Boerne Chapter

People Names in Native-Plant Names, Part VIII – the Female Factor

Author: Bill Ward

Lindheimer, Engelmann, Berlandier, Drummond, Roemer – all familiar surnames of early botanists, who are honored in the names of our native plants. All are male. Were there any women botanists involved in early Texas botany? The answer is yes, a few.

By the late 1700s, it was recognized that the science of botany was well within the female comprehension. The “higher” societies of Europe came to accept botany as a scientific avocation suitable for women. Through the Nineteenth Century, women became increasingly more important to the growth of botanical science in both Europe and North America, even though most of the female botanists were not professionals.

One such self-taught botanist was Maud Jeannie Fuller Young, who wrote the first textbook on Texas botany, “Familiar Lessons in Botany, with Flora of Texas,” in 1873.

Maud Jeannie was born Matilda Jane Fuller in North Carolina in 1826. When she was 17, her family settled in Houston. Four years later she married Dr. Samuel Young, who died before the birth of their son. Mrs. Young wrote poems, essays, and fiction that was published in Houston newspapers and various magazines. She was a staunch supporter of the Confederacy and was known as the Mother of Hood’s Brigade.

Mrs. Young had a deep interest in botany, and she was the Texas state botanist in 1872-1873. After her death in 1882, her son took her herbarium of Texas ferns and flowering plants to his home in Galveston, where the collection was lost during the hurricane of 1900.

As far as I can tell, no native plants were named for Mrs. M. J.Young, but another woman named Young did receive that honor. Mary Sophie Young (1872-1919) was one of the first botanists at the University of Texas, and her botanical collections had a significant role in starting the highly respected University of Texas herbarium.

Mary was born in Ohio, the last child and only daughter of eight children. Tramps through the countryside with her brothers contributed to the strength of character and toughness in the field that would serve her well in later years. After receiving a BA from Wellesley College in 1895, Mary taught high school in Missouri, Illinois, and Wisconsin. While still teaching high school in Wisconsin, she began graduate work at the University of Chicago, eventually earning her MS and PhD in botany.

Dr. Mary Young arrived at the University of Texas at Austin in 1910. Reportedly, she was an outstanding teacher. She took her students on plant-collecting trips east to the Blackland Prairies and west to the Edwards Plateau. Later she took longer collecting trips during the summers, covering a wide range of Texas vegetation regions from East Texas to the Trans Pecos to the Panhandle. In those days she had to endure the summer hikes in heavy, ankle-length skirts.

She corresponded with well-known botanists and traded specimens with other herbariums around the country, helping build the reputation of the University of Texas herbarium. Thousands of her specimens are included in the present collection at the Plant Resources Center at the University of Texas. Mary Young died of cancer in 1919 at the young age of 46.

Three new taxa came from her collections, and the name of one honors her, Young’s snowbell (Styrax youngiae). This species (now subspecies of S. platanifolius) is known only from where Mary Young collected it in the Davis Mountains. It is listed as a Texas endangered species.

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About the Region

New Braunfels, the location of our Fall 2024 Symposium, straddles both the Edwards Plateau Ecoregion and the Blackland Prairie ecoregion. Interstate 35 divides the city of New Braunfels; its path through the city closely parallels the boundary of these two ecoregions, with the Edwards Plateau on the west side and the Blackland Prairies region to the east. The Edwards Plateau area is also called the Hill Country; however, this general term covers a much larger area extending farther north. Spring-fed creeks are found throughout the region; deep limestone canyons, rivers, and lakes (reservoirs) are common. Ashe juniper is perhaps the most common woody species found throughout the region. Additional woody species include various species of oak, with live oak (Quercus fusiformis) being the most common. Sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) border waterways. This area is well known for its spring wildflower displays, though they may be viewed in spring, late summer, and fall, as well. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, average annual rainfall in the Edwards Plateau ranges from 15 to 34 inches.

The Blackland Prairie extends from the Red River south to San Antonio, bordered on the west by the Edwards Plateau and the Cross Timbers, and on the east by the Post Oak Savannah. Annual rainfall averages 30 to 40 inches, with higher averages to the east. This region is dominated by prairie species. The most common grass species include little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) in the uplands and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) in the riparian areas and drainages. Common herbaceous flowering plants include salvias, penstemons, and silphiums. This area has suffered greatly from overgrazing and agricultural use. Few intact areas remain, though many of the plants can be found along county roadsides throughout the region.

Our four host chapters (New Braunfels, Lindheimer, Guadalupe, and the Hill Country chapters) are located in one or both of the ecoregions above. However, the eastern portion of Guadalupe County also falls within the Post Oak Savanna ecoregion. Annual rainfall averages 35 to 45 inches, with higher averages to the east. A wide variety of hardwood trees are found, including several species of oaks, elms, and in the Bastrop area, loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). Grasses and forbs dominate in the open savannas, with most common grass being little bluestem. Ranching, agriculture, and fire suppression have allowed woody species to encroach on the once-open savannas.

Source: Wildflowers of Texas by Michael Eason