Oakes Ames' Orchidaceae: A Piece of Botany History


Detail of a drawing of a cowhorn orchid (Cyrtopodium punctatum) by Blanche Ames, from Oakes Ames' Orchidaceae: Illustrations and Studies of the Family Orchidaceae (click here to see the full illustration).
The University of Colorado Herbarium is one of the largest repositories of Colorado flora in the West, and holds a collection of more than 500,000 pressed plant specimens from around the world. The Herbarium also houses a small reference library.
This first edition copy of Orchidaceae: Illustrations and Studies of the Family Orchidaceae is a gem in our reprint collection, which consists of thousands of documents, mostly scientific papers that have been published in botanical journals from all over the world, student theses, and other manuscripts of botanical importance. The first editions of Orchidaceae were electrotyped and printed in 1905 by H.O. Houghton & Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Orchidaceae, titled after the family that orchids belong to, was written by the world-renowned botanist Oakes Ames. Ames began collecting orchids at the ripe age of 15 in his hometown of North Easton, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard College in 1898, and soon thereafter founded the Ames Botanical Laboratory, where he studied both orchids and ethnobotany. Ames was a pioneer in both fields, being one of the first botanists to study plants that are economically and culturally important to human cultures, as well as writing the most thorough treatise on orchids the botany community has ever seen--the seven volume Orchidaceae.
Orchidaceae: Illustrations and Studies of the Family Orchidaceae, by Oakes Ames, A.M. Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1905.
Oakes Ames described the morphology and distribution of orchids in great detail, but his wife Blanche Ames drew the magnificent illustrations. Throughout Orchidaceae are Blanche's stunning and scientifically accurate black and white illustrations of orchid species, including details of flowers, individual petals, sexual anatomy, and fruit.
Blanche Ames led an active life as an artist, inventor, an activist for women's suffrage and rights to birth control, as well as a mother of four. She graduated from Smith College in 1895, and married Oakes Ames in 1900. Shown here is her illustration of Cyrtopodium punctatum, the cowhorn orchid, drawn from a living plant.
Orchids themselves are one of the most diverse families of plants, with approximately 22,000 recognized species. Orchids are known for their beautiful flowers, which attract not only pollinating insects, but passionate enthusiasts who breed and grow orchids as a hobby. Unfortunately, the act of collecting orchids from the wild to sell or keep has endangered many already rare species from all over the world. Colorado is home to many rare orchid species, which, if seen, should be left to grow and reproduce in wild for the enjoyment and wonder of generations to come.
Learn More:
Welcome to Borderland (for more about Oakes and Blanche Ames)
An original copy of Orchidaceae: Illustrations and Studies of the Family Orchidaceae by Oakes Ames is available for viewing in the University of Colorado at Boulder Library's Special Collections, or you can purchase a reprint from Amazon.com or another retailer.
To learn more about orchids as a species, visit this thorough Wikipedia article.
Find out about growing orchids as a hobby from the American Orchid Society.