Liriodendron tulipifera flower

The University of North Carolina
A Department of the North Carolina Botanical Garden


Collectors of the UNC Herbarium
Information compiled by Carol Ann McCormick,
Assistant Curator of the University of North Carolina Herbarium

Special thanks to Robert Wright for alerting me to Curtiss’ 1873 publication,
to Charlotte Tancin of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation for finding it,
and to Lisa DeCesare, Head of Archives and Public Services at the Botany Libraries of the Harvard University Herbaria, for scanning it!!

Allen Hiram Curtiss
A. H. Curtiss
(February 1844 – 1907)

The University of North Carolina Herbarium has over 450 specimens collected by A.H. Curtiss.  Most are from Florida, Virginia and South Carolina.  As NCU continues to catalogue its collection, without doubt more specimens collected by A.H. Curtiss will be found.

According to the Harvard University Herbaria’s database of botanists, Allen Hiram Curtiss’ specimens and types are widely distributed, with large sets at B, BM, DBN, G, GH, K (3,002), LCU, LE, M (lichens), MO, NY, P (1,250 pteridophytes), PH, S (diatoms), US (3,000),  and WRSL.  He collected in the West Indies (1902-1905); Florida, Georgia, Virginia (1884-1899); Texas, Arkansas (1881-1886).


Asclepias curtissii Gray, a Florida endemic named in honor of A. H. Curtiss by Asa Gray
Photograph by Bruce Vanderveen, June 11, 2005

The 1900 US Census lists Curtiss’ birthday as February 1844.  In the 1870 US Census, Curtiss was 25 years old, lived in Liberty Township, Bedford County, Virginia with Gaston G. Curtiss (age 50, presumably his father, “farmer”) and Floretta A. Curtiss (age 47, his mother according to the 1880 census), and Eugenia A. Comstock (5 years old, white female, born in Georgia).  Curtiss’ profession was listed as “Late Clerk, Co. Court” and he was the census enumerator that year.  To date, NCU has catalogued approximately 50 specimens that Curtiss collected in Bedford County, Virginia.  About a dozen of those specimens were collected at “Peaks of Otter” between 1868 and 1872.  The Peaks of Otter are three mountains -- Sharp Top (1,177m; 37˚26’00”N, 79˚36’18”W), Flat Top (1,217m; 27˚27’06”N, 79˚34’57”W) and Harkening Hill (1,028m; 37˚27’28”N, 79˚37’02”W) – within the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The mountains overlook the town of Bedford (which was known as the “Town of Liberty” from 1782-1890).

In 1873 A.H. Curtiss published CATALOGUE OF THE PHAENOGAMOUS AND VASCULAR CRYPTOGAMOUS PLANTS OF CANADA AND THE NORTH-EASTERN PORTIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, Including Virginia and Kentucky on the South, and Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota on the West.  Images of this difficult-to-find publication are courtesy of the Botany Library of the Harvard University Herbaria. Page 1  Page 2  Page 3
Page 4  Page 5  Page 6  Page 7  Page 8

Allen Hiram Curtiss moved to Florida in 1875.  He settled in Jacksonville, and botanized (though he would prefer the term “herborized”) throughout the state.  In 1878 he traveled to “The Sisters,” islands composed of oyster shells, and wrote of his findings in a series of three articles in the Botanical Gazette. 

“On the eastern coast of Florida there are extensive grassy marshes stretching from the Everglades northward, with more or less interruption, to Georgia.  These are separated from the ocean by islands and by long sand bars connecting with the mainland.  The St. John’s river is bordered with these marshes for several miles from its mouth.  Through them and between the sea-islands and main land of Georgia travelers reach Florida by the “inland passage.”  This passage enters the river within sight of its mouth and between a group of islands called “The Sisters.”  These islands, like many others of smaller size which are scattered through the marshes, are composed entirely of oyster shells.  Though the same species of mollusk now abounds in these waters, it is difficult to imagine what agency led to their accumulation into such vast mounds, rising abruptly from the marshes to a height of from five to twenty feet and sometimes covering a square mile in area…  The appearance of these islands, their large size and apparent inaccessibility, the luxuriant vegetation covering a seemingly impenetrable soil, naturally excite the curiosity of passing tourists but it is evident that their botanical features were unknown previous to 1878, during which year the writer made frequent visits to them, and found them to be as marked in botanical as in geological features and as regards entomology, incomparable.  It is a unique region, a land flowing with honey and gall, in which one may enjoy much and suffer much.  With this, a foretaste, we invite the reader to accompany us mentally (the more comfortable way) on a tour of inspection.” 
Curtis, A.H. (1879)  A visit to the Shell Islands of Florida.  Botanical Gazette 4(2):  117-120.

