Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Rose E Collom: a Botanist of the Arizona Wilderness

This guest blogpost is rather a departure from News & Views' usual style: it features an American, rather than a British or Irish, botanist and has some serious footnotes. But after I noticed Siobhan Leachman enthusing on Twitter about a female botanist I had never heard of, I simply had to ask her to tell us more. Siobhan very kindly agreed and the result is presented here.

Dudleya collomiae
Image: Mr Alan English CPA
Reproduced by kind permission
 of Mr English
"I first discovered Rose E Collom while transcribing field books at the Smithsonian Transcription Centre.1 I was transcribing two books written about 100 years ago by Joseph Nelson Rose, a botanist and curator at the Smithsonian. In these books he documented the identification of specimens, specimen sheets, plants, cuttings and seeds of cacti sent either to himself or the United States National Herbarium by collectors around the world. 

I was surprised at the number of women botanists and plant collectors mentioned by him given he was writing in the early 1900’s. One of the women frequently noted was Rose E. Collom.

Rose Collom nee Wilson was born in Georgia and had trained as a teacher2, attending Lindenwood College in 1886-87 and 1888-893. She became interested in Arizona flora when she moved to the State with her husband W. B. Collom in 1914. They lived in an isolated area in Gila County in the foothills of the Mazatzal Mountains where her husband worked a mine on the Collom property.

Plant Collecting

An article in the Arizona Producer quotes her as stating “I thought I would go crazy at first. My husband spent his days working the mine; beyond cooking his meals and mending his clothes there was nothing for me to do except sit … and gaze out over these hills”. Collom was unintimidated by the “coyotes yelping on the ridges or a mountain lion screaming up the canyon”. She began to take long walks and study the unique plants from the area.4

Mazatzal Mountains
Image: Mr Alan English CPA
Reproduced by kind permission of Mr English
She collected seeds, cuttings and specimens. She educated herself on Arizona plants by reading botany books and corresponding with botanists such as Joseph Rose, Thomas Henry Kearney & Robert Hibbs Peebles. In doing so she became an acknowledged expert on the plants of Arizona.5

Her plant collecting led her to discover several plants previously unknown to science that would eventually to be named after her. Among these are Dudleya collomiae6 (Gila County liveforever), Ranunculus collomiae and Galium collomiae.  Dr. John Thomas Howell of the California Academy of Sciences, when naming Galium collomiae wrote, “It is a pleasure and honor to name this distinctive addition to the Arizona flora in honor of Mrs. Rose Collom who has done so much critical field work in that state”.7

Her collected specimens are held in numerous Herbarium including the U.S. National Herbarium, the Lois Porter Earle Herbarium at the Desert Botanical Garden and the Arizona State University Herbarium.8 Other institutions that hold her specimens include the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Lindenwood University Herbarium and the Grand Canyon Museum Herbarium which holds the Rose Collom Collection.9

Collaboration with other notable Botanists

Rose Collom, botanist
Image: Grand Canyon National Park
Museum Collection #5284
Reproduced by kind permission
 of the Museum
As well as collecting specimens, Collom made careful observations and detailed descriptions of the habitats, bloom times, growing conditions and the uses of native plants.  She was one of the acknowledged collaborators with noted botanists Kearney & Peebles when they wrote the book “Flowering Plants and Ferns of Arizona”.  In the “Collaborators” section Kearney & Peebles wrote of Collom that “the writers are indebted for the privilege of using her manuscript notes on the habitat, time of flowering & economic use of Arizona plants”.10

“Flowering Plants and Ferns of Arizona” became the foundation upon which Kearney & Peebles based their later book “Arizona Flora”. Collom also contributed to “Arizona Flora” and its subsequent amendment. Arizona Flora remained the best and most comprehensive reference guide to Arizona plants for over 30 years.11

First Paid Botanist of the Grand Canyon National Park

Rose E Collom also became the Grand Canyon National Park’s first paid botanist from 1939 until 1954.12 In June of 1938 Collom collected in the Grand Canyon and in October exchanged letters with Mr E. McKee, the cofounder of the Grand Canyon Natural History Association (the forerunner to the Grand Canyon Association). He offered her a grant to enable her to collect specimens in the Grand Canyon area. In accepting this grant she became the first paid botanist of the Grand Canyon National Park.13

She conducted her botanical work at the Park, visiting to collect specimens or work in the herbarium, every year except 1948. The herbarium at the Grand Canyon National Park has 826 of her specimens.14

Garden Clubs and Botanical Societies

Mrs Collom was also active with the Arizona Federation of Garden Clubs. She was the Horticultural Chairman of the Federation of Garden Clubs of Arizona15 and helped to encourage the use of native Arizona plants for landscaping in home gardens and highways.16

