Smoke gets in your eyes…and in your garden!

Over the last month, I have seen many stories related to smoke from Canadian wildfires drifting down into the eastern United States, causing muted sunsets as well as terrible air quality. Even my mom up in Michigan told me how bad the air is up there this week and friends in Wisconsin have told me that they can’t go outside without donning N95 masks to cut down on breathing in all the smoke particles. Of course, our readers in the western U. S. may be rolling their eyes since they have gone through severe wildfire seasons in past years with little attention from the eastern press, and poor air quality from wildfires and pollution is also a frequent problem in other parts of the world. But since it is in the news, I thought I would address aerosols and their impact on the atmosphere, human health, and our gardens.

Great Smoky Mountains, picture taken from Craggy Gardens Trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, Amart007, Commons Wikimedia. Note that the blue haze here is caused by emissions of organic compounds from the trees augmented by water vapor.

What is an aerosol?

Aerosols are very small particles that float in the atmosphere. They can be from natural sources like salt from breaking ocean waves or pollen from blooming plants or can produced by humans through burning coal, construction, or poor agricultural practices. Saharan dust, volatile organic compounds emitted by trees, wildfire smoke, and volcanic ash can all add to the dust burden in the atmosphere. Some aerosols attract water vapor, causing them to expand in size and reducing the visibility of the atmosphere even more than the particles alone. Aerosols can be toxic, too, and areas with a lot of atmospheric pollution can cause severe problems for vulnerable people and pets when aerosols get deep into lungs.

Northeast smoke as seen from NOAA satellite, June 6, 2023

Impacts depend on where they are in the atmosphere

The impacts that aerosols have on humans and the environment near the ground depends on how high up the aerosols are concentrated. If the particles were lifted above the surface due to the heat from burning forests or trash, the main effects that the aerosols might have are optical, reducing the amount of incoming sunlight but not significantly affecting the air we breathe near the ground. Some acidic particles that attract water vapor might also contribute to acid rain that falls to earth. But if the dirty air is mixed down to the ground or is produced locally, the aerosols can cause significant issues for human and animal health because of their irritating effects on lungs and sometimes skin and eyes. They can also provide hazards to transportation if visibility gets too low. Acidic particles can also cause damage to plant tissues or change the pH of the soil if they affect an area over a long time period.

How do aerosols affect climate?

Aerosols affect climate by reducing incoming solar radiation. Volcanic ash and sulfuric acid droplets from volcanic eruptions can cut enough sunlight to reduce global temperatures for several years after a large volcanic eruption, especially if they occur in the tropics. This year’s unusually warm Atlantic Ocean temperatures can be linked in part to a lack of the usual plume of Saharan dust blowing off the west coast of Africa, which has allowed more sunlight to warm the surface water. The so-called “warming hole” in the Southeast has been linked to aerosol emissions from power plants upwind in the Midwest and Western U. S., which caused reductions in sunlight over the Southeast until the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1970 reversed that effect. Since then, the temperature in the Southeast has risen in concert with rising temperatures across the rest of the world. Aerosols contribute to the development of clouds, too, and that has the potential for affecting climate at larger spatial scales.

Saharan dust, NASA-NOAA, 20 June 2020.

How do aerosols affect health?

Aerosols affect human and animal health when they are inhaled into the lungs, irritating tissues and causing swelling and producing fluid as the lungs try to clear the aerosols out. According to estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO), particle pollution contributes to approximately 7 million premature deaths each year, making it one of the leading causes of worldwide mortality. Fine particles that are smaller than 2.5 micrometers (called PM2.5) are the most damaging because they are so small that they can make it deep into the lungs where they are deposited on the lung tissue. Because of this, gardeners and others who spend a lot of time outside need to be aware of the current air quality measurements and minimize time outside when the air quality is bad. You can find current air quality information in the United States at AirNow. Many state health agencies also post air quality information and the National Weather Service also puts out alerts on days with bad air quality. When the plumes of smoke from the Canadian wildfires moved over the Midwest and the Northeast, some U.S. cities had the worst air quality of any metropolitan areas in the world while the smoke was present.

