Historic, but not famous

Nathaniel Britton, botanist

Nathaniel Lord Britton (January 15, 1859 – June 25, 1934) was an American botanist and taxonomist who co-founded the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, New York. He was born on Staten Island in New York City and bound for religious studies, but took to the study of nature early in life and made that his calling.

Mr. Britton graduated from Columbia University and taught geology there. He joined the Botanical society there and met his wife,  Elizabeth Gertrude Knight, a bryologist (study of non-vascular plants), in 1885. They were lifelong collaborators in botanical research. She is the one that proposed a Botanical Garden in The Bronx after visiting one in Queens.

Britton left Columbia in 1895 to become the first director of the New York Botanical Garden, a position he held until 1929. He was on the first Board of Managers for the institution, along with Andrew Carnegie, J. Pierpont Morgan, and Cornelius Vanderbilt II.

Much of his field work was done in the Caribbean, where he visited frequently when the winter weather in New York City became too severe. His contributions to the study of Caribbean flora are undisputed. He co-wrote Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada, and the British Possessions (1896) and The Cactaceae. 

He died after suffering a stroke at his home in the Bronx at the age of 75.

The writings of Dr. Britton are located at the NY Botanical Gardens and consist of correspondence, research and personal papers, manuscripts and typescripts, lecture notes, photography, certificates, and a suede-bound presentation volume. It covers his botanical career including graduate studies at Columbia College (1875-79), association with the Torrey Botanical Club, the founding and directorship of the New York Botanical Garden (1891-1929), and post-retirement years to his death in 1934. Information about Dr. Britton’s publications, notably the Britton & Brown Illustrated Flora, and on botanical expeditions to Caribbean, including those relating to the Scientific Survey of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, are well-documented in the correspondence and written materials. His field records are located in the NYBG Collectors’ Field Notebook collection.

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