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People Commemorated in Eastern Sierra Plant Names

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Anderson's Buttercup, Ranunculus andersonii Gray (Ranunculaceae)
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Desert Peach, Prunus andersonii Gray (Rosaceae)

by Larry Blakely

References and Notes

(First Posted: 2001 01 26; Last Revised: 2001 01 30 [fn. 5a]; Text appeared in the newsletter of the Bristlecone chapter, CNPS, September, 2000/Vol. 20, No.5)

Anderson's Buttercup, Ranunculus andersonii

Anderson's Buttercup, Ranunculus andersonii Gray
Photo and © by Larry Blakely

Desert Peach, Prunus andersonii

Desert Peach, Prunus andersonii Gray
Photo and © by Larry Blakely

Anderson's Buttercup

Spring is brightened considerably in our regions by the bright pink flowers of the desert peach. And although individual shrubs do not bloom for very long, we may enjoy them over an extended period by following them up to higher elevations as the season progresses. As for Anderson's large-flowered white to pink buttercup, you have to nose about a bit in very early spring to find colonies in full bloom; Anderson thought it "would be a fine acquisition to the garden" (1), and in 1880 Brewer and Watson, in their usually staid "Botany of California", called it "A truly remarkable species." (2) Indeed, both of these spring beauties, whose names honor Charles Lewis Anderson, MD (1827-1910), are remarkable and cherished members of the Eastern Sierra Spring flora.

Charles Lewis Anderson

Charles Lewis Anderson (3). CLICK on the image above to see another photo of Anderson (4)

Anderson (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8) practiced medicine in Carson City during the years 1862-1867. His considerable abilities were soon recognized in the young city and Territory (soon to become a State), so much so that in the short time he was there he rose to the post of State Surgeon General, became Superintendent of Schools of Ormsby County, helped organize a library and establish a church, served as an officer in the Nevada Historical and Scientific Society when it was formed, and was involved in several other civic activities. He seemed to take only passing interest in the race for riches going on all around him - but the rough and tumble atmosphere did help augment his roster of patients, the numbers otherwise kept low by a generally salubrious climate. His practice was a marvel of simplicity compared to the practice of modern medicine. He kept an office in a drugstore (with apparently no receptionist or nurse) for which he paid $10 per month; he charged $5 per patient visit, plus $5 per mile when he had to travel out of town.

Miners in a saloon, from (5)

Anderson was born in Virginia, but his family moved to Indiana when he was 10. He worked his way through medical school in Indiana, then moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota to set up his first practice (where he also served as Superintendent of Schools of Hennepin County). An enterprising Minnesota friend preceded him to Nevada, and at the friend's urging, Anderson decided to head out west. He settled his wife and 2 young daughters in Beloit, Wisconsin, then traveled across the plains and mountains by wagon train and stage coach. He wrote voluminously to his wife while traveling, and after settling in Carson City. His letters, which were fortunately preserved, give a vivid accounting of those times. A year later he was joined by his wife and daughters, who bravely followed his path across the country.


Beginning of a letter to his wife. (7)

Amazingly, in spite of all of his other endeavors, he found the time to pursue his lifelong interest in botany. He was one of the very first botanists to collect extensively in Nevada (the redoubtable Pathfinder - and botanist - John C. Fremont was first, in 1844). Although others collected in Nevada during the 1860s, he was among the first to reside in the state. He collected 34 of the 51 types collected in that decade, his type collections being made during the years 1863 - 1866. (9) Anderson made most of his plant collections in the vicinity of Carson City, but he also explored elsewhere in Nevada, and may have collected his buttercup at Blind Spring Hill near Benton, CA. (10) Many of the plants he collected turned out to be new to science when examined by Asa Gray of Harvard, to whom Anderson sent all his Nevada specimens. Anderson wrote the first flora of Nevada, and in its introduction observed: "the country is as rich in vegetable novelties as it is at all times in mineral wealth."(1)


Lycium andersonii A. Gray
Blakely photo

Other Nevada and California plant species, subspecies and varieties named for Anderson are found in these genera: Arctostaphylos, Aster, Astragalus, Cirsium, Crepis, Delphinium, Lupinus, Lycium, and Trifolium. (5a) Spiny menodora, so familiar in our area, was one of the 34 new plant species he discovered during his years in Nevada.