Dusty leaves at Kaukaukapapa, Kahoolawe, Hawaii. December 20, Forest and Kim Starr, Commons Wikimedia

How do aerosols affect gardens?

Aerosols have several impacts on plants and gardens. Aerosols provide benefits for gardeners since clouds and rain form from water that is collected into water droplets on aerosol particles known as Cloud Condensation Nuclei (CCN). No doubt if you collect rain or snow water, you have seen the dirt that remains after the water is gone. But aerosols also have detrimental effects. Aerosols aloft can reduce incoming sunlight, leading to slower plant growth, especially for plants like corn that are sensitive to the amount of sunlight they receive. Aerosols at ground level can cover the plants with a layer of dust that decreases photosynthesis by blocking incoming sunlight and clogging pores. If the aerosols are acidic or contain toxins, they can damage the plants or increase the acidity of the soil, especially over long time periods. In the case of smoke from wildfires, the smoke particles can also affect the taste of grapes or other food products they interact with. Smoke taint on wine grapes, caused by compounds from aerosols that are absorbed by the grapes, can impart an ashy flavor to the wine made from those grapes, making it unsellable, as producers in California and Europe have found in recent years.

If you are experiencing air quality issues in your community, we encourage you to monitor the weather forecasts closely and stay inside when the aerosol count gets too high, especially if you have asthma or other lung conditions that may be made worse by poor air quality. If you have noticed other impacts of the wildfire smoke or other air quality issues on your garden plants, please feel free to share them in the comments.

Smoke from wildfire on Angel Island blankets Downtown San FranciscoBay BridgeSan Francisco Bay and the rising sun, Brocken Inaglory, Commons Wikimedia

A Toast to Agaves

Agaves, those bat pollinated, succulent, strong leaved, slow-growing, xeric- and heat-loving Western Hemisphere plants, are literally the heart of the tequila and mezcal industry. As fascinating as the bat pollinator aspect is we’re going to focus on the how agaves are used to produce liquor.

Image by Jesus Cervantes/Shutterstock

Let’s start with the differences between mezcal and tequila. These include region of origin, plants used and production methods.

We’ll start with regions and plants.

The name “mezcal” comes from the Nahuatl word “mexcalli” which means “oven-cooked agave.” Although mezcal can be made from any agave species, production focuses on roughly 30 agave species, varieties, and sub-varieties. While mezcal’s history centers around the region of Oaxaca, Mexico, it’s now produced throughout the country. As mezcal can be made with any agave species the name has become a general one for most agave liquors in Mexico. It often implies an artisanal aspect to the drink whether it’s deserved or not. In 1994 the name mezcal was recognized as an Appellation of Origin  (AO, DO). There is also a Geographical Indication (GI), originally limited to the states of Durango, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, and Zacatecas. Similar products are made in Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas but these have not been included in the mezcal DO.

(Patricia Zavala Gutiérrez/Global Press Journal)

While both mezcal and tequila are made with agave, only one species is legally allowed for tequila production, the blue agave.
Tequila production is located primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, which is northwest of Guadalajara, and in the Jaliscan Highlands of the central western Mexican state of Jalisco.  Tequila is also recognized as an Appellation of Origin (AO, DO). It can be produced only in the state of Jalisco and limited municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.

Blue agave field
Photo by Christian Heeb

Now let’s take a look at production methods. Harvesting agave for mezcal and tequila production starts out the same.

Seven to ten years after planting the plants are mature enough to harvest. They are manually harvest by “jimadors,” highly skilled people trained in the art of agave harvesting. It’s hard, labor-intensive work.

Using machetes or a “coa de jima”, a specialized agave cutter, the jimadors cut off the long agave leaves to get to the core of the plant called the piña.

The piñas are collected and taken for roasting. Roasting method is where mezcal and tequila production methods differ.

