Thomas Walter (botanist)

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Thomas Walter (c. 1740 – January 17, 1789) was a British-born American botanist best known for his book Flora Caroliniana (1788), the first flora set in North America to utilize the Linnaean system of classification. [1]

Botany science of plant life

Botany, also called plant science(s), plant biology or phytology, is the science of plant life and a branch of biology. A botanist, plant scientist or phytologist is a scientist who specialises in this field. The term "botany" comes from the Ancient Greek word βοτάνη (botanē) meaning "pasture", "grass", or "fodder"; βοτάνη is in turn derived from βόσκειν (boskein), "to feed" or "to graze". Traditionally, botany has also included the study of fungi and algae by mycologists and phycologists respectively, with the study of these three groups of organisms remaining within the sphere of interest of the International Botanical Congress. Nowadays, botanists study approximately 410,000 species of land plants of which some 391,000 species are vascular plants, and approximately 20,000 are bryophytes.

Linnaean taxonomy A rank based classification system for organisms

Linnaean taxonomy can mean either of two related concepts:

  1. the particular form of biological classification (taxonomy) set up by Carl Linnaeus, as set forth in his Systema Naturae (1735) and subsequent works. In the taxonomy of Linnaeus there are three kingdoms, divided into classes, and they, in turn, into orders, genera, and species, with an additional rank lower than species.
  2. a term for rank-based classification of organisms, in general. That is, taxonomy in the traditional sense of the word: rank-based scientific classification. This term is especially used as opposed to cladistic systematics, which groups organisms into clades. It is attributed to Linnaeus, although he neither invented the concept of ranked classification nor gave it its present form. In fact, it does not have an exact present form, as "Linnaean taxonomy" as such does not really exist: it is a collective (abstracting) term for what actually are several separate fields, which use similar approaches.


Life and career

Walter was born in Hampshire, England, around 1740. Little is known of his family background or early life. He evidently received a good education but no details are available. Sometime before 1769 he arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, where he worked as a merchant. He later acquired a rice plantation on the Santee River where he lived for the rest of his life. [1] [2]

Santee River river in the United States of America

The Santee River is a river in South Carolina in the United States, and is 143 miles (230 km) long. The Santee and its tributaries provide the principal drainage for the coastal areas of southeastern South Carolina and navigation for the central coastal plain of South Carolina, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean approximately 440 miles (708 km) from its farthest headwater on the Catawba River in North Carolina. The Santee River is the second largest river on the eastern coast of the United States, second only to the Susquehanna River in drainage area and flow. Much of the upper river is impounded by the expansive, horn-shaped Lake Marion reservoir, formed by the 8-mile (13 km)-long Santee Dam. The dam was built during the Great Depression of the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project to provide a major source of hydroelectric power for the state of South Carolina.

He became interested in botany and undertook a detailed plant survey within a fifty-mile radius of his home, collecting seeds for his garden and building an extensive herbarium. [1] Based on this effort, Walter completed a manuscript in 1787 containing a summary of all the flowering plant species found in the region. It was the first comprehensive regional flora set in eastern North America and the first to use Linnaeus' binomial naming conventions. Walter gave the manuscript to fellow-botanist John Fraser who took it to England and arranged for its publication in 1788. Flora Caroliniana provided brief Latin descriptions for over 1,000 plant species in 435 genera. [2]

Herbarium scientific collection of dried plants

A herbarium is a collection of preserved plant specimens and associated data used for scientific study..

John Fraser (botanist) botanist from Scotland

John Fraser, FLS, F.R.H.S., was a Scottish botanist who collected plant specimens around the world, from North America and the West Indies to Russia and points between, with his primary career activity from 1780 to 1810. Fraser was a commissioned plant collector for Catherine, Czar of Russia in 1795, Paul I of Russia in 1798, and for the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1806; he issued nursery catalogues c. 1790 and 1796, and had an important herbarium that was eventually sold to the Linnean Society.

Walter is credited with the discovery of some 200 new species and four new genera. Today, 88 of these species and one genus ( Amsonia ) still bear the valid names provided by Walter in his Flora. [1]

<i>Amsonia</i> genus of plants

Amsonia is a genus of flowering plants in the dogbane family, Apocynaceae, first described as a genus in 1788. It is native primarily to North America with one species in East Asia and another in the eastern Mediterranean. It was named in honor of the American physician John Amson. Members of the genus are commonly known as bluestars.

  1. Amsonia ciliataWalter – fringed bluestar – SE US, S Great Plains
  2. Amsonia elliptica(Thunb. ex Murray) Roem. & Schult. – Japanese bluestar – China, Japan, Korea
  3. Amsonia fugateiS.P.McLaughlin – San Antonio bluestar – New Mexico
  4. Amsonia grandifloraAlexander – Arizona bluestar – Arizona, Sonora, Durango
  5. Amsonia hubrichtiiWoodson – Hubricht's bluestar – Arkansas, Oklahoma
  6. Amsonia illustrisWoodson – Ozark bluestar – Mississippi Valley, also Nevada
  7. Amsonia jonesiiWoodson – Jones' bluestar – Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado
  8. Amsonia kearneyanaWoodson – Kearney's bluestar – Baboquivari in Pima Co. in Arizona
  9. Amsonia longifloraTorr. – tubular bluestar – Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Coahuila
  10. Amsonia ludovicianaVail – Louisiana bluestar – Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia
  11. Amsonia orientalisDecne. – European bluestar – Greece, Turkey
  12. Amsonia palmeriA.Gray – Palmer's bluestar – Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Sonora, Chihuahua
  13. Amsonia peeblesiiWoodson – Peebles' bluestar – Arizona
  14. Amsonia repensShinners – creeping bluestar – E Texas, SW Louisiana
  15. Amsonia rigidaShuttlw. ex Small – stiff bluestar – from Georgia to Louisiana
  16. Amsonia tabernaemontanaWalter – eastern bluestar – S + C + E United States
  17. Amsonia tharpiiWoodson – feltleaf bluestar – W Texas, SE New Mexico
  18. Amsonia tomentosaTorr. & Frém. – woolly bluestar – SW US; Chihuahua

Walter died on January 17, 1789, shortly after the publication of his flora. His herbarium was taken to England by Fraser and eventually purchased by the British Museum of Natural History where it still exists. Since his death, eight plant species have been named in his honor. [1]

The standard author abbreviation Walter is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name. [3]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Rembert (1980)
  2. 1 2 Sterling (1997)
  3. IPNI.  Walter.

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