Thursday, December 4, 2014

Spring Grove Cemetery and the Braun sisters

The impressive entrance to Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati. When passing through these battleship-like gates you know you've arrived somewhere of note. Of course, for most of the residents it's a one-way street.

I was down here recently for a meeting, and we allowed enough time to tour some of the sights. Spring Grove is the largest cemetery in Ohio, at over 700 acres, and it is probably considered as much park as cemetery. It harks back to the olden days, when cemeteries were used for picnics, weddings, and nice oases free from the hustle and bustle of the city.

We had some knowledgeable guides for our foray into the cemtery, including Ned Keller and Kathy McDonald, Judy Ganance, and Solomon Gamboa. When you're dealing with small roads winding in an abstract fashion through 700 acres, it takes a while to learn the lay of the land.

But thanks to our guides, we were able to navigate directly to some of the cemetery's highlights, including the massive white oak, Quercus alba, in this photo. It utterly dwarfs our group. The tree is several hundred years old. Although it is not the state champion (largest of its species), Spring Grove does boast an incredible 19 state champs, some native trees, some not.

Your narrator at the final resting place of two of Ohio's most accomplished biologists, the Braun sisters, Annette and Lucy. I had only visited Spring Grove a few times prior, and never had had time to track this spot down. This time, we knew right where to go and made the pilgrimage to the Braun's final resting spot a priority. Quite fittingly, their graves lie in the shadow of that massive oak in the previous photo.

Although purely coincidental, I am sure, the look and placement of the tombstones mirrors the sisters' real life relationship. By all accounts, Lucy was more forceful and dominant, while Annette was laid back and soft-spoken. Lucy's headstone is bolder, and placed just ahead of Annette's paler, less conspicuous marker. 

Emma Lucy Braun, 1889-1971. She was, without doubt, one of Ohio's - and North America's - preeminent botanists. Lucy began operating at a time when women scarcely had a toehold in the biological sciences, and their involvement was not often encouraged. None of this would have mattered a whit to Lucy, with her forceful personality, and I'm quite sure she would have been successful at whatever she had put her considerable mind to.

Lucy had many publications and other accomplishments to her credit, but this book is undoubtedly her most famous work. Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America was published in 1950 and instantly became the gold standard of eastern forest ecology. It remains highly relevant to this day.

Lucy Braun wrote three other books, and at published at least 180 papers and articles over her career. But probably first and foremost, she was a FIELD biologist - something that unfortunately is becoming a lost art these days. She reveled in exploring the wilds, finding and learning plants, and attempting to figure out the big picture. That's why her magnum opus, the Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America, is such a standout. In it, Lucy adroitly synthesized all of her years of field work and knowledge into a coherent dissection of a big and complicated subject.

Along the way, she discovered a number of new plants or varieties thereof, with perhaps the most famous being the rockhouse white snakeroot, Ageratina luciae-brauniae. B.E. Wofford, who elevated this taxon to species level in 1976 - other botanists had probably incorrectly treated it as a variety of another species - left no doubt about who deserved credit for the species' discovery with his choice of scientific epithet.

The gorgeous plant in this photo is greek valerian, Polemonium reptans L. var. villosum E.L. Braun. Lucy first recognized this distinctive variety and published it, hence her authorship behind the varietal name. Braun's greek valerian is a rather rare and local plant in Ohio, but it can easily be found in Shawnee State Forest, which is where I made this photograph.

Amazingly, Annette was probably even more productive than her dynamo sister, although she sometimes gets lost in Lucy's large shadow. Annette often accompanied Lucy on her field trips, and many of those were to the prairies of Adams County, Ohio, which is a biological wonderland. Annette's thing was moths, specifically the microlepidopterans (really little moths!). Her accomplishments in this little studied realm were staggering. Annette described some 335 moth species to science, and published scores of scientific papers, including four major monographs. In the world of lepidoptera, she was a true giant.

I made this image of this tiny caterpillar in one of Lucy and Annette's beloved Adams County prairies back on July 25, 2012, and the obscure larva ties together the two sister's interests nicely. The animal is known as Ethmia longimaculella, and it is in a group of moths that was of great interest to Annette. The caterpillar feeds on a plant that surely caught Lucy's eye, the false gromwell, Onosmodium molle, which for us in Ohio at least, is a rather rare prairie inhabitant. Lucy would have examined the plant, while Annette studied its larval predators.

1 comment:

Brent Kryda said...

I've studied botany, particularly phytogeography and paleobotany, for about 15 years now, and have never read the book. Thanks for the point in that direction! I think I'll link this post in my blog.