Liriodendron tulipifera flower

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

 
 


Collectors of the UNC Herbarium
Information compiled by Carol Ann McCormick, November 2012


John Donnell Smith
(5 June 1829 -- 2 December 1928)

“Nestor of the botanists not only of America but doubtless of the whole world”
Paul Standley on J.D. Smith

The University of North Carolina Herbarium (NCU) has about half a dozen specimens – mostly ferns from the southeastern United States -- collected by John Donnell Smith.  Most of J.D. Smith’s herbarium – over 100,000 specimens -- can be found at US.  His name is abbreviated as Donn. Sm. in botanical literature.

250px-JohnDonnellSmith.jpg

John Donnell Smith, 1st Lieutenant, Confederate States of America
photograph taken May, 1863 in Richmond, Virginia following the Battle of Chancellorsville 2

John Donnell Smith was born on 5 June, 1829 in Baltimore, Maryland.  His grandfather father, Robert, served as Secretary of the Navy (1802-1805) under President Thomas Jefferson and as Secretary of State (1809-1811) under President Madison. 1,7

John Donnell Smith attended Yale College and was a member of Skull & Bones.  He graduated at age 18 with a B.A. in 1847, and according to an obituary in the New York Times, never returned to visit or to attend a class reunion.1, 7  He read law in the office of Brown & Brule (Baltimore, Maryland) from 1847 to 1850 and was admitted to the bar in January, 1851, but never practiced law.  He spent several years in Europe, and attended lectures on history and law at the University of Heidelberg.  In January, 1862 he entered the Confederate Army as an aide-de-camp to General John B. Magruder.  In March, 1862 he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant of Artillery in Page’s Battery, and rose to 1st Lieutenant upon transfer to Jordan’s Battery in October, 1862.  In February, 1864 he was promoted to Captain and commanded Battery A, 10th Battalion (Huger’s Battalion), Virginia Artillery.  Smith served in every campaign and battle of the [Confederate] Army of Northern Virginia.  He was severely wounded at Gettysburg and was present at the surrender at Appomattox. 1 He was mustered out of the Confederate Army on 9 April 1865 at Appomattox Court House, Virginia at age 33. 4

“Leaving the life of cotton planter in Alabama and officer of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad after the war, he took up botany and devoted thirty years to travel and study, visiting Europe, Asia and South America to collect rare specimens.”7  

In a letter dated 31 December, 1910 to Mrs. N.L. Britton, in reply to request for information regarding a collecting trip made by Coe F. Austin and John Donnell Smith in 1878, Smith wrote:

The thirty-two years that have gone by since Austin and I made our moss-hunting trip to South Florida seems to have left me with a poor recollection of its incidents, whether scientific or personal.  At that time the geography of the region bordering the upper Caloosahatchie River was imperfectly understood, and its botany was, of course, even less known… For several years previously I had been in active correspondence with that eminent bryologist, Coe F. Austin, but had not known him personally.  I had been a purveyor to him of much material of Musci and Hepaticae, and was indebted to him for many critical determinations.  At my invitation, he joined me at Cedar Keys, Florida, in March, 1878.  In a good-sized sail boat of slight draft of water, and with a man to cook and help, we sailed down the gulf coast, chiefly keeping inside of the islands and reefs, and landing frequently to collect.  In Charlotte Harbour, Pine Island was our headquarters, and its shell mounds presented an interesting and novel moss flora…  You [Mrs. N.L. Britton] are better qualified than I am to appreciate the importance of our collections during this expedition and the value of Austin’s scientific work.  But I can certify to his enthusiastic enjoyment of this introduction to a semitropical world, and to my own unqualified enjoyment of his society. 9

In 1880 C.F. Austin named a genus of moss, Donnellia, in Smith’s honor.  Donellii floridana Aust. was collected “On the branches of a Live Oak, Florida, Feb. 1877, Capt. John Donnell Smith.” 10 In 1988, William R. Buck of the New York Botanical Garden re-discovered a species of Donnellia in Florida.

Donnellia was originally proposed by Austin (1880 [Bull. Torr. Bot. Club 7:15-16]) for the single species, Fabrionia donnellii, that he had described three years earlier (Austin 1877 [Botanical Gazette 2:  109-112]).  The species was ignored or misinterpreted for a century until Crumm (1977) redescribed it and illustrated it, and placed it in the synonymy of Meiothecium tenerum Mitt. … I would not have returned to this problem so soon if not for recently collecting Donnellia commutata [synonyms Fabronia donnellii Aust. and Donnellia floridana Aust.] in Florida.  The species has not been found in Florida since the original collection by Capt. John Donnell Smith in February of 1877.  However, during a recent trip to Florida I found it in the Ocala National Forest. … Perhaps the field characters will encourage local bryologists to examine more closely what appear to be overwhelming populations of Sematophyllum.  This may result in the discovery that Donnellia commutata  is more frequent in Florida than the collecting history of it reflects. 11

