Sunday, February 5, 2012

Jane Colden

Born in New York, Jane was the daughter of Cadwallader Colden, a scientist and governor of New York (1761–76). Educated by her father as a botanist, by 1757 she had catalogued more than 300 native North American plants, using the Linnaean system. She corresponded with European scientists and discovered and named the gardenia. In 1759, she married Dr. William Farquhar; the remaining years of her life were spent in domestic duties. Her work on plant classification was published posthumously in 1770.

Jane Colden (March 27, 1724 – March 10, 1766) was an American botanist described as the "first botanist of her sex in her country" by Asa Gray in 1843. Contemporary scholarship maintains that she was the first female botanist working in America.

Colden was born in New York City, her father Cadwallader Colden was a physician who trained at the University of Edinburgh and became involved in the politics and management of New York after arriving in the city. She was educated at home and her father provided her with botanical training following the new system of classification developed by Carolus Linnaeus.

Between 1753 and 1758 Jane Colden catalogued New York's flora, compiling specimens and information on more than 300 species of plants from the lower Hudson River Valley, and classifying then according to the system developed by Linnaeus. She developed a technique for making ink impressions of leaves, and was also a skilled illustrator. She went on to study the gardenia. Through her father she met and corresponded with many leading naturalists of the time.

Colden's original manuscript describing the flora of New York is held in the British Museum.

A plant sanctuary in her honor was established in the late 1990s at Knox's Headquarters State Historic Site in New Windsor, near where she lived and worked.

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