Exploring Nature Online!

By Kendall Hallberg

Well Quarantine Vibes ™ have some of us traveling only via the internet and we are finding some pretty cool things available. Some of my favorite sites to explore are projects like the National Park Foundation’s Virtual Tours and the National Museum of Natural History’s Find me in the Butterfly Pavilion. Those are maybe slightly more exciting than bird watching from my window (but having a window has been really nice since it has proven rare in my career history). I may have gotten very excited about spotting a tufted titmouse and have an ongoing issue with a cardinal that likes to sing loudly right outside my window at 4:30AM. (Can you tell I may be missing my co-workers?)

While looking for things to do, remember that Digital Collections has been adding materials online for the past 15 years and it is very cool stuff! It encompasses all sorts of topics, from postcards to civil rights, to geography, woman’s history, politics and war. There is definitely something for everyone. I especially enjoy illustrations and natural history, so I went and searched for an interesting collection relating to that. The Ethelind Pope Brown Collection of South Carolina Natural History is one of the earliest works, outside of Mark Catesby’s Natural History, that illustrated South Carolina’s Natural History. While the artist is unknown, it is believed to be John Laurens (you can read more about this on the collection’s page). Many of the same species can be seen in both collections and comparing their interpretations has been a fun outlet for me. I’ve included two very similar birds below, one by Mark Catesby and the other from the Ethelind Pope Brown Collection.

Whether it is online or outside, make sure you get a dose of nature and let us know what you find!

Mark Catesby’s Northern Flicker
Mark Catesby’s Northern Flicker
Pope Brown’s Woodpecker
Pope Brown’s Woodpecker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food, Glorious Food!

By Kendall Hallberg

Catesby’s “Natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Isles” was created for an interested European audience. Many of the plants and animals of the New World were completely unknown to them as a three-month long trip didn’t make America very accessible. Catesby’s unique work was one of the first that pictured animals together with the plants that dominated their habitats. By virtue of this, there are quite a few well-loved and delicious foods alongside a few that you may not be familiar with.

Let’s start with a crowd favorite: Chocolate. By the time Catesby was creating these books (think early 1700s), chocolate had made its way into the hearts of Europeans. However, they still would not have known how this plant was cultivated. While Spanish and French colonies were producing chocolate, Catesby wanted to encourage cultivation of “this excellent tree” by the English (Catesby, 1731, p.6). While publishing his work on the Carolinas, Florida, and the Bahamas, he also collected accounts and made illustrations that he knew would be of interest.  This reasoning is why we also have the addition of Mexican Vanilla. While Mexican vanilla has since been introduced to regions in the United States and Territories, Catesby likely wouldn’t have come across it in his day. In fact, Catesby says, “With this fruit the Spaniards perfume their chocolate . . . This perfume is so little agreeable to an English palate, that it is rarely made use of any more in our American Plantations than at home, and therefore not cultivated by us” (Catesby, 1731). Can you imagine? Another plant that Catesby includes is the Cashew. It is included both as a curiosity as well as a correction upon the work of previous naturalists which illustrated the growth of the plant incorrectly. The inclusion of all three of these plants work to elucidate European audiences with what they may be familiar with, but misunderstandings of their nature still existed.

Catesby wasn’t just recording plants with popularity in Europe, he also exposed his audience to the many plants the New World had to offer; some more familiar to us than others. First, there is the Sweet Potato. Catesby’s descriptions of all the potatoes in America speaks to their general greatness. We, in South Carolina, are also very familiar with Persimmons as a common fruiting tree. Whether they are eaten fresh or dried, they are quite delicious as Catesby would attest. A bit less familiar is Yaupon. It’s in the holly family and can be brewed into tea though it has a rather unfortunate scientific name, Ilex vomitoria. This name links back to Yaupon’s traditional medicinal use by Indigenous people to detoxify, but the plant itself does not cause vomiting. It’s more like a relative, Yerba Mate, in flavor (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. 2016). Last, but not least, the Pawpaw or sometimes called a custard-apple. Discovering this in Catesby’s work was my first time learning about this fruit. However, if I go by Catesby’s word, it might not be that delicious. He describes, “All Parts of the Tree have a rank, if not a [fetid] Smell; nor is the Fruit relished but by very few” (Catesby, 1731, p.85). There are plenty of other native plants that may or may not be delicious, but these are just a few. To discover more, join me next time as I explore other Natural Histories from our collections! (aka browsing the library in pajamas? Fun!)