Pit roasting the piñas is traditional for mezcal production.

Agave piña roasting pit for making Mezcal
The rocks in the pit are first heated with charcoal
When the the temperature is correct, the piñas are added.
Alternating layers of piñas and chopped agave leaves are added until the pit is full.

The entire thing is covered and left to smoke for 2-7 days depending desired smokiness of the final product.
Roasted piñas.

Cooking piñas for tequila is a much simpler process. They’re actually baked.

Traditional brick ovens can be used.
Or large metal ones such as these.
The end result is the same.

After roasting or baking the piñas receive the same treatment regardless of the final product, mezcal or tequila. They’re crushed or shredded to extract the juice which is then fermented for a period of time. The fermented product is then distilled twice and then usually aged. Some mezcal is not and is sold a “joven” or young. Aging can last from one month to as long as 12 years. After aging the liquor is usually stored in stainless steel tanks to reduce evaporation.

And yes, I hear you there in the back row, “But what about the worm?!”

Gusano de Maguey in a bottle, waiting to be added to finished mezcal.

The worms are only found in mezcal, never tequila, and not all bottles have one. Bottles of mezcal which have a worm (called gusano) are labeled “con gusano,” meaning “with worm.” The worm is actually a caterpillar of the moth Comadia redtenbacheri which can infest agaves. If a “worm” is to be included it’s added at bottling. Doesn’t that sound like a fun job.

There are various stories as to why a “worm” would be added. Some claim it’s a marketing ploy. Others say it’s there to prove that the mezcal is fit to drink…OK. Others believe that it brings good fortune and strength to the lucky person who finds it in their glass. If you’re fortunate to find one in your glass be sure to swallow it whole, don’t chew it. And some claim it’s there to impart flavor. Yummy.

Mmmm, pickled ‘pillar!

And lastly, I’m sure some of you have seen “worm suckers” at shopping emporiums which carry a certain type of tourist stuff with a (supposedly) south-of-the-border flavor. Yes, I’m talking about the famous, or infamous, tequila-flavored worm sucker.

Also available in different colors and flavors. Look for them at finer tourist traps across the Southwest USA.

Don’t fall for this! As educated and discerning Garden Professors blog post readers you now know that #1: Tequila never contains a worm and #2: the “worm” is actually a caterpillar and the above critters encased in sugar are actually the larvae of the darkling beetle, commonly known as mealworms. Be a savvy consumer, hold out for the real thing.

Don’t get hosed: exploring the efficiencies of garden and landscape irrigation systems

As many parts of the US face drought or dryer than normal conditions and issues about water availability especially in the western states, many gardeners are reassessing their relationships with plants and irrigation.  Many gardeners, especially in the west, are replacing their lawns and landscape plants with more drought and dry-weather tolerant options.  But there still are times when irrigation might still be necessary, e.g., growing vegetables and fruits, establishing new plants, and more.  Using water efficiently and effectively is key in these situations even when water is available and drought conditions aren’t as prevalent. Efficient water use and good irrigation can also mean a savings on the water bill AND a reduction in plant diseases spread by water application on the leaves. Paired with mulching, efficient irrigation can drastically reduce the amount of water used in gardens and landscapes.

 In order to make the best choices for your garden, I’m going to talk through some of the most and least efficient irrigation methods for your gardens and landscapes. I’ll be starting with the most efficient methods and working my way to the least. 

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is considered one of the most efficient methods of irrigation because it applies water directly to the soil at the base of the plant and therefore typically uses the smallest volume of water. Research shows that drip irrigations have around a 90% efficiency rate. . Most systems sit above the ground and apply water to the soil surface, but some sub-soil systems are available. The system usually involves a filter and pressure regulator to keep the emitters functioning and applying water at the proper volume.

This drip tubing has pre-installed emitters along the tube and drips small volumes of water directly on the soil near the plant.

