The University of North Carolina Herbarium has
over 530 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
curtissii Gray, a Florida endemic named in honor of A. H. Curtiss by
Photograph by Bruce Vanderveen, June 11, 2005
The 1900 US Census lists Allen Hiram
Curtiss’ birthday as February 1844, though his grave marker has his birth
year as 1845.
Gaston G. Curtiss, Allen’s father, was from Oswego County, New York, and had
moved to the family to Virginia ca. 1861.
On December 29, 1865 he purchased 344 acres of land near Liberty,
which later became known as Bedford.
Gaston Curtiss was active in politics and was elected as a delegate to
the convention to write a new state constitution in 1867. Gaston Curtiss and his fellow delegate from
Bedford County, David Staley, were Radical Republicans, the faction that
dominated the convention. Gaston
Curtiss ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1869, but was viewed by
Whites as a carpet-bagger and was defeated.
“[Gaston] Curtiss returned to farming and died of consumption [tuberculosis]
at his Liberty home on November 15, 1872.
In a terse death notice the local press observed, “Probably no man has
ever died in any community less regretted than the deceased.”” 1
Gaston Curtiss tried to insinuate his son,
Allen, into local public office. “On
January 20, 1869, [Gaston] Curtiss chaired a Republican mass meeting in
Liberty, and his son, Allen H. Curtiss, was installed as secretary. The two served on a committee charged with
recommending to the state’s military commander candidates for county
offices. Allen Curtiss was nominated
for county clerk and on January 25 appeared before the Bedford County Court
with a letter signed by the military commander, but the next day the court
declared him “wholly incompetent” and petitioned for his removal. Later [Allen] was appointed clerk of the
Third District Court of Appeals, but evidently he did not serve.”1 Allen
Hiram Curtiss did serve as an Enumerator for the 1870 Census in Bedford
To date, NCU has catalogued approximately
50 specimens that Allen Hiram Curtiss, who usually signed his specimens as
“A.H. 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.3 The mountains overlook the town of Bedford
(which was known as the “Town of Liberty” from 1782-1890).4
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 Curtiss acquired his love of botany
(and the unusual spelling of his given name) from his mother, Floretta Anna Allen, born 1 December 1822 in New York
state. After her husband’s death, she
joined her son in Florida, and it was here that she turned her life-long
interest in botany to the study of algae.
“Floretta Curtiss’ contributions to
phycology resulted largely from her interactions with two of the foremost
phycologist of that period, J. G. Agardh of the
University of Lund in Sweden and W. G. Farlow at Harvard University. Even though J. G. Agardh
was arguably the leading authority in phycology… he was certainly never a
“field man.” He relied on the generous
largesse of talented phycophiles around the world such as Mrs. Curtiss, or
“Domina Curtiss” as he referred to her in his publications (written in
Latin)… [Through her own collecting and exchange with others she amassed a
sizeable herbarium.] This significant
herbarium, known as “Algae Curtissianae,” was later
bound into eight folio volumes by her son and donated to the United States
National Herbarium (US), in Washington, D.C.” 2 Alas, NCU has no specimens of algae
collected by Floretta Curtiss, though we do have
one collected in 1875 by her son.
Allen Hiram Curtiss moved to Florida in
1875. He settled in Jacksonville, and botanized
(though he would prefer the term “herborized”)
throughout the state. NCU has over 440
specimens that he collected in Florida and other southeastern states. “Allen’s work for the State and federal
governments involved his traveling thousands of miles along the coast of
Florida, and this enabled him to provide his mother with large quantities of
“rough-dried” algae, especially from the Keys, which turned out to be quite
different from those of the Atlantic coast.
Floretta liked receiving these packages
because she could work on them at her leisure, and it seemed like magic when
she would throw what appeared to be “unsightly rubbish” into a pan of water
and they would swell out quickly and resume the natural forms and colors of
living seaweeds, like “a resurrection from death to life. Floretta had also
interested several ladies into sending their collections. This allowed her to carry out extensive
exchanges with phycologists in other parts of the United States and in
In 1878 Allen 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.”
Curtis, A.H. (1879) A visit to the
Shell Islands of Florida. Botanical
Gazette 4(2): 117-120.
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
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.
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 set.”
Floridian algae. Botanical Gazette 5(11): 138.
Allen Curtiss (1822-1899)
Floretta Curtiss went on what was to be her last collecting
trip with her son in July, 1896. They
visited Oceanus, just south of Cape Canaveral. “She went beach-combing here and found
large and showy specimens of an alga, Gracilaria curtissiae, which J. Agardh
(1885) had previously named in her honor.
So she was very happy and felt successful on this final collecting
trip. A few years later after a series
of debilitating strokes she passed away on March 3, 1899.” 2
Allen Hiram Curtis died in 1907 and is
buried beside his mother and father in Hillside Cemetery in Central Square,
Oswego County, New York.1
Many vascular plants have been named in
Allen Hiram Curtiss’ honor (list below).
Underwood (pro. sp.)
Calamovilfa curtissii (Vasey) Scribn.
Peter ex Small
Small ex Kearney
(Small ex Rydb.) Isely
Curtiss, A. H. (1881) Chapmannia and Garberia. Botanical Gazette 6(9): 257-259.
Floridian algae. Botanical Gazette 5(11): 138.
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.
----- (1879 ) A visit to the Shell Islands of Florida. Botanical Gazette 4(3): 132-137.
----- (1879) A
visit to the Shell Islands of Florida.
----- (1878) Mistletoe
parasitic on itself. Botanical Gazette 3(4): 36-37.
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
The American Naturalist
----- (1870) Variations
of species. The American Naturalist 4(6): 352-355.
Curtiss family grave, Hillside
Cemetery, Oswego County, New York5
Photo by Diane L.
Gunter and the Dictionary of
Virginia Biography. "Gaston G. Curtiss (1819–1872)." Encyclopedia
Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 23
Sep. 2013. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.
2. Wynne, Michael J. (1996) Phycological
Trailblazer No. 9: Floretta
Allen Curtiss. Phycological
Society of America Newsletter 32(2).
3. “Peaks of Otter.” Wikipedia.
Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 13 Mar 2012. Web.
7 May 2012.
4. “About Bedford.” Bedford Tourism and Welcome Center,
2007. Web. 7 May 2012.
5. “Allen H. Curtiss” Find A Grave Memorial #115999904.