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Nursery and Seed Catalogs: Carl Purdy and the Bulbs and Wild Flowers of California

The collection, one of the largest in the Americas, provides a remarkable resource for detailed images and information on the history of American commercial printing, business, marketing, consumption, technology, food culture, and design.

Carl Purdy and the Bulbs and Wild Flowers of California


The Lily Man of Ukiah

This LibGuide explores the nursery catalogs and professional career of Carl Purdy, who despite his loss of sight in one eye due to a childhood accident saw and understood the flora of California with an unmatched acuity. As a child, Purdy was brought west in a covered wagon train. As a young man he regularly rode stagecoaches to his appointments during the last decades of the nineteenth century. He survived the great earthquake in San Francisco in 1906 and helped to showcase the new San Francisco to the world. He was fluent in Spanish and several Native American dialects. His legacy is a better appreciation of the unique plant life in California.  

At the New York Botanical Garden on a Saturday afternoon, November 22, 1930, during a lecture illustrated with seventy five color lantern slides, Carl Purdy (1861-1945) of Ukiah, California, shared with his audience his observations on the threats to populations of native bulbs and flowers in the State of California.


Carl Purdy, January 1901. Image source: Land of Sunshine Vol 14 No 1 (1901) public domain copyright expired

He remarked that when he first arrived in California in 1870 wild flowers were everywhere, but as civilization came to California these flowers diminished. Very large areas which were then natural have been transformed into orchards, vineyards and other crops. Areas of the state where sheep or cattle are closely herded have killed large populations of native flowers. A third cause is the cutting of forests which then reseed very densely with large grassy land which in turn are transformed into dense areas of brush, so dense that the flowers cannot live there. He explained that some forest loving flowers have in places disappeared because of the new brushlands. A fourth cause for the decrease in native flowers is the introduction of invasive species from the Mediterranean with Foxtail grasses crowding out everything else. On the other hand Purdy was careful to reveal that civilization has sometimes favored the proliferation of some native flowers.  In one location over 10,000 Lilium humboldtii had sprouted up after man had cleared the forest, opening up the land and creating favorable conditions for that species.  On one field trip with Luther Burbank (1849-1926), Purdy told his audience he had located 300 acres of Camassias growing naturally in the bed of a drained lake. In another location on the edge of the Mojave Desert he discovered a field of California poppies, Eschscholzia californica, over five miles long. On still another occasion, acting on information from his friend Willis Linn Jepson (1867-1946), author of the Flora of California or Jepson's Manual, Purdy had discovered a field of yellow Baeria chrysostoma flowers eleven miles long. Purdy concluded by noting that California is home to a wide variety of native plants, with cacti and succulents in the arid regions, alpine plants in the high mountains, and other varieties near the sea coast. 


California's native plants are epitomized by this grove of Torrey pines on Santa Rosa Island Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons 

The botantical biodiversity of California is astounding.  Botantists estimate that there are more than 7,000 native vascular plant species in California with about twenty five pecent categorized as endemics meaning that the species are not found elsewhere. Although David Douglas had, decades before, found and described in his famous journal many of the beautiful wild bulbs of the Pacific Coast; gardeners elsewhere had long since abandoned their cultivation as impossible. It was Carl Purdy more than any other individual who educated the American gardening public about the ecology, habits, cultivation and diversity of California plants and bulbs. Through countless lectures, numerous published articles, attendance at scientific meetings, and most importantly in the text and images of his catalogs, Purdy revealed the detailed cultural requirements of these previously obscure species making them practical to grow in the gardens of Europe and America. He was well known to botantists on both sides of the Atlantic. In America he wrote many articles particularly for Charles Sprague Sargent's prestigious New York based weekly journal Garden and Forest and in England he was a regular contributor to William Robinson's The Garden (London), an illustrated weekly journal of horticulture. Both journals are available at the Mertz Library.

Carl Purdy is recognized as one of the early pioneers of California native bulbs and plants. Marjorie Schmidt (1905-1989) wrote in her classic book Growing California Native Plants (1980) that "Carl Purdy had a deep interest in native bulbs and his writing and nursery business helped Californians become interested in the best of these plants." [2d edition, 2012 University of California Press, p.6] In her book Schmidt affirmed the conclusions of Carl Purdy's New York Botanical Garden lecture of 1930 when fifty years later she wrote: "Today this unique flora, which gives the California landscape much of its distinctive beauty and attraction, is threatened. The rapid increase in population and land development has changed and disrupted the habitat of all wildlife, particularly of wild plants. Inflated land values and lack of planning for the future have complicated efforts to protect native species, and much has been lost from the once extensive and glorious flora of California. We can never replace such losses, but we can protect and encourage the use of our remaining treasure of native plants."  [1980 edition, University of California Press, p.1]

Now more than three decades after the publication of Schmidt's book the fate of many species of California's flora continues to be uncertain as evidenced by this 2014 list of the threatened, endangered and rare plants of California available here.