The efficiency of drip irrigation comes with a caveat though. When applied to sandy or rocky soils, water from drip irrigation has a much smaller spread laterally in the soil due to less capillary action and higher gravitational pull due to the large pore spaces. This means that there isn’t as much coverage of water in the root zone. In order to combat this drip emitters must be closer together or have a high flow rate, both of which increase water usage and reduce the effectiveness of drip irrigation in sandy soils. Read more here

There are typically two types of application methods: tubes or tape that have pre-made emitter holes at set distances that disperse a set amount of water per hour or emitters that are inserted into the end of solid tubes (that may or may not have an adjustable flow rate).  The tubes and tapes that have holes pre-made are typically used in vegetable gardens, row crops, or in beds where plants are uniformly planted.  Systems with the inserted emitters are often used in landscape settings where it makes sense to water individual plants, such as trees, shrubs, or large perennials. 

Given the low volume of water disbursed by the system, water pressure is regulated in a way that ensures even distribution as long as it isn’t modified than from the manufacturer or factory specs.

For information on installation and maintenance, check out these resources:

Drip Irrigation for Home Gardens – Colorado State Univ. Extension

Irrigation Video Series – Oklahoma State Extension


Microsprinklers function on the same type of system as drip irrigation and can sometimes even be combined with drip systems.  Instead of small openings that drip water on a small area on the soil, microsprinklers spray a small volume of water over a set radius.  The sprinkler heads are typically only a few inches above the soil and therefore apply the water at the base of the plants. Some systems allow you to switch out sprinkler heads that spray in different patterns and distances.  One such system that I’ve used has sprinkler heads for patterns from 90 to 360 degrees and from one foot to ten feet in diameter. 

This microsprinkler has an adjustable head to apply water in a 1 to 5 foot diameter.

While not as efficient as drip, microsprinklers are more efficient than other systems due to low water volume and consistent pressure throughout the system.  They can be more flexible than drip irrigation in settings like landscape beds and around trees and shrubs since one emitter can water a larger area with less tubing and fewer parts. 

Soaker hoses

Soaker hoses are popular because they are plug-and-play.  You can just attach them to your faucet and don’t have to worry about cutting and assembling tubing and parts. Water is released through the surface of the entire hose, making water application much less precise that drip and microsprinklers as well. Keep in mind that soaker hoses don’t have pressure regulation like drip and microsprinkler systems do so you’ll often find inconsistent watering when you use them.  More water leaves the soaker hose at the end closest to the faucet and less (or none) at the far end.  The result is usually excess water in some parts of the garden and not enough in others. 

Soaker hoses also release a much higher volume of water than drip and microsprinkler systems, which can result in overwatering and water waste. I learned this from experience when I accidentally left a soaker hose running for about three days.  The garden was nicely flooded and the water and sewer bill topped out at over $500 that month. 


Sprinklers are probably the most common irrigation system used because of their simplicity.  Home gardeners might use the hose-end individual sprinklers purchased at the garden shop which can quickly water a large area.  And many homeowners, especially in areas where there isn’t rainfall sufficient to support grass growth, have sprinkler systems installed in their lawns.  However, sprinkler systems are only around 65-75% efficient. Spraying water in to the air, especially on hot and dry days, reduces efficiency through evaporative loss.  Sprinklers are also less precise in where you can aim and apply water. There’s also the added issue that overhead application of water can lead to or worsen plant disease issues by making conditions favorable for the spread and growth of fungi and bacteria. If possible, use sprinklers only on a temporary basis like establishing new plants or make sure they are calibrated effectively.

Hand watering

While hand watering probably uses a smaller volume of water than sprinklers and you can direct water more precisely, there are still issues with evaporation and overhead watering.  In addition, hand watering is usually less effective than other methods because humans are impatient and actually don’t water long enough.  Most plants will benefit from a long, deep watering but many gardeners will only give a pass or two with a water hose and will underwater plants.  This can cause roots to accumulate in the upper layer of the soil and increase long-term water needs of the plant.  Rely on hand watering for temporary needs like plant establishment or container plants (though you can use drip and microsprinklers in containers as well) and use a more efficient strategy long term. 

