23 responses to “Penstemon thompsoniae”


    Sounds like you already have the beginnings of a “well-researched” albeit perhaps incomplete article on Mrs. Nellie Thompson. With a bit more editing it might qualify as an “initial” Wikipedia entry. Great sleuthing. I personally love to read this type of botanic history. I think it would be very interesting to know more about this early collector of Utah’s flora. Thanks. John Bradley, Newark, CA

  2. Ann Kent

    Thank you, Daniel, for the wonderful pictures and tracking down all those bits of information about Ellen Powell Thompson.

  3. marjorie jarrett

    Very interesting sleuth work, and oh – that blue!!

  4. David Brownstein

    Daniel, this is very interesting. Am writing in haste, have not looked at any of the Wikipedia entries, but Ellen Powell Thompson attended Wheaton College, Wheaton Illinois, in the 1850s.

    As Daniel alludes to above, her 200 specimens from the expedition were sent to Asa Gray at Harvard, so if one looked in that herbarium, I assume they would still all be there. Unfortunately, Beatrice Scheer Smith tells us, the Gray Herbarium only began cataloging specimens by collector name in the 1890s, 20 years after Thompson’s donation; they might be difficult to identify. Have not yet stopped to look.

    One of the 1870 Colorado River expedition boats was named after Thompson, the “Nellie Powell”. There are conflicting mentions in the literature and various newspaper archives that both boat and a flag from the expedition were donated to various American museums.

    After the expedition, the Thompsons lived in Washington DC.

    She was active in the Suffragette movement in the 1890s, known across the States as a colleague of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Her correspondence, with US Members of Congress on such topics, is in New York, as are the diaries that Daniel mentions.

    The Washington Times tells us on March 13, that she died of heart failure on March 12, 1911.

    Daniel, if you haven’t already, consult Utah Historical Quarterly (Volume 62, Number 2, Spring 1994), you will find many more interesting details there. Her name is peppered through other issues of the same journal. She is not hard to track through the record (assuming that one has the time…). Perhaps we, or somebody else, might collaborate on this sometime after Labour Day.

  5. Mark Egger

    Great plant AND photos, Daniel! And thanks for the history as well. I hope to photograph this one some time…

  6. Waverly Fitzgerald

    This is what I love about botany. It’s not just the plants, but the stories of the people associated with them. Thanks for tracking Ellen Thompson and recording the trail that led you to her.

  7. Linda

    Great plant and terrific bit of historical research, thank you Daniel!

  8. Hollis Marriott

    I really enjoyed this post and the comments. Several years ago at an overlook off UT Hwy 12 north of Boulder (Boulder Mt Rd), I found an interpretive sign about “Early Explorers” that included “Ellen Thompson, Expedition Botanist” as well as Thompson’s Penstemon and Thompson’s Woolly Locoweed. I was stunned! In spite of my readings about scientific exploration of the American West and being a field botanist myself, I did not know of Powell’s sister. A photo of the sign is attached.

  9. Kate

    I enjoy all the Plants of the Day but this one is especially fun and interesting to read. Thank you!

  10. Susan Gustavson

    Thanks for your sleuthing and as usual, lovely photos. I just read in Harper’s index that women represent only 13% of the biographical entries in Wikipedia. So it seems an entry on Ellen Thompson would be an excellent project for someone to nudge that figure up.

  11. Pat Collins

    Here we have Mrs Thompson’s own handwritten list of collections in Utah. https://archive.org/stream/plantlist00thom#page/6
    Unfortunately the second volume of Contributions to American Botany by Sereno Watson is not on the Biodiversity Heritage Library, volume 4 seems to be the earliest.

    Quite a few in this list by Sereno Watson were collected by Mrs E. P. Thompson and two named after her including Eriogonum thompsonæ.

    Here is the syntype of Eriogonum thompsoniae collected by “UTAH. Mrs A H Thompson”
    Here is the isotype:

    In “Great Basin naturalist memoirs”
    Of Peteria thompson[i]ae Wats. “The type specimen was collected by Mrs. Ellen Thompson, sister of John Wesley Powell, at Kanab, where she lived in 1872.”
    Psorothamnus thompsonae var. thompsonae “type supposedly from near Kanab…”

    Peteria thompsoniae isotype:

    Astragalus thompsonae


    AQUILEGIA CÆRULEA, James. Near Provo City, Utah, A reduced form of this species, with bright blue flowers, was collected at Kanab in Southern Utah, by Mrs. E. P. Thompson, in 1872.
    BRICKELLIA (CLAVIGERA) LONGIFOLIA, Watson,… …Also collected at Kanab, Southern Utah, by Mrs. E. P. Thompson

    If you search for “almon” at the Peabody Herbarium you get eight specimens:


  12. Janeal Thompson

    This is so interesting. Thanks for the great entry, the comments from all and the beautiful photographs.

  13. lynn

    Ah, Daniel, what a service you have done here. There are many reasons this post means a lot: one, I love penstemons, and a rare one, such a pretty one! is a treat. Two, I have a strong attachment to Utah, specifically southern Utah, after my son went to a wilderness school there around 2002. I visited, and with other students’ families, I spent a weekend camped out on top of Boulder Mountain, a hop, skip and jump away from the Henry’s. It may have snowed on our pathetic tarp and stick “tent” overnight, but the beauty was undeniable. My love for that wild land took root (and probably played an obscure role in my moving west, ten years later). Three, women botanists! Yes, thank you! I love that the plaque photographed by Hollis above simply states that Thompson was an “expedition botanist” rather than a “little-known collector.” Finally, I really appreciate all the work you did to find out more about the person who brought this plant to western science. Your research engendered this juicy flood of valuable comments; you should be proud.

  14. Anna Lambe

    Wow! What more can I say? Just many thanks, Daniel, for another fascinating investigation of your subject-and thanks also to the many other contributors! You have given me many evenings of interesting reading ahead.

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