The University of North Carolina Herbarium has
catalogued to date a single vascular plant collected by Suksdorf:
Thurb. (now called Poa tenuifolia Buckley),
collected in Klickitat County, Washington Territory, on June 6, 1891. How
this specimen came to be in the University of North Carolina Herbarium is not
known. In addition, we have cataloged
half a dozen fungi, many with the locality of “Falcon Valley, Wash. Terr.” [Washington
Territory]. William A. Weber
interpreted Falcon Valley to be “The fertile plateau near the south-eastern
base of Mt. Adams, in northwestern Klickitat Co. It includes the town of Fulda, Laurel, and
Glenwood, and is bounded on the northeast by the deep canyon of the Klickitat
farm was on the east half of the northeast quarter of section 12, near
WS (State College of Washington, now known as
Washington State University in Pullman) holds approximately 30,000 of Suksdorf's specimens. According to the Harvard Herbaria
Database, other institutions holding Suksdorf's
specimens include A, B, BM, BR, BUF, C, CAS, CM, CORD, CUP, DBN, E, F, GH,
GOET, K, L, LD, M, MANCH, MICH, MIN, MO, MPU, MSC, NA, NY, NYS, ORE, OSC, P,
PH, US (2,000 specimens), WRSL, WSP, WTU.
Wilhelm N. Suksdorf
at 78 years
Photograph taken at the
State College of Washington in 1928
(Frontispiece to William
Weber’s M.A. Thesis on Suksdorf, 1942)
“Few of the resident botanists of the Pacific
Northwest have become as widely known through the extensive distribution of
their collections as did Mr. Wilhlm N. Suksdorf of Bingen, Klickitat
Co, Washington. For over 50 years, Mr.
Suksdorf collected and studied the varied
vegetation of the Columbia Gorge and the rugged Cascade Range, particularly
in the region around Mt. Adams. He had
the privilege of exploring this region at a time when it was still practically
undisturbed and to him was given the opportunity of discovering for the first
time many mosses, fungi, ferns, and flowering plants thitherto unknown to
Science. His private collection is one
of the largest and most important in the Northwest. Its size has been estimated at 30,000
specimens. Duplicates of these are
filed in nearly every large herbarium in the world.
Before his death in October, 1932, Mr. Suksdorf willed his entire personal collection to the
State College of Washington. During
the last few years of his life, he had worked feverishly, hoping to label the
specimens completely before turning them over to the College. The task was so great, however, that very
little had been accomplished at the time of his death. As a result, considerable difficulty was
encountered in preparing the specimens for use.
The particular problem which the collection
presented arose from Mr. Suksdorf’s use of symbols
and abbreviations of place names to indicate the localities at which he
collected. The fact that his notes
were in German script, and that many of his place names were not to be found
on maps further complicated the problem.
The plants had been pressed in newspaper-size manila folders with the
field data written on the lower left-hand corner of the folded sheet. The latter consisted of one or more serial
numbers, the date of collection, and a symbol. Specimens from Oregon bore the letter “O”
before the serial number; Montana specimens, the letter “M”. Washington specimens bore no identifying
At first the symbols seemed to defy
translation. As more of the specimens
were examined, however, it was found that Suksdorf
occasionally had written a locality name in full, sometimes even with a hint
as to the whereabouts of the station.
A short list of symbols with their meanings was secured by Dr. F. L.
Pickett from Mr. Suksdorf before the latter’s
death. This, together with the Suksdorf correspondence, notes, and diaries, was
sufficient to make possible the translation of all the symbols.
After having obtained the names of Suksdorf’s localities, the next problem was that of
applying these names to geographical features. Most of the stations caused no difficulty
whatsoever, but some did. Many of the
mountains, lakes, and streams in the region did not possess accepted names in
Suksdorf’s day, and in such cases he had to invent
descriptive names of his own or use names borrowed from the Indians. Thus such names as “Kuhlblumenquelle”
(Cowslip Spring), “Schmetterling-See” (Butterfly
Lake), “Yiebach” (Beargrass
Creek), “Schonberg” (Beautiful Mountain), “Prachtwald”
(Magnificent Forest), and many others are frequently encountered in his
notes. Valuable aids in placing these
names were several sketches on which Suksdorf had
indicated the positions of some of his localities with reference to others. A
running itinerary of Suksdorf’s travels was
compiled from the data in the available manuscripts and notes. This was found
to be a reliable method for checking the accuracy of all other sources of
information, and for locating approximately those stations which otherwise
could not be placed. When localities were indicated by the names of farmers
at whose homesteads plants were collected, the farms were located by
reference to County histories and by consulting “old-timers” who were well acquainted
with the region.
When transcribing his field notes to permanent
labels Suksdorf did not consider many of these
minor localities to be important. “Schmetterling-See”, for instance, as well as many other
lakes in the Chiquash Mountains, became simply
“small Mountain Lake, Chiquash Mts.”, Although they
were some of his favorite localities. It is often, however, highly desirable
the data on the specimen be more explicit, especially if it concerns a type
locality. Hence it was fortunate that Suksdorf was
not able to make labels for all of his plants, else many localities so
clearly defined in his field notes would have become indefinite. “Wodan’s Vale”
would have become “rocky slope, Mt. Adams”; Bingen
Mountain, “Mountains, west Klickitat County”; and many other exact stations
would have become lost…
Map of the Bingen area, reproduced
from the pamphlet entitled
“All Roads Lead to Bingen on the Columbia,” printed
by the Bingen Commercial Club
from Weber’s 1942 thesis
Because there was no one in the area who could
give him much help in identifying unknown forms [plants], he sent them to
Harvard University. In this way he came to know Dr. Asa Gray. Dr. Gray was very sympathetic towards
Wilhelm’s needs, encouraged his collecting, and made available to him certain
books which he needed very badly. Wilhelm’s careful methods of collecting
impressed Dr. Gray…
Suksdorf became Dr. Gray’s assistant to me herbarium at Harvard
University in 1887. His work consisted mainly of working over his own
collections and preparing them for distribution to the herbaria of the world.