Mariposa or Butterfly Tulips Carl Purdy Nursery Catalog [Mertz Library]        


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Both Luther Burbank (left) and Willis Linn Jepson (right) were friends of Carl Purdy    [Images are in public domain copyright expired]

Carl Purdy was the subject of an exhibition at the Mendocino County Museum "A Passion for Plants and Place: Carl Purdy of Mendocino County" April 16, 2011 to March 18, 2012

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Photograph from the Mendocino County Museum exhibition by Kiersten Hanna Frey. Ukiah is the county seat of Mendocino County, located in northern coastal California.

Purdy's unmatched knowledge of California native plants and bulbs are also documented in the text and images of his nusery's plant and seed catalogs. These catalogs, for many years a distinguished resource of the New York Botanical Garden's LuEster T. Mertz Library, have recently been digitized and cataloged by library staff and may be accessed here

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The art of A.R. Valentien decorated the covers of Carl Purdy's nursery catalogs [Mertz Library]

Carl Purdy was born on March 16, 1861 in a log house in Dansville, Michigan.  In 1870, at the age of nine, Purdy's family moved to Mendocino County, California where he lived for the remaining 75 years of his life. In 1878 the teenage Carl Purdy was hiking with his sister, who was recovering from tuberculosis, through the oak woods that surrounded his parent's ranch in Ukiah, California. On the brown forest floor he noticed some small glowing paper lantern like yellow flowers. Attracted by their color and shape he dug up some of the plants discovering in the process that the flower grew from a bulb. He soon learned that the flower, commonly called a fairy lantern, was a type of wild lily and a member of a family of plants that botantists identified as the genus Calochortus. That small graceful bulb brightly glowing on the forest floor transformed young Carl's future. The flowers of California had lured into their web of blooms a man who would learn their habits and surroundings as no one had before him and introduce them to the gardening world.

Carl sent the bulb to a plant dealer in New Jersey who promised to pay him $1.50 for each 100 bulbs he could send. The dealer was Woolson & Co., of Passaic, New Jersey; the firm's 1883 catalog includes a dozen species of Calochortus bulbs collected by Purdy. The Woolson catalog has been digitized by Mertz Library staff and may be accessed here.  Purdy would go on to establish a major nursery company specializing in the native plants and flowers of California especially its bulbs. His firm, at its peak of production, harvested over half a million native bulbs from the wild per year for export to dealers around the globe. 

Toward the last years of his life (1940) Carl Purdy wrote an autobiography entitled My Life and My Times. The book contains many colorful episodes from his personal and professional life. In the book, Purdy vividly describes the art and science of native bulb collecting in the countryside of California. This collecting work involved arduous field trips lasting weeks with collectors crisscrossing the often gorgeous primitive landscape of rural California in search of their prize. Purdy wrote: "for many years the romantic side of my life, especially the gypsy life of the collector, had attracted young men and women and I have been deluged with requests that they be given employment. Now I knew too well that along with the romantic side, there is a good big stratum of hard work and monotony and I feared that these young assistants would not last. So as a rule, I have turned a deaf ear to them and found some excuse short of turning them down cold. Several times I have failed to do this and have had the most interesting people with me." One who stands out among the many apprentices who appeared at Purdy's doorstep looking for employment was the diminutive and not so young at age forty eight  Edith Van Allan Murphey.  A former New York librarian turned California rancher  turned Purdy disciple her amazing story is told in the righthand column of this LibGuide.

Even while alive Purdy's harvesting practices were criticized by some as leading to the depletion of California's population of native bulbs and flowers.  "Purdy disagreed, explaining that his technique (the same approach used by the Native Americans in their harvest of bulbs for food) of separating the smaller bulbs and replanting them, in fact, ensured greater growth and volume of future plants." [Mendocino County Museum "A Passion for Plants & Place, p.9] Rather, Purdy blamed livestock grazing, invasive grasses, and lack of brush clearing fire as described in his 1930 lecture at the New York Botanical Garden for the loss of California's wild flowers.


Erythroniums from the 1937Carl Purdy catalog

Carl Purdy's unprecedented knowledge of California's flora was acquired through acute observation and ardous field work rather than from formal academic training. Without an advanced degree in botany he methodically read the relevant botanical literature, corresponded and met with scientists and meticulously observed the ecology and biology of California's profoundly diverse plant life.  Purdy's background and indefatigable personality was similar to another Californian, a man who would become a world wide media celebrity and who fascinated the American public as has no other botantist either before or since, the Wizard of Santa Rosa, Luther Burbank.