“Retiring from business in the early eighties [1880’s], he devoted himself to botanical studies, which already had long attracted his interest.  He botanized extensively in most of the Southern States as well as in the North, and finally directed his attention to Central America, then almost unknown botanically.  He made large collections of plants in Guatemala, and in Costa Rica, where he still is remembered with affection by the older scientists.” 12

“From 1890 to 1907 Captain John Donnell Smith of Baltimore took Guatemala and adjoining regions as his special field of interest, engaging personally in field work from 1890 to 1896 and later cooperating with other botanists, whose expeditions he financed and whose collections he studied and distributed.  In 1907 he published the eighth and last part of an enumeration of the plants of Guatemala (including as well many records from the other Central American republics) in which he cited 3,736 species...  Captain Smith bequeathed his collections to the Smithsonian Institution.  Baron von Tuerckheim, whose earlier collections, at Kew, were made as far back as 1878, was Captain Smith’s chief collaborator.”8

Captain Smith was appointed an Honorary Associate of the Smithsonian Institution in 1905, and served in that capacity until his death.  “He was an authority on the flora of Central America and gave his extensive herbarium and library, which contained a fine collection of books on classical botany, to the Institution during his lifetime.” 5 The Smithsonian Institution (US) has J.D. Smith’s herbarium of over 100,000 specimens which include specimens collected by him and others, notably H. von Tuerckheim, E.T. Heyde, and E. Lux.  Regions represented in the J.D. Smith herbarium include Guatemala, Costa Rica, and the eastern United States.6  According to Paul Standley, Donnell Smith “did more than any other single person to make known the rich flora of Central America.” 12

“Tall and of commanding appearance, a kindly host, a scholar not only in botanical science but in the languages, John Donnell Smith was the finest type of Southern gentleman.” 12  Smith’s passport application in December, 1895 describes him as 66 years old, 5’10” in height, with hazel eyes, an “aquiline” nose, and florid complexion, and following “no” occupation.3 “Fortunate were the botanists who enjoyed his hospitality, for he could recont the most interesting anecdotes of botanists long dead, and of his associations with them.  His life span of nearly a century tempts one to speculate upon the changes Captain Smith had seen in his native city of Baltimre and in the botanical world.  It is a matter of great regret to his friends that it was not granted to him to complete the full hundred years which lacked just six months of their fulfillment.” 12

Smith never married.  John Donnell Smith died of pneumonia at age 99 on December 2, 1928 at the home of his niece, Mrs. James W. Wilson in Baltimore, Maryland and was buried in Greenmount Cemetery in that city. 1, 7

PUBLICATIONS (incomplete list):

