BOTANICAL EVALUATION OF THE GOAT ISLAND COMPLEX, NIAGARA FALLS, NEW YORK
HISTORY OF BOTANICAL ACTIVITY AT NIAGARA FALLS
Early workers in North American botany usually began their careers in professions such as the clergy, commerce, law and pharmacy or medicine. People from many walks of life, with various talents and abilities, recognized the need to describe the natural history of their continent, a subject mostly unknown to science. They could see the great opportunities for personal distinction that existed at the time and accepted the discipline required to produce the nation's first floristic and taxonomic treatments in all aspects of natural history.
In many cases, a person needed only to examine the natural history of his or her own backyard to produce important scientific data, as was the case in the early careers of such botanists as the bryologist William Starling Sullivant, who had the "good fortune to have early established his home in a botanically rich district," which became the subject for his "Catalogue of Plants, Native, and Naturalized, in the vicinity of Columbus, Ohio" - near his home town of Franklinton (Humphrey, 1961). The eminent New York State botanist John Torrey made his initial publication and public presentation "A Catalogue of Plants growing spontaneously within Thirty miles of New York" - his home town - read before the newly founded New York Lyceum of Natural History (Humphrey, 1961). The bryologist Coe F. Austin collected many herbarium and exsiccat specimens around his home in Closter, New Jersey - even naming a species after this locality: Fissidens closteri Aust.
In the absence of well-identified specimen collections and published knowledge about the biota of North America, a certain effort was made by these early American students of natural history to produce drawings of the organisms under observation to aid in identification, such as William Starling Sullivant who made "careful and accurate drawings [of grasses and sedges] designed to be readily helpful to other students of these genera and species" (Humphrey, 1961). Extensive illustrations were also published by Francis Wolle in his books on North American algology - but more so in the case of his grandson, Philip Wolle. The latter, although never publishing data, filled twenty-five "copious notebooks of excellent drawings, with much astute descriptive and critical annotation (now on file at the Smithsonian Institution)" (Conger, 1971). Sullivant was later to publish two volumes of his exquisite bryophyte drawings (Sullivant, 1864, 1874).
Such illustrations and aids to identification contributed much to scientific communication when words alone were insufficient to ensure confidence in identification. To a great extent, these illustrations were an important adjunct to the infancy of the nation's systematics collections, which are the bases upon which past and future published reports on North American organisms can be interpreted and progress made with some degree of coherence and continuity in understanding.
Individuals who would succeed in making the first fundamental contributions to the systematics and description of North American natural science also spent a great deal of time selflessly identifying or verifying specimens or otherwise encouraging other individuals struggling to become proficient at their chosen specialty. These helpful individuals usually had access to the nation's first reference herbaria and libraries of botanical literature. Occasionally they dedicated a great portion of their career to providing assistance to those requesting it, as, for example, the great American lichenologist Edward Tuckerman who "aided others continually and much of his labor received no public recognition" (Fink, 1906).
Another important adjunct to the reference herbarium was the assembling and distribution of sets of identified ("authentic") specimens by which newly collected or investigated material or printed discussions of the organisms in question could be compared. These formal sets of specimens were called "exsiccatae." A formal exsiccat is a minor herbarium itself, and a kind of publication. A published exsiccat may be understood to have "the features of a published book - uniformity of contents of several [species] examples, serially numbered units (pages, labels) beginning with "1", title, date and place of issue" (Sayre, 1975). Typically, a mass collection is made from one population of each of the species comprising the numbers of the exsiccat: a collection large enough to generate 25, or 50 or more duplicate specimens of that species. An exsiccat of 25 species with 25 duplicates of each species would require 625 specimens. The labels (variously called tickets or schedae) accompanying each numbered species in the exsiccat includes the scientific name (such as Fissidens grandifrons) and is attached to corresponding specimens. In addition, these labels are typed on pages assembled in book form and separate from the specimens. If the author, or editor of such an exsiccat wished, he or she could solicit contributions from the general public, as was done by Coe F. Austin on the back of his booklet accompanying his Musci Appalachiani, Supplement 1, 1878: "... I take this opportunity to cordially invite the co-operation of all American botanists ..." to submit specimens to be used in upcoming supplements to the exsiccat. "Liberal allowance will be made and due credit given, for 100 good specimens of any desired moss or hepatica. Except in rare mosses and those difficult to obtain, the specimens should be large and ample."
They needed to be ample because it was understood that these specimens were to be dissected and analyzed many times in the course of study. The specimens were also to be used in teaching many students of botany for decades, and in some cases, centuries to come.
One of the effects of these "published herbaria" resulted from the convention of including on the labels information about the exact collecting locality of the specimen only when the species was rare, or unusual. Botanists interested in obtaining additional material of that rare species or desirous of acquiring a collection of their own could then visit the listed locality - hence so many collections of the rare moss Fissidens grandifrons from Niagara Falls in the following list of bryophytes (mosses) from Goat Island. The fact that "Niagara" occurred on so many collecting labels does not indicate so much how easily the botanist had access to Niagara Falls, on roads, canals and railroads, but rather how unusual the biology of the natural landscape at Niagara Falls was, for it was to that place one could go to find rare species in nature.
"In closing this report, I desire to express my thanks to those botanists whose names appear in the preceding pages, for their kind and hearty cooperation in the investigation of our flora and for their generous contribution of specimens. A continuance of their aid is earnestly solicited" (Charles Peck, New York State Botanist, 1872).