In 1891 Carl Purdy and Luther Burbank met and became good friends. They shared a great admiration for each other's work. Their deep and genuine friendship would last until Burbank's death in 1926. Burbank, whose home was in Santa Rosa about fifty miles south of Ukiah, often exchanged bulbs and plants with Purdy. Purdy, unlike Burbank, didn't hybridize plants but instead gathered plants and bulbs, particularly native lilies, on his field trips throughout Northern California. Purdy would then propagate these bulbs and sell them by the thousands to Eastern and European nurseries. In one year alone, he sold 5,000 Calochortus bulbs to the John Lewis Childs Nursery of Floral Park, Long Island. [Pacific Horticulture, Burbank's Hybrid West Coast Lilies, July, 2011] Luther Burbank admired Carl Purdy enough to reprint a testimonial from Purdy on the front cover of Burbank's 1899 catalog. 

By 1900 Purdy had acquired a tract of 180 acres of land upon which he built his home, extensive gardens, and his nursery business. He called his grounds "The Terraces." Each year, on the first page of his annual California native bulbs and plants catalog, Purdy proudly greeted his customers with a printed photograph of "The Terraces." Purdy's talents as a writer were never more gloriously on display than in the word painting he provided to his audience of gardeners as he described the magnificent scenery of his beloved "Terraces" and its suitability for the cultivation of California's native bulbs and plants.


The Terraces - An Introduction

Purdy wrote: "At 'The Terraces' a favorable climate, abundant spring water, rich and varying soils and a great variety of exposures combine to make ideal conditions for this class of gardening.  From a scenic point of view, "The Terraces" are probably the most unique gardens in the world. Large springs feed a mountain stream, which passes through a rich valley, and then, over four limestone bluffs in succession, each from 50 to 75 feet high, it plunges in many most charming cascades and waterfalls. Between the bluffs are the terraced slopes from which the gardens get their name. All of the successive terraces, the shelves and nooks, with the endless corners about the falls afford ideal homes to colonies of lilies and ferns." 


California Fritillarias on back cover of the Carl Purdy nursery catalog 1940 [Mertz Library]                             


The Terraces, "A Mendocino 'Angelus'", 1904 public domain photography copyright expired  [Mertz Library]

In an article entitled "A pilgrimage to the Terraces: The Home of Carl Purdy" by Anna Morrison Reed, published in the journal "The Northern Crown" Vol 1, No. 3 (June, 1904), the author describes Purdy's grounds with effusive praise.   Reed wrote: "The Terraces will one day be world renowned. A succession of benches of the richest, deepest loam reaching from the mountain tops down, down, to the valley, 2000 feet below, where a lake reflects the wonders of earth and sky, in crystal and sapphire, and turquoise blue. A stream of pure, cold water runs from the highest point above, to the lake below-diverted here and there to refresh a million growing bulbs, that in soil, climate, shade, shine and moisture, find a congenial home. Such perfection of flower life the writer has not seen elsewhere." Her visit coincided with a visit by famed University of California photographer Oscar V. Lange ,who was similarly enchanted by The Terraces, and captured the image above, labeling it "A Mendocino 'Angelus'. 


Native California Brodiaeas offered by Carl Purdy Nursery [Mertz Library]

During the second decade of the twenthieth century Carl Purdy's stature as an expert plantsman and landscape architect brought him to the attention of California's social aristocracy. Many distinguished clients sought out his expertise and he was contracted to provide plantings and landscaping for the new Scripps mansion at La Jolla,California. Other distinguished gardens designed and installed by Purdy include the property of Phoebe Apperson Hearst near Plesanton, California and the wildflower garden of the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park. Purdy's own words provide us with a wonderful account of his professional standards and horticultural methods. "In my landscaping work I did not follow conventional lines. While I fully realized the value of a good plan, I sensed that no plan is better than its execution.  I had unusual knowledge of the trees, shrubs and flowers which could be used, and of their culture. My engagements were always by the year, and covered not only plans but the general supervision of their execution; I did not consider my work done until everything was well established. Then, in many instances, I had a yearly retainer for visiting the place at intervals to plan betterments, to see that advantage could be taken of new and better materials. These relationships lasted as long as seven years, and after the sale of one place were continued in another. I had most pleasant relationships with my clients, was a member of the family while there on my professional duties, and I formed many lifelong friendships."

