Henry William Ravenel (1814-1887)

Introduction | Introduction to the Botanical Collection | Applied Botany: Some Cultivated Plants | Ravenel in the South Caroliniana Library | Type Specimens in the Ravenel Collection | Some Rare Plants | Some Noteworthy Plants | A New Species of a Fresh-Water Alga | Weedy Plants from South Carolina | Specimens from Some of Ravenel's Southern Colleagues | Specimens from Some of Ravenel's Northern Colleagues | Plants Named After Ravenel | References

Introducing the Botanical Collection

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Ravenel’s South Carolina
Rand McNally’s New Business Atlas of South Carolina

Chicago: Rand McNally, 1892.  Courtesy of the Map Library. 
Henry William Ravenel was born in St. John’s Parish, Berkeley County, brought up there at Woodville, Pineville, and Pooshee, and educated nearby in Pineville and at college in Columbia.  Following his marriage in 1835, he settled near his parents, building a main home at Northampton, and a summer home at Pinopolis (area indicated by red arrow).  In 1853, he moved for health reasons to Aiken, living first at Hampton Hill outside the city and then in Aiken itself (area indicated by purple arrow).

The third (red) arrow on the overlay indicates Society Hill, the South Carolina home of Ravenel’s friend and correspondent Moses Curtis, who supplied him with specimens from that area of the state.  

henry william ravenelHenry William Ravenel
From the original photograph in Ravenel’s album.
Courtesy of South Caroliniana Library.




flora carolinensisThe Social Basis of South Carolina Botany
John L[innaeus]. E. W. Shecut, 1778-1831.
Flora carolinensis: or, A historical, medical, and economical display of the vegetable kingdom; according to the Linnean or sexual system of  botany. 

Charleston: Printed for the author, by J. Hoff, 1806.  Black roan.  Phelps Memorial Collection.

Ravenel bridged the transition in South Carolina botany from the informed gentlemen-amateurs to professional science.  The subscription list for this volume shows the range of prominent South Carolinians interested in botany in the early nineteenth century.  Nonetheless, Shecut, a Charleston physician, lost $1800 on publishing seven numbers of this Flora.

catalogue of the library of the South Carolina CollegeBotany at South Carolina College in the 1830's
[Edward W. Johnston], Catalogue of the Library of the South Carolina College.
Columbia, SC: the Telescope, 1836.

During Ravenel’s years as a student at South Carolina College (1829-1832), the College library already had significant holdings of books about botany.  The library catalogue published in 1826 was arranged by subject and indicates the library’s strength in this field. 


gelsemium sempervirens & yellow jessamineBotanical Illustration in South Carolina, I: The state flower
Unknown artist, c. 1765.
“The Humming Bird of South-Carolina and Yellow Jesemin.”
Current name: Gelsemium sempervirens (L.) J. Saint-Hilaire; “Yellow Jessamine.”
From the collection presented by Mrs. William Carroll Brown, Belton, S.C.

This original sketch comes from the earliest surviving sizeable collection of natural history watercolors done in the United States.  This is a mid‑18th century album of 32 paintings from South Carolina and east Florida, depicting both plants and birds.  The album was acquired by Mr. and Mrs. William Carroll Brown in 1952, and donated to Thomas Cooper Library by Mrs. Brown in 1991.  At various times the sketches have been attributed to Mark Catesby (1683‑1749), William Bartram of Philadelphia (1739‑1823), John Abbot (1749‑1840), or (most recently) to the South Carolinian amateur artist John Laurens (1754‑1782), son of Henry Laurens, who was in east Florida in the relevant years.

yellow jessamineThe state flower of South Carolina, as collected by Ravenel
Gelsemium sempervirens Ait.
Aiken S.C.
Apr. 86                          
Current name: Gelsemium sempervirens (L.) J. Saint-Hilaire; “Yellow Jessamine.”

No matter their source, herbarium specimens of vascular plants are always made with the same, simple demands: living plants must be pressed with sufficient pressure to flatten them, and they must be dried quickly enough to avoid the effects of mold.  Modern plant collecting techniques differ very little from those used by Ravenel and his contemporaries.

Gelsemium sempervirens, which was named officially as our state flower in 1924, is found in every county of South Carolina.   This specimen was collected by Ravenel in Aiken in April, 1886.  The specimen itself has been remounted: all that remains of the original sheet is the label, which has been taped onto the existing sheet. In remounting, the plant parts have been taped down.  The date of repair of this specimen is difficult to ascertain.  Although it is likely that a number of specimens were repaired and/or remounted by Ravenel himself, other specimens were clearly repaired and/or annotated while the collection was housed at  Converse College.   Many of the annotations on specimens were supplied by personnel at the Smithsonian Institution, indicating that much of the collection had been sent on loan from Converse to the Smithsonian, now the home of the United States National Herbarium.

gelsemium sempervirensA modern specimen of the same flower
Gelsemium sempervirens (L.) Aiton
Climbing vine¼Woodruff between Spartanburg and Greenville.
Jacquelin A. Clark #56  Apr 8, 01

This contemporary specimen of the same plant is from Spartanburg County, collected recently.  Modern herbarium specimens, and those at the A. C. Moore Herbarium, are mounted on acid-free, archival paper.  Generally, a printed label is attached (glued) to sheets.  (The star indicates that information from this specimen has been entered into the Herbarium's database.)  The plant materials on both of these sheets are hardly distinguishable as far as quality of preparation.  The recent specimen continues to feature the yellow color of the flower’s corolla; however, the colors of all a plant’s parts will eventually fade.   Transient features such as flower color, flower aroma, pollinators, plant stature, etc. are properly recorded on the label as observational data impossible to reproduce after the time of collection. 

Properly prepared specimens feature all the parts of the plant (as is practical).  Dried specimens of plants, in general, retain essentially all the morphological features necessary for systematic study, and thus very old specimens remain valuable.  Beyond outright measurements of the plant’s parts, many aspects of morphological study are available, including, among other techniques, investigations of stomatal patterns and density, epidermal features, trichome (hair) characteristics, and pollen features.   Herbarium specimens, depending on their condition and the taxon involved, may offer substantial sources of study involving anatomy, biochemistry, and even molecular characteristics, including DNA sequencing.


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