, and then moved to San Francisco, where she wrote about the outdoors. Laure is Monfreid's great-great-granddaughter, and she co-authored with her father the first biography of their ancestor, George Daniel de Monfreid: Artiste et confident de Gauguin (2017)The second edition is scheduled to be published in connection with a major Monfreid retrospective this year at the museum of Perpignan in southern FranceShe also wrote Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area (2011) and is working on a novel set in 1839 Northern California.
We are always looking for speakers for Monthly Programs; please consider sharing your interests, research and writing with your colleagues, promoting discussion and, perhaps, getting their feedback on your work. Contact: Louis Trager.

About Us

The Institute for Historical Study is a community of researchers, writers, and artists. Our common bond is a devotion to history in its many forms. Through wide-ranging programs, we share research, ideas, and practical advice and provide a public forum for the discussion of history. 


We Promote:

  •  the study and discussion of history outside the traditional classroom setting
  •  research, writing, performances, exhibitions, and other expressions of historical study
  •  non-traditional and interdisciplinary areas of study as well as traditional approaches to history



Member News

Members' Recent Activities:

Bert Gordon is now associate editor of the Journal of Tourism History and welcomes questions and/or submissions relevant to the Journal. He presented “With Camera and Guidebook: Tourism and War” virtually at Moscow State Linguistic University, on 14 September. On 27 October he will discuss the
“History and Legacy of Mills College,” also online, for the Oakland Public Library’s Oakland History Center. In addition to teaching “The West and Its Cultural Traditions” (to the modern period) at Mills, he is also currently offering “England and the British Empire: From Stonehenge to the Present” for Santa Clara
University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) and in November will present “Russia from the 1917 Revolutions to the Present,” for the OLLI program at Cal State Eastbay. Both OLLI courses are virtual.

The Fulbright Association accepted Leslie Friedman’s essay, “The Shakers and Tagore Dance,” as part of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Fulbright program. The National School of Drama, in New Delhi, had invited her in 1983 to introduce American modern dance to their artists. This led to her Fulbright Lectureship in India. The events described by Leslie took place at Viswa Bharati University, Santineketan, West Bengal. While there, art students who wanted to see her perform seized a building and set up a concert. The audience overflowed the building. A power outage during the performance produced a dance lit by the audience’s flashlights with shadows and reflections like stars. The university invited her to return for an officially presented concert with a vast, enthusiastic audience. Tagore’s poetry and dances and her choreography and technique permeated each other. Results: international cultural understanding and glowing memories. See more on the Fulbright site.

Leslie Friedman’s play, “The Exhibitionist,” received three Zoom presentations. Play by Play, the organization founded and led by Institute member Judith Offer, presented it on a program that included Judith’s play, “Not Too Kosher,” on January 31. That reading/ performance led to two more, on February 3 and 11. “The Exhibitionist” is a satirical, one-act play with two characters re-meeting on what might be a date. Jonathan Clark (Leslie’s husband) played Danny and Leslie played Lily. Leslie has also been invited to give a talk about her recent book, The Story of Our Butterflies: Mourning Cloaks in Mountain View, for Stanford’s program, Company of Authors.

John Graham’s second book, The Reeducation Of A Turd Peddler, is available for purchase (www.thebookpatch.com). He describes it as “historic, meta-fiction, and satire” which follows Junipero Serra’s heart “stuck in a jar for two hundred years and reveals who stole it and why.”

As of March 2021, Bert Gordon is Associate Editor of the Journal of Tourism History, a peer-reviewed journal published by Taylor and Francis in England. He may be contacted with questions about the journal at: bmgordon@ mills.edu.

Susan Nuernberg reports that she is moving back to Wisconsin, where she will continue her work on Charmian Kittrege London, transcribing and annotating her handwritten diaries (1904-1916) for publication by the University of Nebraska Press. She expects to complete her project in a year.

Welcome to our newest members, both currently residing in London, England. Laure Latham describes herself as “a blogger, storyteller and lawyer,” holding a B.A. in religious anthropology from Paris Jussieu University and a B.A. in law from La Sorbonne. She has practiced law at the Paris Bar and has taught international tax at La Sorbonne. Her writings include articles on the environment as well as children and the outdoors. Laure coauthored George-Daniel de Monfreid: Ami et confident de Gauguin and is currently working on a fictional account of Russian America and Ohlone people taking place in 1839 California.

Esther Shallan is a philosopher (PhD in Philosophy from Oxford Brookes University and Mphil in the philosophy of psychology from Kings College London) with interests and research on the problem of evil, the nature of suffering, and personality traits. She is also a psychotherapist working in North London who specializes in bereavement, depression, and anxiety disorders. Esther is currently working on a book entitled "God, Good and Evil: The Problem of Moral Evil Re-evaluated.”

Congratulations to Our 2020 Mini-Grant Recipients:

Steven Levi for expenses of a visual presentation of his poem, “The Contract," about women's suffrage.
Pam Peirce for editing of her biography of Katherine Gibson Wicks.

Members:  Please submit news of your history-related publications, lectures, awards, research finds, etc. to info@instituteforhistoricalstudy.org.

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Berkeley, CA 94708

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