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P.A. Rydberg (1860-1931)

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Records of the Herbarium (RG4)
0.8 linear feet (2 boxes)

Biographical Note

P. A. (Per Axel) Rydberg (1860-1931), the first curator of The New York Botanical Garden Herbarium, was a plant taxonomist whose specialty was the flora of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains areas. He began working for The New York Botanical Garden in the summer of 1897 as a member of the first Garden field expedition, and joined the permanent staff in 1899 when they were first organized. In the course of his career, he was to publish over 7,000 pages of research, making him one of the most productive scientists at The New York Botanical Garden.

Born in Sweden, Rydberg emigrated to America in 1882. He first worked in the iron mines of Michigan where he hoped to become a mining engineer but he suffered a serious accident which left him with a lifelong limp and forced him to turn to intellectual pursuits. From 1884 to 1890, he taught mathematics at the Luther Academy in Wahoo, Nebraska, while he studied at the University of Nebraska. He received his B.S. in 1891, and the strong influence of his botany professor, Charles Edwin Bessey, helped to determine his lifelong devotion to plant studies.

Soon after he graduated, Rydberg received a commission from the United States Department of Agriculture to undertake a botanical exploration of western Nebraska. He received another one in 1892 to explore the Black Hills of South Dakota, and in 1893 he was in the Sand Hills, again in western Nebraska. During this time he continued to teach at the Luther Academy.

In 1895, Rydberg received his M.A. from the University of Nebraska.The university published his monograph on Rosales, one of only three parts published of a projected 25-part series on the flora of Nebraska. That summer, he was collecting once again for the United States Department of Agriculture in Montana with Cornelius Lott Shear. When autumn arrived, he moved to New York to pursue a Ph.D. degree at Columbia University under the guidance of Nathaniel Lord Britton. During this time he also was teaching natural sciences and mathematics at the Upsala Institute (later Upsala College) in Brooklyn and in Kenilworth, New Jersey. In the summer of 1897 he was sent to collect in Montana and the Yellowstone Park region with Ernst Athearn Bessey, son of his mentor Charles Edwin Bessey. The two men were part of the first field program expedition of The New York Botanical Garden.

Dr. Rydberg received his Ph.D. in 1898 and during that summer was employed once again by the Garden to process the collections obtained from the Montana and Yellowstone park expedition. Early in 1899, the Garden organized its first permanent staff and he became one of the nine original members. His title initially was Assistant Curator and this was changed in 1908 to Curator of the Herbarium. He would hold that title until his death in 1931.

In 1900 Dr. Rydberg conducted field work in southeast Colorado with King Vreeland. In 1901 he visited Kew Gardens in England and made a return trip to Sweden as well. In 1905 he was collecting in Utah with visits to the University of Wyoming, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. In 1911 he undertook an exploration of southeast Utah with Albert Osbun Garrett and in 1925, the Allegheny Mountains with John Tuttle Perry. A trip in 1926 took him to Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas. His final field expedition was in 1929 to Kansas and Minnesota but it was cut short due to illness and only included work in Kansas.

Dr. Rydberg was elected to membership in the Torrey Botanical Club in 1896. In 1900 he joined the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was elected a fellow the following year. Also that year, he was chosen as an Associate of the Botanical Society of America. In 1907 he became a member of the American Geographical Society and the Ecological Society of America.


The family of Dr. Rydberg destroyed most of his personal papers at the time of his death. The few that remain consist of miscellaneous correspondence and research notes, along with the manuscript proofs for several papers and publications, including his dissertation, Monograph of the North American Potentilleae, and the first edition of one of his most well-known works, Flora of the Rocky Mountains.

Also included in this collection are a group of research materials related to the publication of a bio-bibliography of Dr. Rydberg written by Arnold Tiehm. This appeared under the title Per Axel Rydberg: a biography, bibliography and list of his taxa. It was published in 1990 as volume 58 of the series Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden. Dr. Rydberg's field notebooks have been removed to the Collectors' Field Notebooks series.


Series 1: Correspondence, 1898-1929
Series 2: Research and Field Notes, mostly undated
Series 3: Publication Proofs and Illustrations
Series 4: Bio-Bibliography Materials

Series 1     Correspondence, 1896-1929
                   3 folders. Arranged by date.

One folder in this series deals mostly with plant nomenclature and specimen exchanges. Also included is a copy of Dr. Rydberg's wedding invitation. The second folder consists of correspondence between Dr. Rydberg and Aven Nelson between the years 1896 and 1923. These are copies of papers which are part of the archives of the University of Wyoming American Heritage Center and are included herein as part of the research materials for Arnold Tiehm's bio-bibliography of Dr. Rydberg. The third folder, also part of the Tiehm research material, is field reports dated 1891-1892 from the Smithsonian Institution archives.

Series 2     Research and Field Notes
                   1 folder. Undated.

This series includes several abstracts, notes on the Grimes numbers of Rubus, plants desired for the Belle Fourche Experiment Farm, illustration lists for Abram's Illustrated Flora, a list of Montana grasses, and lists of new plant names.

The field notebooks of Dr. Rydberg have been removed to the Collectors' Field Notebook series. They are five in number. Number 13 (Montana 1896), Number 14 (Utah and New Jersey 1905-1908), Number 15 (Allegheny Mountains 1925), Number 16 (Kansas 1929) and Number 115 (Western states n.p., n.d.).

Series 3     Publication Proofs and Illustrations
                   13 folders. Arranged chronologically.

Dr. Rydberg's Ph.D. thesis and its accompanying illustrations, are included herein. One of Dr. Rydberg's works, Flora of the Rocky Mountains, went through two editions in his lifetime but was never illustrated. This collection contains the manuscript for the first edition of this work (1918). Also included is an apparently unpublished manuscript called Vicia, concerning this genus, and notes and sketches concerning a publication called A Preliminary Revision of the Genus Lathyrus in North and Central America, by T. G. White, as well as a copy of this work annotated by Dr. Rydberg.

Materials related to Dr. Rydberg's publications can also be found in the Botanical Art & Illustration Collection of the New York Botanical Garden special collections. The illustrations for his dissertation were drawn by himself and a professional artist named F. Emil. It is not possible at this time to distinguish the difference between the two as neither Rydberg nor Emil signed their work. Furthermore, these illustrations were reused for the publication Flora of North America and the Library's collection bears the stamp of this publication. Also in the collection are drawings by Mary Eaton for other Rydberg publications.

Series 4     Bio-Bibliography Materials
                   1 folder. Unsorted.

This folder consists of research material for the bio-bibliography of Dr. Rydberg written by Arnold Tiehm and published by the New York Botanical Garden Press in 1990. Included are personal replies to requests for information on Dr. Rydberg, obituaries,xeroxes of correspondence, articles and photographs concerning Dr. Rydberg, and a few of the author's research notes as well. Much of the material concerns Rydberg types.

Related Collections

The New York Botanical Garden

CFN    Numbers 13-16, 115

ART     Rydberg illustrations by F. Emil

Processed March 1999 by Stephen Sinon under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) PA-23141-98 and a grant from the Harriet Ford Dickenson Foundation.

For more information and a complete description contact:
Susan Fraser, NYBG Archivist
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
(718) 817-8879

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