The 1880 US Census lists Curtiss as living in East Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida, head of household, widower, and profession “botanist.”  He shared his home with his mother, Floratia [sic] (born ca. 1823 in New York), boarder Eugenia Curtis [sic] (15 years old, white female, from Georgia; probably a relative and most probably the same person as Eugenia Comstock who lived with the family in Bedford County, Va. In 1870), and “domestic servant,” Ephraim Refile (14 years old, black male). 

In 1880, Curtiss wrote,
“During a recent visit to Apalachicola, I had the pleasure of rambling for several miles in the vicinity of that ancient town in company with Dr. Chapman [Alvan Wentworth Chapman, 1809-1899], and of being introduced by him to many plants peculiar to this region, first discovered and named by him…No botanist who travels southward should fail to visit the Apalachicola River.  Coming here about the first of April he will find the noble Torreya in bloom and beneath it the Croomia, which at first I confounded with the young plants of Dioscorea and Smilax herbacea growing with it.  Of the shrubs he will hardly know which to admire most, the yellow variety of Azalea nudiflora, the red AEsculus Pavia, or the white Chionanthus.  He will be charmed with the Silene Drummondii, and stand in awe before the giant cypresses, gums and cotton woods of the river bottoms.  He will be tempted to recline on deep cushions of feathery Selaginella, and learn to shrink from that vegetable porcupine, the Chamaerops Hystrix.  He will marvel at the parrot-beaked Sarracenia, and feel repaid for his journey if he sees nothing but the wonderful Sarracenia Drummondii
.”  Curtiss, A.H. (1880)  Notes from Florida.  Botanical Gazette 5(6):  65.

NCU has catalogued about 360 specimens Curtiss collected in Florida.

In 1880 – 1881 he travelled in the Florida Keys, and eventually expanded his travels to the West Indies. 
“During my recent cruise among the Florida Keys noting interested me so much as the Sea-weeds… Knowing the Reef Algae to be much sought for and almost unobtainable, I collected a large quantity of specimens aud [sic] had most excellent success in preserving them.  They have been identified by Prof. Farlow, our best authority of Marine Algae, and in December I shall have them ready for distribution… issued in three sets, each comprising two dozen species, at three dollars per set.” 
(1880)  Floridian algae.  Botanical Gazette 5(11):  138.

Many vascular plants have been named in Curtiss’ honor.

Aristida dichotoma var. curtissii A. Gray
Asclepias curtissii Gray
Asplenium X curtissii Underwood (pro. sp.)
Calamovilfa curtissii (Vasey) Scribn.
Hypoxis curtissii Rose
Jacquemontia curtissii Peter ex Small
Lespedeza hirta ssp. curtissii Clewell
Ludwigia curtissii Chapman
Lythrum curtissii Fern.
Oenothera curtissii Small
Polygala curtissii Gray
Rhynchospora curtissii Britton
Scleria curtissii Britton
Sporobolus curtissii Small ex Kearney
Tephrosia angustissima var. curtissii (Small ex Rydb.) Isely
Xyris difformis var. curtissii (Malme) Kral


Curtiss, A. H. (1881)  Chapmannia and Garberia.  Botanical Gazette 6(9):  257-259.
----- (1880)  Floridian algae.  Botanical Gazette 5(11):  138.
----- (1880)  Floridian ferns.  Botanical Gazette 5(11):  137.
----- (1880)  Notes from Florida.  Botanical Gazette 5(6):  65.
----- (1879)  The floating fern.  Botanical Gazette 4(11):  232-233.
----- (1879)  A visit to the Shell Islands of Florida.  Botanical Gazette 4(5):  154-158.
----- (1879 ) A visit to the Shell Islands of Florida.  Botanical Gazette 4(3):  132-137.
----- (1879)  A visit to the Shell Islands of Florida.  Botanical Gazette 4(2):  117-120.
----- (1878)  Mistletoe parasitic on itself.  Botanical Gazette 3(4):  36-37.
----- (1873)  Catalogue of the phaenogamous and vascular cryptogamous plants of Canada and the Northeastern portion of the U.S., including Virginia and Kentucky on the south and Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota on the west.  Liberty, Virginia.  8 pages.
----- (1872)  Hints on herborizing.  The American Naturalist 6(5):  257-260.
----- (1870)  Variations of species.  The American Naturalist 4(6):  352-355.


“Peaks of Otter.”  Wikipedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 13 Mar 2012.  Web.  7 May 2012.
“About Bedford.”  Bedford Tourism and Welcome Center, 2007.  Web.  7 May 2012.


University of North Carolina Herbarium
CB# 3280, Coker Hall
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3280
phone: (919) 962-6931
fax: (919) 962-6930

Last Updated: 7 May 2012