The University of North Carolina Herbarium has
over 450 specimens collected by A.H. Curtiss.
Most are from Florida, Virginia and South Carolina. As NCU continues to catalogue its
collection, without doubt more specimens collected by A.H. Curtiss will be
According to the Harvard University Herbaria’s
database of botanists, Allen Hiram Curtiss’ specimens and types are widely
distributed, with large sets at B, BM, DBN, G, GH, K (3,002), LCU, LE, M
(lichens), MO, NY, P (1,250 pteridophytes), PH, S (diatoms), US (3,000), and WRSL.
He collected in the West Indies (1902-1905); Florida, Georgia,
Virginia (1884-1899); Texas, Arkansas (1881-1886).
Asclepias curtissii Gray, a Florida endemic named in
honor of A. H. Curtiss by Asa Gray
Photograph by Bruce Vanderveen, June 11, 2005
The 1900 US Census lists Curtiss’ birthday
as February 1844. In the 1870 US
Census, Curtiss was 25 years old, lived in Liberty Township, Bedford County,
Virginia with Gaston G. Curtiss (age 50, presumably his father, “farmer”) and
Floretta A. Curtiss (age 47, his mother according to the 1880 census), and
Eugenia A. Comstock (5 years old, white female, born in Georgia). Curtiss’ profession was listed as “Late
Clerk, Co. Court” and he was the census enumerator that year. To date, NCU has catalogued approximately
50 specimens that Curtiss collected in Bedford County, Virginia. About a dozen of those specimens were
collected at “Peaks of Otter” between 1868 and 1872. The Peaks of Otter are three mountains --
Sharp Top (1,177m; 37˚26’00”N, 79˚36’18”W), Flat Top (1,217m; 27˚27’06”N,
79˚34’57”W) and Harkening Hill (1,028m; 37˚27’28”N, 79˚37’02”W)
– within the Blue Ridge Mountains. The
mountains overlook the town of Bedford (which was known as the “Town of
Liberty” from 1782-1890).
In 1873 A.H. Curtiss published CATALOGUE OF THE PHAENOGAMOUS AND VASCULAR
CRYPTOGAMOUS PLANTS OF CANADA AND THE NORTH-EASTERN PORTIONS OF THE UNITED
STATES, Including Virginia and Kentucky on the South, and Missouri, Iowa and
Minnesota on the West. Images of
this difficult-to-find publication are courtesy of the Botany Library of the
Harvard University Herbaria. Page 1 Page 2 Page 3
Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 Page 8
Allen Hiram Curtiss moved to Florida in
1875. He settled in Jacksonville, and
botanized (though he would prefer the term “herborized”) throughout the
state. In 1878 he traveled to “The
Sisters,” islands composed of oyster shells, and wrote of his findings in a
series of three articles in the Botanical Gazette.
the eastern coast of Florida there are extensive grassy marshes stretching
from the Everglades northward, with more or less interruption, to
Georgia. These are separated from the
ocean by islands and by long sand bars connecting with the mainland. The St. John’s river is bordered with these
marshes for several miles from its mouth. Through them and between the sea-islands and
main land of Georgia travelers reach Florida by the “inland passage.” This passage enters the river within sight
of its mouth and between a group of islands called “The Sisters.” These islands, like many others of smaller
size which are scattered through the marshes, are composed entirely of oyster
shells. Though the same species of
mollusk now abounds in these waters, it is difficult to imagine what agency
led to their accumulation into such vast mounds, rising abruptly from the
marshes to a height of from five to twenty feet and sometimes covering a
square mile in area… The appearance of
these islands, their large size and apparent inaccessibility, the luxuriant
vegetation covering a seemingly impenetrable soil, naturally excite the
curiosity of passing tourists but it is evident that their botanical features
were unknown previous to 1878, during which year the writer made frequent
visits to them, and found them to be as marked in botanical as in geological features
and as regards entomology, incomparable.
It is a unique region, a land flowing with honey and gall, in which
one may enjoy much and suffer much.
With this, a foretaste, we invite the reader to accompany us mentally
(the more comfortable way) on a tour of inspection.”
(1879) A visit to the Shell Islands of
Florida. Botanical Gazette 4(2): 117-120.