 

References

  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. (2016). Ilex vomitoria. Retrieved from: https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=ILVO
  • Catesby, M. (1731). The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands: Containing the figures of birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, insects, and plants : particularly the forest-trees, shrubs, and other plants, not hitherto described, or very incorrectly figured by authors : together with their descriptions in English and French, to which, are added observations on the air, soil, and waters, with remarks upon agriculture, grain, pulse, roots, &c. : to the whole, is prefixed a new and correct map of the countries treated of. London: Printed at the expence of the author, and sold by W. Innys and R. Manby, at the West End of St. Paul’s, by Mr. Hauksbee, at the Royal Society House, and by the author, at Mr. Bacon’s in Hoxton.

Catesby’s Insight on Extinct and Endangered Animals

By Kendall Hallberg

Mark Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahamas is an important resource for studying the animals and habitats living in these areas. Catesby’s works are some of the only remaining sources we have for many now rare and extinct animals. These historical records continue to be a valuable resource in discovering and protecting our biodiversity.

Over a hundred years ago, the Passenger Pigeon went from being the most numerous bird in America to complete extinction. Descriptions of these birds highlight the enormity of their numbers saying, “Throughout the 19th century, witnesses had described . . . sightings of pigeon migrations: how they took hours to pass over a single spot, darkening the firmament and rendering normal conversation inaudible” (Yeoman 2014). Catesby echoes this in saying that their numbers were so great “that in some places where they roost, which they do on one another’s backs, they often break down the limbs of Oaks with their weight, and leave their dung some inches thick under the trees they roost on” (Catesby, 1731, p.23). Sadly, these birds were hunted to extinction with the last one dying in captivity in 1914 (Yeoman, 2014).

Around the same time that the world lost the Passenger Pigeon, the Carolina Parakeet also became extinct. Carolina Parakeets were sighted and described by Catesby and much later by John James Audubon. While these birds were once numerous in many areas in North America, they are no longer. “What’s more, scientists don’t know what really drove these parakeets to extinction. Some thought it was habitat loss. Some thought it was hunting and trapping. Some thought disease.” (Burgio, 2018). Catesby cites that, “The orchards in autumn are visited by numerous flights of them; where they make great destruction for their kernels only”, which is a supporting argument for hunting and trapping due to damages as a means of extinction (Catseby, 1731, p.11). Interesting fact: both Martha, the last know Passenger Pigeon, and the last captive Carolina Parakeet were held by the Cincinnati Zoo.

Right click on image to see it full size.

Catesby’s descriptions can give us insight into the history of many unique animals. For example, not extinct, but categorized as endangered, is the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, which has nearly disappeared since the time of Catesby’s works. Though there have not been any conclusive sightings of the woodpecker in 73 years, the species is still categorized as critically endangered (Donahue, 2017). Birds are not the only species recorded by Catesby to have found themselves in dire straits. He also included a few sea turtles in his works that are all now categorized as vulnerable or worse.  The Loggerhead, Green, and Hawksbill sea turtles are illustrated and described in Catesby’s Natural History. Hawksbill sea turtles in particular are critically endangered due to threats from habitat loss and illegal trade (NOAA Fisheries, n.d.). Catesby’s accounts of these creatures may hold valuable information about cultural practices and environmental causes for their decline.

While it is sad to learn about the demise of these species, it is also incredible that we have Catesby’s accounts to reference and learn about their significance. The animals mentioned above are not the only ones that Catesby identified that have become endangered, but just the few that I chose to focus on. Coming up, I plan to share more about the incredible (and sometimes rare) animals and plants captured in their environments by Catesby.

 

References