Perhaps the most ambitious and spectacular of Purdy's garden projects was his work for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (World's Fair) of 1915 in San Francisco staged to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal and the reemergence of the city from the ruins of the earthquake of 1906. Starting with a commission to provide soil, plantings and landscaping for the grounds of the California exhibit, Purdy's role at the fair quickly escalated, bringing him many new contracts. In one exhibit at the fair's Horticultural Building, Purdy installed a show of over 1,000 dahlia varieties that he kept up for months. Ultimately, Purdy handled the design and installation work for fifteen separate contracts at the fair including the exhibtion grounds of several states and at least one foreign nation. Purdy's description of his work leading up to the fair's opening day is a vivid account of the frenetic activity associated with the staging of a major public project. "A great expostion is odd in many ways. A multitude of people from all over the world, scattered on the grounds, work independently toward the great end, but for long it seems utter confusion. There are the inevitable crossings of purposes, and bickerings, but at the end the great puzzle is pieced together and all the parts fit."

Pacific Panama Exposition 1915

Purdy's self taught knowledge of California lilies was of a very high order, prompting no less an authority than Professor Willis Jepson of the University of California to write of Carl Purdy "No other botanist in California has anything like so detailed a knowledge of the distribution of the Californian species of Lilium as Mr. Purdy. His judgment, therefore, in any question of this kind is of an expert character and carries the greatest weight." ["Bolander's Red Mountain and Eureka trail," Madrono 2:33-34, 1931] It is interesting to note here that a review of the new 2012 edition of the Jepson Manual  was published in Fremontia the Journal of the California Native Plant Society, Vol 40 No.1 and Vol 40 No.2, January and May 2012 and may be viewed by clicking here.

Indeed, Willis Linn Jepson, California’s most distinguished botanist, founder of the Jepson Herbarium at the University of California, Berkeley, was also a great friend of Carl Purdy. Jepson, the author of the Jepson Manual, the most venerable title in California botany, was also the author of a poignant Carl Purdy eulogy ,published in the Journal of the California Horticultural Society, in which he reflected not only upon Purdy’s brilliant contributions to horticulture but also on his humanity.  Jepson recalled that Purdy was a man of serene temperament and unblemished integrity, open to new ideas and with a graceful sense of humor.  Jepson praised Purdy’s spiritual affinity with gardens prompting him to link Purdy with Francis Bacon’s insight that “a garden is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man.” 

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William Robinson portrait and Gravetye Manor Photographer: Alessio Bragadini

Jepson also revealed in his Purdy eulogy that it was his association with Carl Purdy which admitted him (Jepson) into the most esteemed library, manor house and garden in all of British horticulture.  Jepson recalled with delight his many visits to William Robinson’s residence Gravetye Manor in Sussex, England. William Robinson, the author of the English Flower Garden, arguably the most influential gardening book in the English language, was yet another correspondent and devotee of Carl Purdy. Jepson wrote: “Through Carl Purdy, I came to know William Robinson and was many times a guest in his home, Gravetye Manor.  … Many a weekend I passed at Gravetye studying its plantations of pines, browsing in its wonderful library, holding high commune with its celebrated guests… and all this happy experience I owed to my friend Carl Purdy.” [Journal of the California Horticultural Society, Vol VIII, No. 1, January, 1947, pp. 2-4]

As the ultimate validation of his astounding mastery and knowledge, Purdy, toward the end of his life in 1939, was awarded the Herbert Medal by the International Bulb Society. The Herbert Medal is the highest honor the International Bulb Society (IBS) can bestow upon a person for meritorius achievement in advancing the knowledge of bulbous plants. The IBS is the only international scientific organization devoted to the dissemination of information on the growing, conservation and botany of all geophytic plants (commonly referred to as "bulbs"). 


The Society named its Herbert Medal after William Herbert (1778-1847) whose published research on the Amaryllids was preserved in his monumental treatise Amaryllidaceae published in 1837 by J. Ridgway & Sons, London, a copy of which, with color plates, is in the Mertz Library. [see the cataloging record here]  In a curious twist of fate, the IBS also in 1939, awarded the Herbert Medal to Dr. Arlow Stout of the New York Botanical Garden

Carl Purdy was passionate about California's native bulbs and plants and their place in a garden. He once wrote: "The joy of gardening is in always having something to look forward to, something to test our skill. My advice to the man with the perfect garden: 'Sell Out.' There would be no more fun. And too, the greatest advantage of a naturalistic garden over a strictly formal one is that the formal garden once well done is simply a beautiful picture, very lovely, but little more to do, while the naturalistic garden is always a picture being painted but never quite done."

Andrew Tschinkel

Bibliography and Acknowledgements

The following books, articles and websites proved to be particularly useful in the construction of this LibGuide. 

California Native Plant Society.

Dykens, Margaret N. … [et al.] Plant Portraits: the California Legacy of A.R. Valentien. San Diego, California: San Diego Natural History Museum, 2003. 212 pages

Jepson, Willis Linn. "Carl Purdy, Lover of Lilies" Journal of the California Horticultural Society. Vol. VIII No. 1 pp.2-4,January, 1947

Lenfest, Lela Angier.  “A Mountain Lily Garden of California” Suburban Life. pp.334 & 350, December, 1912.