His intimate association with Dr. Gray made him a deep admirer of this great
botanist. Always extremely shy individual, Wilhelm found in Dr. Gray a
counselor and friend who understood his nature and appreciated his abilities.
enjoyed his work with Dr. Gray, for some unknown reason his health and
disposition did not fare well at Cambridge. Dr. Gray’s death, in 1888, left
Wilhelm completely broken in body and spirit… And after Dr. Gray’s death, he
returned during the spring of 1889 to the old life among his family and
friends in the state of Washington. There he drew about himself a cloak of
solitude from which he never again emerged. Had he chosen to remain at the
Gray Herbarium, Suksdorf might have become a
botanist of great renown…
His decision was typical of the man who was so
very humble and shy in speaking of his work and who doubtless felt his
shortcomings more keenly than most persons. He had never mastered the use of
the English language which he felt was so essential to his profession; his
health was poor. All of these things
were factors which made him feel that life at Cambridge was not for him…
Once more in his old hunting grounds, Suksdorf began to broaden his fear of collecting. In July
and August, 1890, he collected extensively along with the Nooksack River in
Whatcom County; his trips down the Columbia River to Portland and the ballast
grounds near there became more frequent; the prairies in eastern Spokane
County attracted his attention. He used his brother Detlef’s
farm at Spangle as a base for daily forays to Phillep
Lake, Mica Peak, Newman and Liberty lakes, and the rolling Palouse country to
the south. At home, he took a farm in “Falcon Valley” so that he might be
nearer to Mt. Adams. He intensified his collecting work there and continued
to grow native plants in his garden at Bingen…
On October 2, 1932, Suksdorf
was struck down and killed by a train near his home at Bingen. Thus came to an abrupt close the life of
one of the last of America’s pioneer botanists. But behind him he left an
enduring monument to a lifetime spent in earnest endeavor in the interests of
An interesting short
biography of Suksdorf was written by Rhoda M.
Love and appeared in the Fall 1998 issue of Pacific Northwest Quarterly.
Other works that discuss Suksdorf’s
life and science:
Howard, Grace E. (1955) Lichens of northwest America collected by
The Bryologist 58(1): 49-64.
Lange, Erwin F. (1955) Pioneer
botanists of the Pacific Northwest.
Oregon Historical Quarterly 57(2):
Jones, George Neville (1933) William
The Washington Historical Quarterly 24(2): 128-129.
PUBLICATIONS (derived from Weber’s thesis):
Suksdorf, Wilhelm N. (1931)
Untersuchungen in der Gattung
Amsinckia. Werdenda 1: 47-113.
--- (1927) Washingtonische
Pflanzen IV. Werdenda
--- (1927) Uber einige
--- (1927) Abrams’ Illustrated Flora
of the Pacific States (a review). Werdenda 1: 45.
--- (1923) A new Saxifrage from
--- (1923) Eine
neue Weide aus dem Staate
Bot. Zeits. 72:
--- (1923) Werdenda,
Beitrage zur Pflanzenkunde (Foreword).
Vol. 1, No. 1. Bingen, Washington.
--- (1923) Washingtonische
--- (1918) Cardamine oligosperma and its near allies. Rhodora 20: 197-199.
--- (1914) Is Arenaria lateriflora dioecious? Rhodora 16: 55-56.
--- (1906) Neue
Washington. West Am. Sci. 15: 58-61.
--- (1906) Washingtonische
Allg. Bot. Zeits.
12: 5-7, 26-27, 42-43.
--- (1906) Zwei
neue oregonische Pflanzen. West Am.
Sci. 15: 50.
--- (1903) Ueber
einige Nemophila Formen. West Am. Sci. 14: 31-33.
--- (1902) Eine
neue Brodiaea Art. West Am. Sci. 14:
--- (1901) Washingtonische
Deutsche Bot. Monatss. 19: 91-93.
--- (1901) Zwei
neue einjahrige Epilobium Arten. West Am.
Sci. 11: 77-79.
--- (1901) Zwei
neue Kalifornische Pflanzen. West Am.
Sci. 12: 53-55.
--- (1900) Washingtonische
Deutsche Bot. Monatss. 18:
26-27, 86-88, 97-99, 132-134, 153-156.
--- (1898) Key to the species of Plectritis and Aligera. Erythea 6: 21-24.
--- (1898) Washintonische
Deutsche Bot. Monatss. 16: 209-212, 220-222.
--- (1897) Die Plectrideen. Deutsche Bot. Monatss.
15: 116-119, 144-148.
--- (1896) The flora of Mount
1: 68-97. Thomas Howell, co-author.
--- (1892) Flora Washingtonensis. A catalog of the phaenogamia
and pteridophyta of the state of Washington. 15 pp.
1. Weber, William A. (1942) The
botanical collections of Wilhelm Suksdorf 1850-1932. Thesis, M.A.,
Botany, State College of Washington, Pullman, Washington.