Anderson's ambition (from a letter to his wife, Nov. 1862):

"The height of my ambition is to have a pleasant quiet cottage of 5 or 6 rooms, one for a library where we could read and converse evening or enjoy other amusements, a small garden of vines and fruits with a few choice flowers. A business that would yield a comfortable living and a few select friends to come and see us. Out of debt so that what I earned I could call my own, my motto then could be to "owe no man anything." In the study of Nature, and Nature's God, we would be enabled to live nearer to Him, and with greater happiness to ourselves." (5)

Among the notes of Anderson's principal biographer, Olga Reifschneider (6), is this list which she made under the heading "Anderson's personality": "gentle sympathetic cultured scientific practical ambitious for health, comfort and happiness yet not aggressive to accumulate wealth".

Seeking a gentler climate and society, Anderson moved his family to Santa Cruz, CA, in 1867, where he lived for the rest of his life. There, in addition to his medical practice, he continued his lifelong predilection for civic service, and the study of botany. He developed an interest in marine algae, and collected some new species which were named for him; he also wrote botanical papers on the plants about Santa Cruz. Ever one for a challenge, his favorite groups were the willows and the grasses.

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1. Anderson, C. L., M.D. 1971. A Catalogue of Nevada Flora. Part of "Report of State Mineralogist". Journal of the Senate, 5th Session, State of Nevada, pp. 116-128. Carson City.

2. Brewer, W. H., and Sereno Watson. 1880. Botany of California. Vol. I, p. 6. Geol. Survey of Calif. Cambridge, MA

3. Jepson, Willis Linn. 1929. The Botanical Explorers of California - V. Charles Lewis Anderson. Madroño I(15):214-216.

4. Reifschneider, Olga. 1964. Biographies of Nevada Botanists, 1844-1963. Univ. of Nevada Press, Reno. pp. 35-37.

5. Reifschneider, Olga. 1966. Dr. Anderson in Wild & Wooly Carson City. Nevada Highways and Parks, 26(3, Fall): 16 (11 pp.).

5a. Other Andersons: Several other persons with the surname Anderson either named plants or were commemorated in plant names.

6. Reifschneider, Olga. Papers. University of Nevada, Reno, Library (Special Collections, NC528).

7. Anderson, C. L. Papers. University of Nevada, Reno, Library (Special Collections, NC252).

8. Very special thanks to Mike Brodhead for his gracious help with the Reifschneider and Anderson materials at the University of Nevada, Reno.

9. Tiehm, Arnold. 1996. Nevada Vascular Plant Types and Their Collectors. Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden, 77:1-104.

10. Asa Gray wrote, in his description of R. andersonii based on Anderson's collection [Gray, A. 1867. Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts & Sci., 7:327], "Near snow, on Blind Springs Mountain in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, Dr. C. L. Anderson, 1866." According to the USGS' Geographic Names Information System, there are 12 features (11 springs, 1 basin) in Nevada bearing the name "Blind Spring"; in California there is one spring, one ridge (Blind Spring Hill), and one valley named "Blind Spring". Searching for the plural "Blind Springs" brings up no hits in either CA or NV. Jepson (3) believed the collection site was "in Eastern Mono Co". It seems likely that Anderson collected his buttercup on Blind Spring Hill near Benton; however, since so many springs in NV were named Blind Spring, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the collection came from a Nevada mountain known, in those times, as 'Blind Springs Mountain', although, apparently, no such place name is in use today. Also, Blind Spring Hill near Benton is rather more of a hill than a mountain, and snow does not linger long on it.

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