Lenfest, Lela Angier. "The Lily Man of Ukiah" San Francisco Sunday Call. p.23 April 7, 1912. 

Mendocino County Museum.  A Passion for Plants & Place: Carl Purdy of Mendocino County.  Willits, California: Mendocino County Museum, 2011. 63 pages.

Murphey, Edith Van Allan. Indian Uses of Native Plants. Fort Bragg, California: Mendocino County Historical Society, 1959. 81 pages.

Purdy, Carl. “California Wild Flowers” Journal of the New York Botanical Garden. Vol. XXXII No. 374 pp.43-45, February, 1931.

Purdy, Carl. My Life and My Times Ukiah, California: Naturegraph Press, 1976. 228 pages.

Purdy, Carl. Pomo Indian Baskets and Their Makers Los Angeles, California, Out West Company Press, 1902

Reed, Anna Morrison.  “A Pilgrimage To The Terraces: The Home of Carl Purdy” The Southern Crown. Vol 1 No. 3 pp. 13-14, June, 1904.

Shinn, Charles Howard. “Wizards of the Garden; third paper: Carl Purdy and the Native Bulbs” The Land of Sunshine. Vol. 14 No.4, pp.276-288, April, 1901.


The author of this LibGuide would also like to thank Margaret Dykens of the San Diego Natural History Museum and Alison Glassey of the Mendocino County Museum for their permission to use images from their collections.

Art of A.R. Valentien

The artist Albert R. Valentien (1862-1925) decorated the covers of Carl Purdy's California bulb catalogs between 1908 and 1918.


"Standard" with maize by A.R. Valentien 

Valentien (pronounced Valentine) was for almost twenty five years (1880-1905) the chief decorator and artistic director of the Rookwood Pottery Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. Indeed Valentien was the first employee hired by Rookwood Pottery. Valentien attended the Cincinnati Art Academy recognized as an early center of the American Arts and Crafts movement. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Rookwood Pottery Company was the most famous and esteemed artistic pottery company in America. Rookwood was more like an artists studio rather than a factory. The firm prided itself on the artistic innovation of its decorators whose innovative glazes and elegant designs achieved global recognition by being awarded the Grand Prize at the L'Exposition Universelle, Paris 1889. As a further mark of its prestige examples of Rookwood pottery were acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Luxembourg in Paris and the Royal Industrial Art Museum in Berlin.

Rookwood Pottery was founded in 1880 by Maria Longworth Nichols Storer, the daughter of Cincinnati real estate developer and arts patron Joseph Longworth. She named the company Rookwood after her father's country estate in Walnut Hills, Ohio. Storer was inspired to found Rookwood by the Japanese ceramics she had seen displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. 


Vase "Iris" by A.R. Valentien

In 1894, under Valentien's artistic direction Rookwood introduced new glazes: "Iris" , and "Sea Green" see images  above and below. Both glazes were well received by the public, and the firm manufactured and sold both for more than a decade. Connoisseurs have often commented that the clear glaze applied to artistic pottery over the decorator's painting provides a brilliant final effect in the same way as the final varnish when applied to an oil painting. 


     Rookwood Pottery "Sea Green"


    Rookwood "mat glaze" pottery

In 1904 during Valentien's last year with Rookwood, the company introduced the "Vellum" glaze which presented a matte surface but through which could be seen the slightly frosted appearing decoration beneath. During Valentien's long tenure at Rookwood floral subjects dominated his pieces, usually painted in pastel colors including soft pink, lavender, blue, gray and green. [Plant portraits: the California legacy of A.R. Valentien by Margaret N. Dykens 2003]


  Rookwood pottery "Vellum" type



A.R.V. The decorator's mark of Albert R. Valentien customarily cut into the bottom of his Rookwood pieces.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has one of the finest collections of Rookwood pottery. The exceptional collection with beautiful color photographs is described in a book entitled Rookwood Pottery at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2003) by Nancy Elizabeth Owen.


