A wealth of observations and commentary on the wild plants of Concord, Massachusetts lies strewn on the pages of Henry Thoreau's Journal. For those who approach Thoreau primarily as social critic, poet, philosopher, or prose writer his preoccupation in the Journal with Concord's flora is only so much chaff to be winnowed out. But for others who approach Thoreau as naturalist or who seek the whole Thoreau this "chaff" is just as wholesome as the grain.
Considering the extent to which the Journal is permeated with botany, it is surprising that to date no detailed account of Thoreau's sojourn into this realm of science has been published. The essay contained in the present work is intended to remedy this lack. While most readers will be concerned only with the role botany played in the life of Thoreau and in his writings, many others will value his botanical observations and notes for their own sake, in addition to what they might reveal about the man.
Several barriers presently frustrate modern readers in their attempt to access and understand the botanical information buried in the Journal. First, the only existing index, that of the 1906 edition, makes but a halfhearted attempt to gather and interpret Thoreau's references to plants. Second, the identity of many citations has been obscured by changes in scientific nomenclature since Thoreau's time and since 1906. Third, many of the common names used by Thoreau are obsolete or are peculiar to him. Some of these common names are applied to other species in modern guides and manuals, creating much confusion. To remove these obstacles and provide the key to Thoreau's botanical lore, the present work has been compiled.
This index is the first systematic collection of plant names used by Thoreau in his Journal. Specifically, all references to wild or ornamental vascular plants have been gathered. This includes wild flowers, ferns, trees, shrubs, grasses, and sedges but not mosses, lichens, mushrooms, fungi, or crop plants. Thoreau's names have been translated into modern common and scientific names and cross-referenced. Starting with a modern common name or scientific name, all page references in the Journal may be found for a given species using this index.
The uses for a reference work of this kind are various. The flora of Concord comprises a large proportion of the flora of New England which in turn comprises a large proportion of the flora of the northeastern United States. Consequently, a large readership is enabled to relate more readily to the very same floral phenomena that inspired Thoreau. Students of historical ecology are provided with an avenue to gauge the abundance or scarcity of a multitude of species for eastern Massachusetts in the 1850s. Writers seeking a Thoreauvian gem about a particular flower with which to inlay their art, or naturalists seeking a new observation about their favorite shrub, will now have a road map to every corner of the Journal volumes.
Finally, this index should prove indispensable in the location of current stations for many uncommon or locally rare plants in Concord. For those of us privileged to tread the same woodland paths and penetrate the same swamps and bogs that were Henry Thoreau's haunts over a century ago, this index will be the key to revealing how much of what he knew remains to be appreciated by the present generation. It is this last use that provided the primary motivation for the compilation of the index.
I wish to thank Mary Walker, with whom the idea for a botanical index to Thoreau's Journal originated, and who generously permitted use of her reference library. Dorian Kottler rendered invaluable service with her expert proofreading. Cynthia Walker kindly made available her electric typewriter. I am grateful for the use of reference materials at the Concord Free Public Library, in particular for the assistance of reference librarian Marcia Moss. Thanks also go to the New England Botanical Club for use of the Thoreau specimens in their herbarium. Lastly, I am very appreciative of the access permitted to Thoreau's herbarium by the Gray Herbarium Library of Harvard University.
[Botanical Index Home] [Author's Home Page] [Top of Page]
-- Revised: April 25, 2008
Created by: Ray Angelo