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Edward Palmer Collecting Trips to Mexico and the Southern United States,

Ipomoea arborescens and Edward Palmer. From the holdings of the Library of the Gray Herbariaum, Botany Libraries—Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Ipomoea arborescens and Edward Palmer. From the holdings of the Library of the Gray Herbariaum, Botany Libraries—Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Carte du Mexique, J.B. Poirson, 1811, from the Harvard Map Collection, Harvard University [map of region explored by Edward Palmer, 1874–1910].

Throughout his life, Edward Palmer (1829–1911) made botanical, zoological, and archaeological collections in the southwestern United States and Mexico. Palmer collected over 100,000 specimens and discovered approximately 1,000 new species. He also visited local markets to procure plants and study their uses in local cultures, and his documentation of plant uses helped found modern ethnobotany. Palmer joined C. C. Parry’s 1878 expedition to Mexico, where he explored burial mounds and collected plants. He returned repeatedly to Mexico, making botanical and ethnological collections in Durango, San Luis Potosi, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas. While Palmer sent his specimens to major research institutions for analysis, many of his specimens lacked appropriate data about location and time of collection. Important information has survived in his field notes.

Expeditions and Discoveries Resources on Palmer Botanical Collecting Trips

Selected Manuscripts and Records in Expeditions and Discoveries

Historic Letter Collection, 1796–1940; Edward Palmer Letters, 1879–1891. HL 1.001–2.0079. Gray Herbarium Archives, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Palmer, Edward. Mexican List, Parry and Palmer, 1878 [1879].
Palmer, Edward. Plants, San Lorenzo Cañon, 1904. PL 6.1. Gray Herbarium Archives, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Semi–Historic Letter Collection, 1890–1965; Edward Palmer Letters, 1892–1911. SL 1.0075–1.0109. Gray Herbarium Archives, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Palmer Botanical Collecting Trips Resources at Other Sites

Edward Palmer often collected multiple sets of specimens on his collecting trips. These specimen sets were then shipped to different institutions for analysis. Digital specimen records of Palmer’s botanical collections may be found at the following institutions:

Harvard University Herbaria Databases

Type Specimen Register, Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution

Tropicos.org, Missouri Botanical Garden

C.V. Starr Virtual Herbarium, New York Botanical Garden


The following sources were used in writing this page.

Beaty, Janice J. Plants in His Pack: A Life of Edward Palmer. New York: Pantheon Books, 1964.
Bye, Robert A., Jr. "An 1878 Ethnobotanical Collection from San Louis Potosi: Dr. Edward Palmer’s First Major Mexican Collection." Economic Botany. 33:2 (1979): 135–162.
Bye, Robert A., Jr. "Ethnobotany of the Southern Paiute Indians in the 1870s: With a Note on the Early Ethnobotanical Contributions of Dr. Edward Palmer." Great Basin Cultural Ecology: A Symposium. Ed. Don D. Fowler. Desert Research Institution Publications in the Social Sciences. 8: (1972): 87–104.
Dexter, Ralph. "The F.W. Putnam–Edward Palmer Relations in the Development of Early American Ethnobotany." Journal of Ethnobiology. 10:1 (Summer 1990): 35–41.
Gonzalez Arratia, Leticia. "Edward Palmer’s Exploration of Mortuary Caves in Coahuila during the Nineteenth Century." Journal of Big Bend Studies. 16 (2004): 129–161.
McVaugh, Rogers. Edward Palmer: Plant Explorer of the American West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.