In 1903 A.R. Valentien and his wife Anna, also a decorator at the Rookwood Pottery, visited her brother in San Diego, California. Suddenly captivated by the glorious climate and terrain of San Diego, the Valentiens knew they had found their future home. In 1905, Albert and Anna resigned from Rookwood Pottery and returned to San Diego to start their new life. However it was not until 1908 that Valentien's artistic talent came to the attention of Ms. Ellen Browning Scripps. Scripps, San Diego's leading philanthropist, was searching for an artist who could draw and paint detailed and botanically accurate watercolors of all the native plants and flowers of California. The patroness and the artist had finally met and their magnificient collaboration would produce a collection of botanical watercolors that rival or exceed any horticultural pictures in the history of art. Scripps recognized in Valentien the artist who more than any other could capture with extraordinary fidelity the colors, structures and essence of each plant. Scripps and Valentien estimated that the project would take ten years to complete and the project was to last from 1908 to 1918. Valentien began his commission from Ms. Scripps, by embarking on extensive field trips and native plant collecting expeditions in an attempt to locate and acquire the many hundreds of unique specimens needed to draw and paint from life all of the native plants of California. Valentien's quest, quickly expanded from flowers to all of California's native trees, grasses and ferns.  This formidable task would then almost by necessity ensure that he would cross paths with California's foremost native plant expert Carl Purdy. Purdy was quick to recognize the natural fidelity of Valentien's art . Purdy became an important supplier of plants to Valentien, greatly expediting the collecting process and ensuring accurate botanical identification of each specimen. Valentien in return and with gratitude supplied an elegant depiction of native California bulbs for the front and back covers of Purdy's catalogs. Valentien spent several summers in Mendocino County and at Ukiah painting the native plants, trees and ferns of California fulfilling his commission from Scripps. During those summers Purdy recalled that Valentien painted in a specially constructed studio at the Terraces (Carl Purdy's home) built to give him (Valentien) just the right light. Valentien, without any background in botany, relied on his artist's trained eye to draw all of the intricate details inherent in each specimen doing so in a manner that rejected the standard academic rendering conventions but rather demonstrated an exquisite mastery of tone, color and draughtsmanship.

Plant Portraits: the California Legacy of A.R. Valentien

Valentien painted more than one thousand watercolor/gouache plant portraits on 13 by 20 inch sheets of pale gray paper. Although there are 1,094 sheets in the collection around 1,500 species are depicted as Valentien frequently painted multiple specimens on a single sheet. To Valentien's great disappointment, Ms. Scripps never financed the publication of his California plant portraits.  The portraits remained secure and out of sight in her La Jolla residence until her death in 1932. In a curious twist of fate, when Ms. Scripps mansion burned to the ground in 1915, the plant portraits survived stored not in the mansion itself but rather in a nearby fire proof building. A new Scripps mansion at La Jolla was construted in 1916 with its grounds landscaped and the plantings provided by Carl Purdy.  In 1933 the plant portrait collection was donated by the Scripps estate to the San Diego Museum of Natural History.  These superb works of art were for decades carefully preserved by the San Diego museum, until technology and financial support from Eleanor and Jerome Navarra finally allowed the curatorial staff to rehouse, digitize and exhibit all of the plant portraits. Between 1999 and 2003 Valentien's portraits of California's native plants were the subject of a digitization and preservation project at the San Diego Museum of Natural History. The project culminated in an exhibition held in 2004 and a book entitled "Plant Portraits" was also published. The Valentien project was the result of a collaboration between the San Diego Natural History Museum and the Irvine Museum. Those interested in viewing Valentien's beautiful color plant portraits may point their browser to the web site of The Irvine Museum where they may also purchase a copy of the book "Plant Portraits" with more than 80 color plates.


Cactus Cylindropuntia wolfii by A.R. Valentien © San Diego Society of Natural History, all rights reserved



Yellow-flowered Eschscholzia californica by A.R. Valentien © San Diego Society of Natural History, all rights reserved         

Carl Purdy in his autobiography wrote with great affection and admiration about his friend A.R. Valentien. "Mr Valentien died some years ago. His exquisite flower paintings are housed in a specially erected building at the Scripps mansion near La Jolla, and will eventually be given to some great public institution. A kindly, and unassuming man, Mr. Valentien was one of those friends who are long missed."

Since the publication of the book Plant Portraits in 2003 Albert R. Valentien's artistic legacy has increasingly become the subject of interest by artists, botantists and the general public.  His name has also become familiar with the general public as it  is among other things the name of the elegant five star farm to table restaurant "A.R. Valentien" at the Lodge at Torrey Pines. Paintings by Valentien decorate the walls of the restaurant.

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Lodge at Torrey Pines

Carl Purdy's astounding knowledge of California's native plants and bulbs brought him many horticultural contracts from wealthy clients. Without question the most botanically astute of his patrons was Ellen Browning Scripps. Her fabulous wealth and progressive ideals established many public institutions in San Diego and preserved its wonderful landscape and fragile flora. As a result of her vision, generations of San Diego residents have enjoyed the amenities at the famous Lodge at Torrey Pines and have treasured the magnificient Torrey Pines Natural Reserve where many of the more than 2,000 indigenous plant species of San Diego County grow and flourish.  