Wrapping it up

There are a number of ways you can manage the water needs of your landscape, from renovating your landscape with more water efficient plants to making more efficient use of water through effective and efficient irrigation systems. As more and more cities and states across the US place restrictions on water use having several irrigation tools in your toolbox will be helpful.  Always remember that the best strategy is to grow plants suited to your environment to reduce water use in the garden. And in places where there isn’t sufficient water for grass to consider removing lawn and replacing with native vegetation and xeriscaping.  Irrigation systems can help in areas with unexpected drought or weather issues but for long-term sustainability gardeners in drier climates should adapt their properties where they live.

Other Sources

Buying lady beetles and mantids for your home gardens is probably not the best pest control strategy

Biological control is the use of natural enemies such as predators, parasites/parasitoids, and pathogens of pests in order to suppress or control them. This is a great tool for pest control and we hear about biological control a lot, especially when we talk about IPM (Integrated Pest Management). It usually comes with the classic imagery of a hungry lady beetle (often incorrectly referred to as the lady ”bug”) munching on aphids.

Cartoon of lady beetles munching on aphids by Sara Zimmerman (

Yes, many lady beetle species are great predators of pest insects…so much so, that the multicolored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) was intentionally imported and released in North America in 1916 as a more ‘natural’ way to control common pests. Species of North America’s native convergent lady beetle (Hippodamia convergens) were also collected from their habitat (around 1924) and relocated to agricultural locations within California for aphid control, which showed high success rates.

Another popular insect that comes to mind when we think about biological control is the mighty and charismatic praying mantid (aka praying mantis). These ferocious predators, in the family Mantidae, are beautiful and captivating creatures that even grab the attention of the non-entomologically-inclined. With their large eyes and raptorial front legs, you can’t help but be fascinated by them. Although there are some native species of mantids in North America, the ones you are most likely to come across in your yards and gardens include the European mantid (Mantis religiosa) and the Chinese mantid (Tenodera sinensis). Like their names suggest, these are not native to North America, though they have been here for over a century being both accidentally and intentionally introduced overtime. The Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) is another mantis that you might come across, especially in the southeastern United States, and this one is native to the Americas, from the southern US to Brazil.

Adult European mantid eating a grasshopper
(Photo: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, )

The predatory nature and biocontrol successes of some of these insects have given rise to their popularity as a commercial pest control product and resulted in an increased interest in purchasing them. These are widely available online, in nurseries, garden centers, and in several other retail outlets. Often marketed as a “good alternative to pesticides” the intention behind this practice is a positive one: reducing unnecessary pesticide use by incorporating beneficial insects that will help manage pests in the landscape. That being said, like many other simple and catchy solutions to common issues, this may not be the most responsible or effective option for home gardeners to reduce pest populations while still being good stewards of their yard and garden ecosystems.

What are the issues associated with releasing purchased beneficial insects in home gardens?

Introducing populations of species into new ecosystems can have several unintended consequences. This applies to non-native and native species alike.  A Washington State University Extension publication by our very own Dr. Linda Chalker Scott and Dr. Michael Bush from the Washington State Department of Agriculture does a great job of summarizing some of the issues. Whether or not they are native or widespread throughout the country and/or continent, not all regions and/or ecosystems may have high numbers of these insects and their introduction could result in competition with other common predatory arthropods and further unintended ecosystem impacts. These insects can also consume beneficial organisms, especially in the case of praying mantids, who are just as likely to feed on any insect they catch including other predators, pests infested by parasitoid wasps, and even pollinators. In some of these insects, cannibalism is also a common survival strategy, especially if resources are scarce.  

Adult convergent lady beetle
(Photo: Kansas Department of Agriculture , )

Introducing these insects into new locations can also introduce their pests, including potential parasites and diseases, which could impact previously unaffected populations and even other species of beneficial insects in our home landscapes. This doesn’t even account for the ethics of sourcing some of these insects and the impacts of removing large quantities from their natural habitat.

