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Colorado Flora of Charles Parry
Photos and text ©by Al Schneider
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Charles Christopher Parry, 1823-1890, was a highly respected doctor, explorer, and naturalist; a member of the Mexican Boundary Survey (1849-1852); the first botanist in the United States Department of Agriculture (1869-1871); and an acclaimed botanical collector and taxonomist in the mid-west, Colorado, and other western states for forty-eight years.  Parry collected for the advancement of science, for the encouragement of horticulture, for the settling of the new lands he had explored, and, of course, for his own pleasure. 

Charles Parry

National Library of Medicine Photo

Parry was born in England, came to the United States in 1832, earned a medical degree at Columbia, and then for a few years practiced medicine in Davenport, Iowa, where he had moved with his family in 1846.   For the rest of his life, Parry considered Davenport his home: he lived there with his first wife, Sarah (who died in child birth after five years of marriage) and with his second wife, Emily, from 1859 until his death in 1890.

But Davenport was often more of a home to return to than a home continuously lived in.  Parry's love of plants led him, just a few years after moving to Davenport, to join the Mexican Boundary Survey as both surgeon and botanist, and for the rest of his life, Parry seasonally wandered the West as an avid botanist. 

Parry was at the forefront of 19th century botany; he met and maintained relationships with all of the great botanists of his time: In 1845 at college, Parry studied under John Torrey, the foremost American botanist of the 19th century.  In 1848 Parry spent time with George Engelmann learning the botanical trade. (Engelmann was an eminent doctor, botanist, and teacher, and the founding botanist of the Missouri Botanical Garden).  In 1870 in England he met Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. (It was Hooker who in 1878 called Parry, "King of Colorado Botany".)  In 1872 he led his friend, the great botanist Asa Gray (who was John Torrey's student and the second giant of 19th century American botany) to the top of Gray's Peak to formalize the name Parry had given it.

Parry’s joy in botanical collecting began in the Davenport area soon after he arrived there; but it was in 1861 that he found his foremost love: the alpine flora of Colorado.  He devoted all of the summer of 1861 to collecting in Colorado, amassing a collection of over 417 species.  In the summer of 1862 he led eastern farmers and sometimes collectors, Elihu Hall and J. P. Harbour, on a Colorado collecting expedition which gathered ten sets of over 700 species. This remains, according to William Weber, "the largest [collection ever] made in Colorado in a single season".  Asa Gray, who described the collection, said, "[it] is full, excellent, and of great interest".

Parry was "the first resident Colorado botanist" (Weber's words).  On and off for twenty years Parry spent his summers in a cabin at the base of Gray and Torrey's peaks. He named not only these two peaks but many others, including Mount Eva Peak (for his wife), Mount Engelmann, James Peak, Mount Guyot, Mount Flora, and Parry’s Peak. And, of course, he collected voraciously on the flanks and summits of all these peaks.  Weber says, "Through the distribution of his botanical collections he introduced the Colorado flora to the world".

As was true of many people of his time, Parry was a believer in the westward expansion of the Unites States, perhaps even a believer in the contested and highly controversial doctrine of Manifest Destiny. Certainly Parry wanted his discoveries to be put to practical use; he wanted his discoveries of the beauties of Colorado to entice others to come to Colorado and "build a mountain empire".  To reach the widest possible audience, Parry not only wrote of his travels and discoveries in scientific publications but, even more often, in newspapers and popular magazines.

Parry’s personal collection of over 18,000 specimens came from numerous trips:  early and later years in the north-central U.S.,  many years in California, railroad surveys, Utah and Wyoming expeditions, trips along the U.S.-Mexican border, and his numerous Colorado collecting trips.  His collection is now housed in the Ada Hayden Herbarium at Iowa State University which also houses his papers.  See http://www.lib.iastate.edu/spcl/manuscripts/MS290.html .

Parry collected over 30,000 specimens during his lifetime; he authored numerous articles, and he provided important material for Watson, Brewer, and Gray’s Botany of California, the first such scientific botanical endeavor for that state. 

In Colorado, Parry collected about one hundred species new to science.  Seventeen of these species are shown in the photo show below. Dozens of species outside of Colorado and seventy-six species in Colorado were named for the King.

The above information comes from numerous on-line sources and William Weber’s book, King of Colorado Botany, Charles Christopher Parry.  I thank Dr. Weber for reviewing this article.

 


Arnica

Arnica parryi


Arnica

Arnica parryi


Camissonia

Camissonia walkeri


Camissonia

Camissonia walkeri


Campanula

Campanula parryi


Campanula

Campanula parryi


Clementsia

Rhodiola rhodantha


Clementsia

Rhodiola rhodantha


Erigeron

Erigeron elatior


Erigeron

Erigeron elatior


Erigeron

Erigeron elatior


Erigeron

Erigeron leiomerus


Erigeron
Erigeron leiomerus


Erigeron

Erigeron leiomerus


Geranium

Geranium caespitosum


Ligularia

Senecio amplectens


Ligularia

Senecio amplectens


Lomatium

Lomatium parryi


Lomatium

Lomatium parryi


Lomatium

Lomatium parryi


Oreochrysum

Oreochrysum parryi

Pedicularis

Pedicularis parryi

Penstemon

Penstemon harbourii

Penstemon

Penstemon harbourii

Phlox

Phlox condensata


Phlox

Phlox condensata


Picea

Picea engelmannii


Picea

Picea engelmannii


Picea

Picea engelmannii

Pneumonanthe
Gentiana parryi


Polemonium

Polemonium foliosissimum


Polemonium
Polemonium foliosissimum




Polemonium

Polemonium foliosissimum



Primula

Primula parryi



Primula

Primula parryi



Pyrrocoma
Pyrrocoma crocea



Pyrrocoma
Pyrrocoma crocea



Pyrrocoma
Pyrrocoma crocea


Symphoricarpos
Symphoricarpos rotundifolius



Symphoricarpos
Symphoricarpos rotundifolius


Trifolium
Trifolium parryi


Trifolium
Trifolium parryi


Trollius
Trollius albiflorus



Trollius
Trollius albiflorus



Trollius
Trollius albiflorus