WikiMedia Commons: photographer Bobak Ha'Eri Creative Commons

The Lodge at Torrey Pines in San Diego, California is one of the most prestigious resorts in America. The Lodge takes its name from the rare Torrey pine (Pinus torreyana). The Torrey pine, with a total population of only around 3,000 trees, is restricted to a habitat that includes the vicinity of the Lodge in the surrounding Torrey Reserve and to nearby Santa Rosa Island. Both the tree and the lodge are named in honor of the patriarch of New York botany Dr. John Torrey (1796-1873). The Dr. John Torrey papers are on deposit at the Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden and the finding aid to his papers may be accessed here. The Lodge and the surrounding Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve were financed in 1922 by Ellen Browning Scripps.

Ellen Browning Scripps

Ms. Scripps was one of California's greatest philanthropists. She used her substantial share of the Scripps newspaper fortune to establish great philanthropic endeavors including the San Diego Zoo, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Scripps Memorial Hospital and the Scripps Research Clinic. Her residence in La Jolla was designed by modernist architect Irving Gill in 1916 and was landscaped by Carl Purdy. The La Jolla residence is now the home of the Museum of Contemporary Art.  Ellen Browning Scripps' love of the flora of California was unsurpassed and between 1908 and 1918 she commissioned artist A.R. Valentien to paint more than one thousand plant portraits of the native plants and flowers of California.  Between 1908 and 1918 Valentien's art decorated the covers of the nursery catalogs of Carl Purdy. The Lodge at Torrey Pines features one of the largest collections of Valentien's early works in ceramics, watercolors and oils.


Dr. John Torrey


Pinus torreyana

Articles by Carl Purdy

The following list of articles by Carl Purdy, available here in full text pdf format, was discovered by an author search of the Index to American Botanical Literature (IABL). It is interesting to note that the Index was published for 110 years (1886-1995) in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical ClubThe Bulletin and the Index were edited by Elizabeth G. Britton, wife of Nathanial Lord Britton who together founded the New York Botanical Garden in 1891. Since 1996 the IABL is published online by the New York Botanical Garden.

Elizabeth Britton at microscope

The Elizabeth Britton papers are at the Mertz Library, and a finding aid to her papers is here.

A concise history of the IABL and the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club by Stewart Ware entitled "TORREYA: The Index to American Botanical Literature-A Brief History" was published in the Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 124(3), 1997, pp.262-264. The Torrey pine, emblematic of the beautiful but often fragile native botany of California, and its discovery by Charles Parry is the subject of an article "Parry and the Pines" in the May 2013 issue of Fremontia. Pinus torreyana was like the Torrey Botanical Club named after the father of New York botany Dr. John Torrey (1796-1873). 

Pomo Indian Baskets a Book by Carl Purdy

Carl Purdy's expertise was not limited to the horticulture and botany of native California plants and bulbs. His appreciation of Native American art is recorded in a text he authored which engagingly demonstrates his remarkable level of connoisseurship. In 1902 Purdy wrote the book  Pomo Indian Baskets and Their Makers a copy of which is in the Mertz Library here. In this book he eloquently reveals the artistry and dignity of the native people of Mendocino County, California. The book is well illustrated and Purdy describes the many intricacies of Pomo basketry, its methods of construction as well as how these baskets were used in the daily lives of their makers. 

Pomo basket

Image colorized in Adobe CS5                

Purdy writes that the Pomos wove their baskets on a frame of peeled and cured willow shoots. He informs his readers that the thread of each basket is obtained from the bark of shrubs and the roots of trees and grasses. The fibers are derived from a sedge (Carex mendocinoensis) which grows locally in the deep moist Mendocino soil. This sedge is characterized by long slender grassy leaves and a very long running root which is quite tough. These raw materials are artfully combinded to fashion baskets that are the pride of their owners.

The baskets of the Pomos were an essential part of Pomo society, constructed to help perform the tasks of daily life as well as functioning as the vessels of sacred ceremonies. Pomo baskets paralleled the lives of their makers from birth to death. Carl Purdy explains: "He was cradled in a papoose basket, and in it, hung by a broad band on his mother's brow, he made his early journeys. His home was a great thatched basket, his toys were baskets after the large ones that he saw. He ate from a "da-la" or flat basket, and drank a round "tci-ma." The seeds from which his meal was made were ground in a "mu-tci" or mortar basket, and his fish and meat were cooked in large mush bowels or "tci-mas" and a large "tci-ma" was his water-bucket. His fish was caught in a "baiyat-au" or fish-net basket, his meal was winnowed in winnowing baskets and screened in a "pa-se" or sieve basket. When he traveled, his belongings were carried in a "bu-gi" the conical burden basket, and these answered for every purpose for which we use a wheelbarrow or wagon. If he gardened, his fences were of wickerware, and he trapped birds and game in long cylindrical baskets. ...the art of basketry...was used in making canoes. ...Such baskets were the pride of the owner and envy of his friends; they were given to visitors, or on weddings, as the highest possible token of esteem. And when their lucky possessor died his priceless baskets were placed on the funeral pyre to accompany, ... his soul to the other world. In basketry the Pomos found an outlet for the highest conceptions of art...they had reached a height in basketry...which has never been equaled not only by no other Indian tribe but by no other people in the world in any age." 

