Photo Friday: Echinacea purpurea

Who wouldn’t recognize these slightly droopy pink-purple flowers as Echinacea purpurea? Less probably so in 1787 when Rudbeckia purpurea as it was known at the time featured on plate 2 of the newly launched “Botanical Magazine“.

Echinacea purpurea in the William Curtis history bed
Echinacea purpurea in the William Curtis history bed

The Botanical Magazine became posthumously known after its founder William Curtis and still continues today as the longest running publication of original botanical art under the name of “Curtis’s Botanical Magazine“.

Having failed to excite readers for his (with 5s for the coloured edition quite expensive [1]) Flora Londinensis, a journal featuring flora growing within a 10-mile radius of London, Curtis turned to documenting (at 1s better-selling) ornamental exotics in his newly launched periodical [1].

The centerpiece of the journal are the hand-coloured plates of which more than 11,000 have been produced [2]. Many acclaimed artists contributed to the journal. The chief artist during the early ears was Sydenham Edwards who alone produced over 1,600 of the 1,721 plates that appeared in the magazine in its first 28 years [3].

Thanks to the Project Gutenberg we can scroll through the first volume of the journal and admire its beautiful plates for free.

Volumes 1 through 26, published from 1787 to 1807, as well as some selected images including detailed descriptions can also be found online at the National Agricultural Library and the National Agricultural Library’s Photo Image Project respectively.

The Chelsea Physic Garden commemorates William Curtis as the Praefectus Horti and Demonstrator of Plants at the garden from 1772 to 1777. He is remembered in one of the historical beds in the Chelsea Physic Garden: Here, plants that he first introduced to Great Britain or named as well as plants shown in early editions of the Botanical Magazine are displayed. This bed is one of the 2 (possibly 3?) spots where E. purpurea can be found in the garden.

Label of Echinacea purpurea in William Curtis's commemorative bed
Label of Echinacea purpurea in William Curtis's commemorative bed

[1] Sue Minter, The Apothecaries’ Garden – a history of the Chelsea Physic Garden, Sutton Publishing Ltd, 2003
[2] GLASGOW UNIVERSITY LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS DEPARTMENT, Book of the Month
October 2004 Curtis’s Botanical Magazine

[3] King’s College London; Exhibition: “NATURE OBSERVED: THE WORK OF THE BOTANICAL ARTIST”; Case 3: William Curtis and The Botanical Magazine

Not quoted above, but worth a read: “Zur Geschichte der ältesten botanischen Zeitschrift der Welt” auf Simone’s Hoyas Webseite (in German).

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