The 1880 US Census lists Curtiss as living
in East Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida, head of household, widower, and
profession “botanist.” He shared his
home with his mother, Floratia [sic]
(born ca. 1823 in New York),
boarder Eugenia Curtis [sic] (15
years old, white female, from Georgia; probably a relative and most probably
the same person as Eugenia Comstock who lived with the family in Bedford
County, Va. In 1870), and “domestic servant,” Ephraim Refile (14 years old,
In 1880, Curtiss wrote,
“During a recent visit to
Apalachicola, I had the pleasure of rambling for several miles in the vicinity
of that ancient town in company with Dr. Chapman [Alvan Wentworth Chapman,
1809-1899], and of being introduced by him to many plants peculiar to this
region, first discovered and named by him…No botanist who travels southward
should fail to visit the Apalachicola River.
Coming here about the first of April he will find the noble Torreya in bloom and beneath it the Croomia, which at first I confounded
with the young plants of Dioscorea
and Smilax herbacea growing with
it. Of the shrubs he will hardly know
which to admire most, the yellow variety of Azalea nudiflora, the red AEsculus
Pavia, or the white Chionanthus. He will be charmed with the Silene Drummondii, and stand in awe before the giant cypresses, gums and
cotton woods of the river bottoms. He
will be tempted to recline on deep cushions of feathery Selaginella, and learn to shrink from that vegetable porcupine,
the Chamaerops Hystrix. He will marvel at the parrot-beaked Sarracenia, and feel repaid for his
journey if he sees nothing but the wonderful Sarracenia Drummondii.” Curtiss, A.H. (1880)
Notes from Florida. Botanical Gazette 5(6): 65.
NCU has catalogued about 360 specimens Curtiss collected in Florida.
In 1880 – 1881 he travelled in the Florida
Keys, and eventually expanded his travels to the West Indies.
“During my recent cruise among the
Florida Keys noting interested me so much as the Sea-weeds… Knowing the Reef
Algae to be much sought for and almost unobtainable, I collected a large
quantity of specimens aud [sic] had
most excellent success in preserving them.
They have been identified by Prof. Farlow, our best authority of
Marine Algae, and in December I shall have them ready for distribution…
issued in three sets, each comprising two dozen species, at three dollars per
Floridian algae. Botanical Gazette 5(11): 138.
Many vascular plants have been named in
dichotoma var. curtissii A. Gray
Asclepias curtissii Gray
Asplenium X curtissii Underwood (pro. sp.)
Calamovilfa curtissii (Vasey)
Hypoxis curtissii Rose
Jacquemontia curtissii Peter ex
Lespedeza hirta ssp. curtissii Clewell
Ludwigia curtissii Chapman
Lythrum curtissii Fern.
Oenothera curtissii Small
Polygala curtissii Gray
Rhynchospora curtissii Britton
Scleria curtissii Britton
Sporobolus curtissii Small ex
Tephrosia angustissima var. curtissii (Small ex Rydb.) Isely
Xyris difformis var. curtissii (Malme) Kral
Curtiss, A. H. (1881) Chapmannia and Garberia. Botanical Gazette 6(9): 257-259.
----- (1880) Floridian algae. Botanical Gazette 5(11): 138.
----- (1880) Floridian ferns. Botanical Gazette 5(11): 137.
----- (1880) Notes from Florida. Botanical Gazette 5(6): 65.
----- (1879) The floating fern. Botanical Gazette 4(11): 232-233.
----- (1879) A visit to the Shell
Islands of Florida. Botanical Gazette 4(5): 154-158.
----- (1879 ) A visit to the Shell Islands of Florida. Botanical Gazette 4(3): 132-137.
----- (1879) A visit to the Shell
Islands of Florida. Botanical Gazette 4(2): 117-120.
----- (1878) Mistletoe parasitic on
itself. Botanical Gazette 3(4): 36-37.
----- (1873) Catalogue of the
phaenogamous and vascular cryptogamous plants of Canada and the Northeastern
portion of the U.S., including Virginia and Kentucky on the south and
Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota on the west.
Liberty, Virginia. 8 pages.
----- (1872) Hints on
herborizing. The American Naturalist 6(5): 257-260.
----- (1870) Variations of
species. The American Naturalist 4(6): 352-355.
“Peaks of Otter.”
Foundation, Inc., 13 Mar 2012.
Web. 7 May 2012.
“About Bedford.” Bedford Tourism and
Welcome Center, 2007. Web. 7 May 2012.