Liriodendron tulipifera flower

The University of North Carolina
A Department of the North Carolina Botanical Garden


Collectors of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Herbarium
Compiled by Carol Ann McCormick, Curator
Special thanks to Sheri Brown, great-great-grandniece of Freedom Hoffman

“Freed” Hoffman
Freedom W. Hoffman
(30 January 1880 - 13 November 1959)

The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU) has found a single specimen collected by Freed Hoffman, but as we continue to catalog our collection, it is likely that we will find more. 

Other herbaria which curate specimens collected by Freed Hoffman include BRY (Brigham Young University), CM (Carnegie Museum of Natural History), USU:UTC (Intermountain Herbarium), OSU (Oregon State University), NY (New York Botanical Garden), MO (Missouri Botanical Garden, UCSC (University of California, Santa Cruz), UCD (University of California, Davis), and UC (University of California, Berkeley).

Freed Hoffman’s papers are in the University and Jepson Herbaria Archives at the University of California, Berkeley.

Freed Hoffman
Photo courtesy of Shari Brown; date unknown

Morrison, John L. (1960)  Freed Hoffman 1880-1959.  Madrono 15:  178-180.

The botanical career of Mr. Freedom W. Hoffman, who died at his home near Guerneville, California, 13 November 1959, spanned a fifty-year period.  Freed was born at Knights Landing, Yolo County, 30 January 1880, where he lived until he went away to school at about the age of 15. As his mother was of French descent, Freed learned, as a child, to speak French and he retained his fluency in interest in this language throughout his life. Following his graduation from Chico Normal School he studied art in New York City for several years. Upon his return to California he began a teaching career in which he achieved considerable success for something over a decade.

On 24 August 1907, Freed married Jemella Gertrude Peugh.  Throughout the 47 years of their married life, Jimmy regularly accompanied Freed on trips into the remote that country. In the early days such trips were made with burro or mule, while later a Jeep served a similar purpose.

While at Berkeley soon after his marriage, Freed became principal of the LeConte to which he often referred in his later years as the first Junior High School in America.  At about this time Freed studied with Professor Setchell and Professor Gardner in the Botany Department at the University of California at Berkeley.  He mentioned to me several times Dr. Gardner’s offer of a teaching assistant ship which, while attempted him, was rejected in favor of a teaching position at San Francisco Normal School.

I first met Freed and Jimmy at their home near Guerneville in the early summer of 1941.  Freed had sent some interesting specimens of Streptanthus to the Herbarium at the University of California at Berkeley, for identification.  In order to meet the collector and see the population of plants, I drove to Guerneville.  From the beginning of our eighteen-year friendship I was charmed by Freed.  His slow, patient, deliberate approach to problems made a real impression on me.

Because I was interested in Streptanthus and its distribution in relation to serpentine soils, because I enjoyed being with Freed and Jimmy, and because I could collect abundant fresh flowering material near Guerneville for class use, I went back to the Hoffmans’ several times during the summer of 1941.  On one occasion Freed and I spent several days beginning the construction of a cabin on a remote hunting claim, which Freed had proven to be still part of the public domain in 1910 and 1911 even though it had previously changed hands several times in land deals. Careful search of land office records and many weekends spent surveying had finally enabled him to file on the quarter section as a hunting claim. Its chief value lay in the existence of a spring not far below a ridge top.  Freed and I hunted deer, fruitlessly, in the early mornings and the early evenings. During the day we began a cabin to replace the old one built by Freed in 1911.  As we leisurely cut and notched the sill logs, Freed recounted, interspersed with discussions of the Pythagorean theorem, his reasons for leaving teaching to become an orchardist.

Freed Hoffman was a man with very considerable artistic talent. His oils and watercolors with which their home and guest cottage were hung made a lasting impression on all who saw them.  The intricate wood carving on the massive lauan loom which he built for Jimmy was still another evidence of his creative ability. As a carpenter, stonemason, botanist, botanical artist, Freed’s accomplishments were of professional quality. Certainly his abilities as a teacher were equally great. Yet he resigned his teaching position, left a career for which he seemed well fitted, and still in his 30s, took over the management of the extensive orchards owned by himself and Jimmy near Guerneville.

With brush and palate, with hammer and saw, with pruning hook and picking basket and ultimately with plant press and seedbed, Freed found that he could see and sense the results of his labors almost immediately, while in teaching often many years passed before results were evident.  Freed had the patient sensitivity that would lead him to cut down his fruit picking speed by half in order not to discourage completely a youngster during his first day on the latter, but he simply would not wait for many years to be greeted by a former pupil, now mature man, who might say, “You probably don’t remember me, Professor Hoffman, but you taught me geometry…”

With the realization in 1941 that serpentine outcroppings often supported unusual populations of plants, Freed began a series of botanical trips which eventually brought his collections over the 4000 mark. Among his collections from remote and little-known serpentine areas is the type specimen of Haplopappus ophitidis (J. T. Howell) Keck.  An Allium collected by Freed is likely to be the type of the new species. Especially in the genus Streptanthus, in which he published two new species in 1952, Freed’s numerous collections have greatly increased our knowledge of variation in geographical distribution.

When World War II ended and gasoline, as well as new vehicles, became readily available, Freed purchased a Jeep in which he and Jimmy traveled widely in search of serpentine and “Streps.”  Jimmy’s death in June, 1953, following their return for an extensive collecting trip in the Southwest, was a blow from which Freed found it almost impossible to recover.  A trip to the Piedmont of North Carolina to visit Jimmy’s relatives and the thoughtful solicitude of friends finally restored in Freed his former interests.

On 7 April 1955 Freed married Blanch Lenora Griden, who survives him. Blanche’s lively interest in Freed’s botanical studies and her devoted care during the trying time of Freed’s stroke and his lengthy and arduous convalescence have endeared her to those of us who came to know her through Freed. 

Freed’s ties with professional botany were primarily with members of the California botanical society and the personnel of the Herbarium at Berkeley.  He corresponded rather regularly with Bacigalupi, Carter, Kruckeberg, McMillan, Mason, Morrison, and others interested in serpentine, Streptanthus, or both.  His collections, his watercolor sketches, especially off Streptanthi, and his full luminous notes on various sections of this genus are on deposit in the Herbarium of the University of California at Berkeley.


PUBLICATIONS (incomplete list):

Hoffman, Freed W. (1952)  Studies in Streptanthus:  A new Streptanthus complex in California.  Madrono 11(6):  221-233.

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU)
CB# 3280, Coker Hall
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3280
phone: (919) 962-6931


Last Updated: 5 April 2019