Smith, John Donnell (1879)  Ophioglossum palmatum, Linn.  Botanical Gazette 4(4):  141-142.
--- (1879)  Polemonium caeruleum, L.  Bull. Torr. Bot. Cub 6 (55/56):  329.
--- (1880)  Wolffia (Wolffiella) gladiata.  Bull. Torr. Bot. Club 7(6):  64-65.
--- (1880)  Phegopteris Dryopteris.  Bull. Torr. Bot. Club 7(11):  118.
Smith, John Donnell, Isaac C. Martindale, J.W. Chickering, Jr., Chas. E. Bessey, A.W. Chapman, R.I. Cratty, J.J. Davis, Chas. F. Johnson, C.E. Smith, and Gerald McCarthy (1886)  Specimens and specimen making.  Botanical Gazette 11(6):  129-134.
Smith, John Donnell (1886)  Desmodium molle DC.  Botanical Gazette 11(10):  274.
--- (1887)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala.  I.  Botanical Gazette 12(6):  131-134.
--- (1888)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala.  II.  Botanical Gazette 13(2):  26-29.
--- (1888)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala.  III.  Botanical Gazette 13(4):  74-77.
--- (1888)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala.  IV.  Botanical Gazette 13(7):  188-190.
--- (1888)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala.  V.  Botanical Gazette 13(11):  299-300.
--- (1888)  Another station for Rhododendron vaseyi.  Bull. Torr. Bot. Club 15(6):  164-165.
--- (1889)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala.  VI.  Botanical Gazette 14(2):  25-30.
--- (1889)  Dr. A. B. Ghiesbrecht.  Botanical Gazette 14(9):  227-228.
--- (1890)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala.  VII.  Botanical Gazette 15(2):  27-29.
--- (1891)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala.  VIII.  Botanical Gazette 16(1):  1-14.
--- (1891)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala.  IX.  Botanical Gazette 16(7):  191-200.
--- (1893)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala.  X.  Botanical Gazette 18(1):  1-7.
--- (1893)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala.  XI.  Botanical Gazette 18(6):  197-211.
--- (1894)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala.  XII.  Botanical Gazette 19(1):  1-14.
--- (1894)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XIII.  Botanical Gazette 19(7):  255-266.
--- (1895)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XIV.  Botanical Gazette 20(1):  1-11.
--- (1895)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XV.  Botanical Gazette 20(7):  281-295.
--- (1895)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XVI.  Botanical Gazette 20(12):  538-546.
--- (1897)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XVII.  Botanical Gazette  23(1):  1-14.
--- (1897)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XVIII.  Botanical Gazette 23(4):  235-251.
--- (1897)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XIX.  Botanical Gazette  24(6):  389-398.
--- (1898)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XX.  Botanical Gazette 25(3):  145-157.
--- (1899)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXI.  Botanical Gazette 27(5):  331-339.
--- (1899)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXI (concluded).  Botanical Gazette 27(6):  434-443.
--- (1901)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXII.  Botanical Gazette 31(2):  109-125.
--- (1902)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXIII.  Botanical Gazette 33(4):  249-262.
--- (1903)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXIV.  Botanical Gazette 35(1):  1-9.
--- (1904)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXV.  Botanical Gazette 37(3):  208-214.
--- (1904)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXVI.  Botanical Gazette  37(6):  417-423.
--- (1905)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXVII.  Botanical Gazette 40(1):  1-11.
--- (1906)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXVIII.  Botanical Gazette 42(4):  292-300.
--- (1907)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XIX.  Botanical Gazette 44(2):  108-117.
--- (1908)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXX.  Botanical Gazette  46(2):  109-117.
--- (1909)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXXI.  Botanical Gazette 47(4):  253-262.
--- (1909)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXXII.  Botanical Gazette  48(4):  294-300.
--- (1910)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXXIII.  Botanical Gazette 49(6):  453-458.
--- (1911)  A collecting trip in southern Florida.  Am. Fern J. 1(3):  51-53.
--- (1911)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXXIV.  Botanical Gazette  52(1):  45-53.
--- (1912)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXXV.  Botanical Gazette 54(3):  235-244.
--- (1913)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXXVI.  Botanical Gazette 55(6):  431-438.
--- (1913)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXXVII.  Botanical Gazette 56(1):  51-62.
--- (1914)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXXVIII.  Botanical Gazette 57(5):  415-427.
--- (1916)  Undescribed plants from Guatemala and other Central American Republics.  XXXIX.  Botanical Gazette 61(5):  373-387.


Sources:

1.       Bulletin of Yale University, New Haven.  1 November 1929.  Obituary Record of Graduates of Yale University, 1928-1929.  Pages 3-4.

2.      The Photographic History of the Civil War, in ten volumes.  Francies Trevelyan Miller, Editor-in-Chief, Robert S. Lanier, Managing Editor.  NY:  The Review of Reviews Co., 1911.

3.      Passport application.  Ancestry.com

4.      Virginia Regimental Histories Series.  Historical Data Systems, comp.  U.S. Civil War Soldier Records & Profiles.  Provo, UT, USA:  Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2009.  Original data:  Historical Data Systems of Kingston, MA. 

5.      Morton, Conrad V. and William L. Stern (2010)  The history of the US National Herbarium.  The Plant Press, Newsletter of the Department of Botany & the U.S. National Herbarium, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, new series 12(2).

6.      “Historical Collections.” http://botany.si.edu/colls/collect/page.cfm.  Accessed 20 November 2012.

7.      J.D. SMITH, 99, DIES; OLDEST YALE MAN: Graduated in 1847--Never at Reunion--A Botanist and Confederate Veteran.". New York Times: pp. 27. 03 Dec 1928

8.      Bartlett, Harley Harris (1932)  A biological survey of the Maya area.  Bull. Torr. Bot. Club 25(1):  7-20.  (excerpt is from page 9)

9.      Smith, John Donnell (1911)  A collecting trip in southern Florida.  Am. Fern J. 1(3):  51-53.

10.  Austin, C.F. (1880)  Bryological notes.  Bull. Torrey Bot. Club 7(2):  15-16.

11.  Buck, William R. (1988)  Donnellia (Sematophyllaceae) resurrected and refound in Florida after 110 years.  The Bryologist 91(2):  134-135.

12.  Stadley, Paul C. (1929)  John Donnell Smith.  Tropical Woods 18:55-56.

 


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University of North Carolina Herbarium
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University of North Carolina
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phone: (919) 962-6931
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email: mccormickATSIGNunc.edu  

Last Updated: 20 November 2012