Does it actually work for controlling yard and garden pests?

One of the first things that happen when you release these purchased insects into your home gardens is that many will simply disperse. That is, if they survive the harsh conditions of sitting on a store shelf in hot temperatures. In fact, to have the most success in releasing them in your gardens, you need to take special care and pay attention to factors including time of day/temperature and the number and type of pest insects available for them to eat. For more detailed information on lady beetle release best practices, see this publication from UCANR.

Commercially available convergent lady beetles (H. convergens) are harvested as adults in a dormant state from their overwintering sites. They have a migratory behavior where they will disperse before they feed and lay eggs. As mentioned in this publication from Cornell University, some commercial insectaries will feed these adult beetles a special diet to reduce this migratory behavior. If you do still plan on purchasing lady beetles, these could be a better option. Even if these beetles don’t disperse once you have released them, you need enough pest insects to make it worthwhile for them to stick around for a little while. Although H. convergens are considered generalist predators that feed on aphids, scales, thrips, other soft-bodied insects, and even pollen and nectar when prey are scarce, their preferred diet is aphids. Unless you have heavy aphid infestations in small areas, it’s probably a waste of money (and lady beetles) to introduce them to your landscape. If you do however have a very heavy infestation of aphids, you need to make sure you have enough lady beetles to do the job properly. Even if you do everything correctly and have ample aphids for them to eat most lady beetles will still fly away after a couple of days. They are unlikely to lay eggs on the plants that they are released on thus requiring subsequent releases to continue managing a concentration of pests.

A group of adult convergent lady beetles
(Photo: Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, )

Mantids, on the other hand, are released as egg cases (ootheca) or newly hatched nymphs from those egg cases. You will often see mantid egg cases available for sale, and if you don’t release them within a day or two of hatching, most of these nymphs will cannibalize each other. You can try to spread them out around your garden, but they will still likely eat any arthropod that they come across and catch (including other beneficial insects). They are also unlikely to stay localized around a specific pest issue, so they’re not really effective pest control agents. More information on mantis releases can be found in this publication from University of New Hampshire.

European mantid egg case (ootheca)
(Photo: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,

What is a better alternative to purchasing insects for home gardens?

Encouraging the natural enemies that are already in your yard and garden landscapes (also known as conservation biological control) is the best way to incorporate long-term and effective biocontrol for home gardens. These natural enemies include predatory beetles, lacewings, parasitoid wasps, spiders, and countless others!

Tomato hornworm caterpillar, parasitized by braconid wasps
(Photo: Gerald Holmes, Strawberry Center, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, )

Sustaining these beneficial critters also means providing a diversity of habitat, including food and shelter for them. Include a variety of flowering plants all season long because these natural enemies will also feed on nectar and pollen in addition to their prey. Let your landscapes be a little ‘wild’ by keeping some leaf litter, rotting wood, dead perennials, and ornamental grasses which provide shelter for overwintering. More information on encouraging insects for biocontrol in home landscapes can be found here.

Another important factor for maintaining beneficial insects in home gardens is to utilize IPM strategies when pest outbreaks do occur and to minimize unnecessary pesticide use, especially pesticides that are broad spectrum, or persist in the environment for long periods. Utilizing cultural controls, barriers, and tolerating a little bit of pest damage is all going to contribute to the long-term health of your home garden ecosystem.

People and Plants

In this edition of P&P we’ll be exploring the life of the “Father of Texas Botany”, Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer.

On May 21, 1801, Herr and Frau Lindheimer of Frankfurt, Germany welcomed little blue-eyed Ferdinand to the family. After schooling at the Frankfurt Gymnasium and a Berlin prep school, Ferdinand spent the next 30 years studying at universities in Bonn, Jena, and Wiesbaden.

In 1833, for political reasons, Ferdinand decided it was best for him to leave Germany. By 1834 he was in Belleville, Illinois. Not finding Belleville to his liking, he caught a boat down the Mississippi to New Orleans, LA.

