Henry William Ravenel (1814-1887) was one of the foremost botanists of the American Civil War era. Born in Pineville in present-day Berkeley County, he was a student at South Carolina College from 1829 until he graduated in 1832. He soon established himself as an eager student of natural history, and his interests in botany, and especially mycology, continued through his middle and later years. Ravenel developed friendships and correspondence with an extensive range of contemporary botanists, and he shared with them many of the specimens he collected. His scientific interests focused especially on the collection of fleshy fungi; Ravenel’s five-volume sets of dried fungal specimens, Fungi Caroliniani Exsiccati (1853-1860), and his contributions to the 8-volume series Fungi Americani (London, 1878-1882), were widely distributed, upon a subscription basis, and many of these collections now figure heavily into the systematic taxonomy of fungi.
Ravenel was also, throughout his life, a serious collector of vascular plants, and his personal herbarium, with over 6,500 individual plant specimens, remains of great research significance, especially for current understanding of the flora of the southeastern United States. Ravenel’s Private collection of vascular plants, which was housed for many years at Converse College in Spartanburg, is now located in the University of South Carolina’s Department of Biological Sciences, as the H. W. Ravenel Collection of Converse College, within USC’s A. C. Moore Herbarium. We were especially pleased to have several colleagues from Converse with us at the exhibition opening, including Vice-President Jeffrey H. Barker, Prof. Joe Ann Lever, Prof. Robert Powell, and Prof. Douglas Jensen. We are grateful also for the support and interest of Prof. Nelson’s emeritus colleagues at USC, Prof. John H. Herr and Prof. David Rembert; of Prof. Harry Shealy of USC-Aiken; and of members of the Ravenel family.
The current exhibition brings together a wide-ranging selection of the plant specimens from that collection, together with manuscript and other items from the Ravenel papers in the South Caroliniana Library, and selected botanical books from Thomas Cooper Library’s Rare Books & Special Collections. The contemporary photographs in the upright cases are reproduced from Ravenel’s own album in South Caroliniana. The exhibition has been curated by John Nelson (Department of Biological Sciences), in collaboration with Patrick Scott (Rare Books & Special Collections), and with Henry Fulmer and Beth Bilderback (South Caroliniana Library, manuscripts and the photographic materials).
Chief Curator, A.C. Moore Herbarium
Director, Rare Books & Special Collections