Edith Murphey: A disciple of Carl Purdy

Carl Purdy's unsurpassed knowledge of California's flora attracted many disciples to his grounds at Ukiah. Perhaps the most memorable of these disciples was a thrice married widowed librarian turned California homesteader named Edith Van Allen Murphey (1879-1968). 


Murphey would become one of the first American ethnobotanists and wrote the classic text Indian Uses of Native Plants a copy of which is in the Mertz Library here. Many years before she met Carl Purdy, Murphey was a student at Melvil Dewey's famous library school at Albany, New York. She always enjoyed telling friends one anecdote about her library school days. The school was located in the State Capitol Building where she would frequently see and chat with then Governor Theodore Roosevelt who prefered to use the public elevator in the capitol located between his office and the library school several floors below.  The two exchanged pleasantries about their common old Dutch ancestry and it was Roosevelt who would, as President, set aside 1 1/2 million acres in Mendocino County, California as a National Forest. 

Indian Uses of Native Plants by Edith Van Allen Murphey

Murphey's long and circuitous path to an outstanding knowledge of the plants in that same National Forest in Mendocino County began when she was recruited to catalog rare books for the University of California at Berkeley.  Her failing eyesight forced her to leave that position but she married a succession of ranchers in the vicinity, and learned the rewards and hardships of life on a primitive California ranch. Her first marriage was not a success and ended in divorce within two years, her second and third marriages were happy ones but each ended in the death of her spouse.  During three marriages and through the span of twenty five years she wrote: "I fell in love with the mountains of Mendocino, the redwoods and the open range."

While homesteading in California, Murphey developed a passion for rare native flowers. She became aware of Carl Purdy and regularly corresponded with him for many years. Purdy would patiently and expertly identify her specimens and return them with precise written instructions on cultivation, going into depth about the collection and packing of native bulbs. After the death of her third husband Murphey was forced to manage her ranch until she could sell it. After chores and between the demands of running a ranch alone except for the help of a twelve year old Wailaki Indian boy named Ace, Murphey would deligently read her copy of Jepson's Manual of the Flowering Plants of California

Finally, her ranch sold and free to pursue her passion, at the age of 48 the 5 foot tall Murphey headed for the high country of Mendocino County to Carl Purdy's The Terraces with the hope that he would hire her as a bulb collector. Purdy was unwilling to hire a woman as a collector but he told her he was in a need of a cook. Murphey became his housekeeper during the winter and freely ranged the nearby mountains during the spring, summer and fall collecting plants and bulbs. She admired Purdy and proudly wrote that he was a much sought after speaker at universities and scientific institutions. Many botantists visited Purdy at The Terraces including a Swiss scientist named M. Henri Carrevon. Murphey who as a child had learned French at a convent school in Montreal acted as the translator and also cooked the night's dinner of biscuits and gravey.  

Between 1925 to 1935 Murphey would live with eleven Indian tribes as the United States Indian Service's  only range botantist. She spent her long life of 89 years learning, preserving and advocating for both the native Americans and the amazing biodiversity of California's plants.

Willis Linn Jepson colleague of Carl Purdy

Carl Purdy and Willis Jepson are two of the most prominent names in the distinguished history of California botanical science. Their well-documented friendship, which is referenced in the narrative of this LibGuide, spanned many decades. The LuEsther T. Mertz Library holds one of the most comprehensive collections of printed books and journals on California botany in the world including many titles by Willis Jepson. Among its holdings are numerous editions of Willis Linn Jepson’s masterful Manual of the Flowering Plants of California. As a service to the readers of this guide the following list is provided to the editions of the Jepson Manual at the Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden. A succinct review of the newest edition of the Jepson Manual (2012) summarizes how advances in molecular and genetic research have brought Jepson's pioneering book up to date.

Rookwood Pottery catalogs

Two catalogs digitized by the Internet Archive from the collection of the Henry Francis Dupont Winterthur Museum Libraries document the ceramic products, methods and history of the Rookwood Pottery Company. One of the catalogs informs the reader that Albert R. Valentien was awarded a gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1900. Both catalogs are in the public domain and the copyright to each has expired.

Rookwood catalog that won the gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1900