“Port City of New Orleans” by Adrien Persac.

After some time he and a few companions tried to go to Texas. But the Texas revolution was heating up and they wound up being sidetracked to Mexico, eventually winding up in Veracruz. There he worked on a banana plantation for over a year all the while becoming infatuated with the regional flora and fauna. But he still wanted to go to Texas and left Mexico just as the hostilities in Texas were escalating. In an effort to reach Texas he tried joining the Texas revolutionaries but alas, it was not to be. He wound up ship-wrecked on the Alabama coast near Mobile.

So close and yet, so far.

Being the headstrong German that he was, he tried once again to reach Texas and finally arrived at San Jacinto (pronounced Hah-seen-toe) the day AFTER the final battle of the Texas Revolution on April 22, 1836. Despite missing most of the action he joined the army of the new Republic of Texas and served 19 months. During this time and after his discharge in 1837 he spent any free time exploring the flora of his new home.

An old friend from Frankfurt, Georg Engelmann, invited Lindheimer to spend the winters of 1839–40 and 1842–43 with him in St. Louis. (Englemann had immigrated to America in 1832 and dabbled in botany as a hobby.) Lindheimer brought preserved Texas plant samples with him on these visits. Via their friendship Lindheimer’s collections came to the attention of professor Asa Gray, founder of the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University and author of the original Gray’s Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States. The plants from the Republic of Texas generated quite a bit of excitement in old Harvard Yard.

In 1843 arrangements were made for Lindheimer to collect plant specimens for Engelmann and Gray. He spent the next nine years collecting from a variety of Texas areas, including Chocolate Bayou, Cat Springs, Matagorda Bay, Indianola, and Comanche Springs. 

Over the next thirteen years, Lindheimer collected over fifteen hundred species in central and south Texas for Engelmann, Gray and others who were building collections. The samples had to be pressed and dried with multiple changes of blotting paper, then mounted and shipped. The collection date, location and habitat were logged for each specimen. Lindheimer earned $8 for each hundred specimens submitted. Occasionally he sent seeds or cuttings so Gray could try propagating the plants at Harvard. Using his own knowledge and whatever reference materials he could find, Lindheimer could place most plants in the appropriate family and make a good guess at the genus. But official classification was left to the scholars who received his samples.

Ipomea lindheimeri 
Photo by Greg Goodwin

In 1844 Lindheimer was granted land on the Comal River in the new community of New Braunfels, TX. and remained in the area for the rest of his life. He kept collecting, started a botanical garden, and in 1852 was elected the editor for the town newspaper, Neu Braunfelser Zeitung, one of the earliest newspapers in Texas. He was associated with the paper for the next 20 years, eventually becoming the publisher. Legend is that it never missed an issue, not even during the Civil War when newsprint was not to be had. Lindheimer printed on butcher paper, wrapping paper, and leftover paper from his plant-preserving supplies.

Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung (New Braunfels, Tex.), Vol. 1, No. 16, Ed. 1 Friday, February 25, 1853

In 1872 Lindheimer ended his association with the paper to devote more time to his work as a naturalist. He is credited with discovering several hundred plant species and his name is used to designate forty eight species and subspecies of plants and one species of snake. ( I really wanted to put a picture of the snake here but was advised that some people don’t like reptiles as much as I do. Sigh)

In 1879 his essays and memoirs were published under the title Aufsätze und Abhandlungen.

Lindheimer died on December 2, 1879, and was buried in New Braunfels. His grave is registered on The Historical Marker Database and his house on Comal Street in New Braunfels, is a museum, a Registered Texas Historic Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Lindheimer’s plant collections can be found in at least twenty institutions, including the Missouri Botanical Gardens, the British Museum, the Durand Herbarium and Museum of Natural History in Paris, the Harvard University Herbaria, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Komarov Botanic Institute in St. Petersburg

Want to learn more about Ferdinand Lindheimer?,shows%20up%20in%20people%27s%20houses.