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Lucien Marcus Underwood (1853-1907)

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7.5 linear inches (2 boxes)


Lucien Marcus Underwood (1853-1907) was a botanist, educator, and founding member of the Board of Scientific Directors of The New York Botanical Garden. Underwood was born in New Woodstock, New York on October 26, 1853. He obtained his M.S. (1878) and Ph.D. (1879) at Syracuse University. His doctoral thesis, later published, was The Geological Formations Crossed by the Syracuse and Chenango Valley Rail Road. During his graduate education he grew interested in the study of ferns (pteridology). In 1881 he published Our Native Ferns and How to Study Them, the first manual of North American ferns. This, as well as Moulds, Mildews, and Mushrooms (1899), achieved a popularity beyond the audience of professional botany.

Through the 1880s Underwood taught geology, botany, and natural science at several colleges and universities. Two notable appointments were Syracuse University (1883; 1887-1890) and DePauw University (1890-1895). At Syracuse he began to study the full scope of cryptogamic flora - the mosses, hepatics (liverworts), and fungi. With a Morgan Fellowship at Harvard University (1890) he studied the Sullivant and Taylor hepatic collections. Underwood's authoritative publications on the hepaticae inspired an exhaustive study of the flora of North America, The Systematic Botany of North America (later known as North American Flora), that evolved into a major collaboration with Nathaniel Lord Britton and many American botanists.

Beginning in 1892 Underwood served on the Committee on Nomenclature of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that drafted the "Rochester Code" of botanic nomenclature. The committee elected Underwood as the American delegate to the International Botanic Congress in Genoa, Italy, where he took part in the decision to set 1753 as the date for officially establishing botanical names. In 1896 Underwood succeeded Britton as Professor of Botany at Columbia University and joined the staff of The New York Botanical Garden. He participated in botanical expeditions to Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, and the Rocky Mountains and was elected to the Garden's Board of Scientific Directors, and served as chairman (1901-07). He contributed a section on pteridophyta to the Britton & Brown Illustrated Flora, was editor of the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, and assisted in the founding of the Botanical Society of America.

Tragically, Underwood took his life in 1907. His sudden death dealt Britton a personal and professional blow, leaving a void in the NYBG directorship. Despite this untimely death, Lucien Underwood is rightly remembered for his scientific accomplishments, his dedication as an educator, and his critical role as a founding member of The New York Botanical Garden.


The Lucien Marcus Underwood collection consists of correspondence, research papers, manuscripts, lecture notes, and artwork covering the latter part of his botanical career, including that with the Garden. The research papers include specimen catalogues and lists, some of which relate to the Underwood collection of the New York Botanical Garden Herbarium. Underwood's field notebooks are separated from the present collection and held in the Collectors' Field Notebook series.


Series 1: Correspondence
Series 2: Research Papers
Series 3: Manuscripts
Series 4: Lectures
Series 5: Photographs

Series 1    Correspondence, 1883-1907
                  0.5 lin. in. Arranged alphabetically.

There are 11 files of correspondence, including that with Timothy F. Allen, Elizabeth and Nathaniel Britton, and Job Bicknell Ellis. One item appears in Series 5: Photographs (see below).

Series 2    Research Papers, c 1890-1905
                  3.0 Lin. in. Arranged by subject.

This series includes descriptive notes, sketches, indices, synopses, and lists, primarily of ferns and Hepaticae. Of note are indices of several families of Hepaticae included in the North American Flora. There is an index to Ricciaceae specimens in the Garden's Herbarium, published lists of exsiccati, and an annotated copy of Pier A. Saccardo's Sylloge, Volume 6, "Hydnaceae," with a note of transmission by the mycologist Howard J. Banker.

Series 3    Manuscripts, 1882-1905
                  2.5 lin. in. Arranged by subject.

There are 5 files relating to the Systematic Botany of North America, 1 a prospectus on the section Hepaticae (1895), and 4 of the families Jungermanniaceae, Marchantiaceae, Metzgeriaceae, and Ricciaceae. In each, species are described macroscopically and cytologically with literature citations and notes on geographical range. There are also 6 manuscripts of Coe Finch Austin, edited by Underwood.

Series 4    Lectures, 1895-1907
                  3 files

There are 3 files relating to incidental lectures.

Series 5    Photographs, c. 1894-98
                  5 plates

There are 5 photogravure plates of polypores from Photogravures of American Fungi [1894-1898] by C. G. Lloyd (issues #9, 10, 23, 24, 25) with an accompanying letter from the Heliotype Printing Co.


The New York Botanical Garden

RG4     Nathaniel Lord Britton Collection

RG4     Elizabeth Gertrude Knight Britton Collection

CFN    Numbers 56, 275-87

Processed May 1999 by David Rose 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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