The oldest specimens in the Herbarium, gifted by the British Museum in 1970 in exchange for plant identification, document Florida flora in the 1840s. German-born Rugel was a professional collector, providing specimens from the Appalachian mountains, Florida and Cuba.
The Herbarium has hundreds of specimens collected by Ferdinand Rugel and they are among the oldest specimens in the Herbarium. So, how did we get them and why do we have them?
To back up a bit, when I was a grad student in Tennessee and hiking in the Smokies, one of the first wildflowers I learned was Rugel’s ragwort. There is another plant there, Plantago rugelii, and now down here in Florida there is Deeringothamnus rugelii and it never occurred to me to wonder who Rugel was, really.
Turns out that he was a professional botanist and plant collector from the 1800s. He was from Germany but then he moved to the southern Appalachians and eventually collected in Florida and Cuba. He made his living by actually collecting plants and selling them to museums and private collectors. Everybody thinks of that is a government job now, or a museum job, but people actually made a living back then doing that.
We were given the specimens from the British Museum as a gift in exchange for putting names on some of their duplicate collections of them, so we kinda trade them like stamps or magazines.
It’s kinda interesting that Rugel collected this rare Deeringothamnus rugelii – Rugel’s pawpaw – back in the 1800s. It’s one of the rarest plants in Florida and those specimens traveled probably all over Europe and then back to the U.S. and back to the U.S. National Herbarium and then eventually made its way back here to Florida, to the University of Florida. That’s what museums do best – preserve rare specimens like this.
Senior Biologist, University of Florida Herbarium
Florida Museum of Natural History
Rugel’s Pawpaw (Deeringothamnus rugelii)
Woodland Poppymallow (Callirhoe papaver)
Cat’s-claw (Pithecellobium unguis-cati)
Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea)
Specimens from the Ferdinand Rugel collection