She believed that some plants from higher altitudes could adapt themselves to lower altitudes if they were planted and cared for at an intermediate level and had time to accommodate themselves to the changed conditions. She was encouraged in this theory of progressive adaptation by Dr J. J. Thornberry, a botanist at the University of Arizona and Dr F. J. Crider, Director of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. She put this theory into practice by collecting plants from higher altitude and then allowing them several seasons to adapt to intermediate conditions in her garden before replanting at a lower altitude.17

Mrs Collom was also a member of the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society, which in 1937, founded the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. She was a charter member of the Desert Botanical Garden18 and supplied numerous native Arizona plants to it.19  Her valuable personal herbarium collection along with her writings were donated to the Desert Botanical Garden in 1951.20

Conclusion

The influence of Rose Collom in the field of botany was posthumously recognised when she was inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame in 2013.21 Her collection work continues to assist scientists today as her specimens are studied and cited in academic journals".22 

Many thanks to Siobhan for this fascinating account and for the excellent list of references below, which are worthy of New Journal of Botany (I can give no higher praise!). 

1 Smithsonian Institute, Smithsonian Digital Volunteers: Transcription Centre, available at:  https://transcription.si.edu/ (accessed 20th January 2015)
2 Arizona Producer (1930), “Woman of the Wilderness”,  Arizona Producer, September 15, p. 4
3 Lindenwood College Bulletin, (1930), “Woman of the Wilderness”, Lindenwood College Bulletin, Vol. 104, No.6, p. 10
4 Arizona Producer (1930), “Woman of the Wilderness”,  Arizona Producer, September 15, p. 4
5 Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame (2013), Rose Collom (1870 – 1956) available at: https://www.azwhf.org/inductions/inducted-women/rose-collom-1870-1956/ (accessed 5th January 2015)
6 Gentry, Mary A. (1982), “Woman Botanists and Plant Collectors of Arizona”, Central Arizona Cactus and Succulent Society Newsletter, The Central Spine, Vol. 2, No. 4, p. 2
7 Howell, J. T., (1949), “Three New Arizona Plants”, Leaflets of Western Botany, Vol. 5, No. 9, p. 151
8 Gentry, Mary A. (1982), “Woman Botanists and Plant Collectors of Arizona”, Central Arizona Cactus and Succulent Society Newsletter, The Central Spine, Vol. 2, No. 4, p. 2
9 National Park Service, Grand Canyon Museum Collection, available at: http://www.nps.gov/grca/historyculture/muscol.htm (accessed 20th January 2015)
10 Kearney, T. H., Peebles, R. H. and Collaborators (1942), Flowering Plants and Ferns of Arizona, United States Department of Agriculture Misc. Publication No. 423, Washington DC. p. 3
11 University of Arizona Herbarium, Arizona Floras and Floristic Works, available at:  http://ag.arizona.edu/herbarium/resources/books/floristic_az (accessed 5th  January 2015)
12 Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame (2013), Rose Collom (1870 – 1956) available at : https://www.azwhf.org/inductions/inducted-women/rose-collom-1870-1956/ (accessed 5th January 2015)
13 Spendens, F. [pseudonym of Quartaroli, R. D.] (2013), “Grand Canyon’s Other Rose and First Botanist” Grand Canyon River Runner, Spring, No. 15, p. 12 -13
14 Spendens, F. [pseudonym of Quartaroli, R. D.] (2013), “Grand Canyon’s Other Rose and First Botanist” Grand Canyon River Runner, Spring, No. 15, p. 12 -13
15 Tucson Daily Citizen, March 16th 1944, p. 8
16 Gentry, Mary A. (1982), “Woman Botanists and Plant Collectors of Arizona”, Central Arizona Cactus and Succulent Society Newsletter, The Central Spine, Vol. 2, No. 4, p. 2
17 Arizona Producer (1930), “Woman of the Wilderness”, Arizona Producer, September 15, p. 4
18 Hodgson W. and Salywon, A., (2014) “Desert Botanical Garden Herbarium (DES) Phoenix”, The Plant Press, Arizona Native Plant Society, Vol. 37, No. 1, p. 8.
19 Arizona Independent Republic, February 20th 1940, p. 6
20 Gentry, Mary A. (1982), “Woman Botanists and Plant Collectors of Arizona”, Central Arizona Cactus and Succulent Society Newsletter, The Central Spine, Vol. 2, No. 4, p. 2
21 Spendens, F. [pseudonym of Quartaroli, R. D.] (2013), “Grand Canyon’s Other Rose and First Botanist” Grand Canyon River Runner, No. 15, p. 13
22 Ickert Bond, S. M., and D. J. Pinkava. "Vascular plant types in the Arizona State University Herbarium." Sida, Contrib. Bot 19.4 (2001): 1039-1059.