Hugo de Vries and Some Strange Vegetation, 1912

I’m spending this week in the Pacific Northwest and the plant life looks very peculiar to a long-time Texan. Some of the odd shapes and colors remind me a bit of the illustrations in the Dr. Seuss books we used to read to our kids. What the heck, for example, is this?


It brings to mind one of my favorite images from Julian Huxley’s papers. This is Dutch botany professor Hugo de Vries of the University of Amsterdam, one of the most important figures in the modern study of genetics:

Hugo de Vries Oct 1912 San Antonio JSH papers

De Vries came to Texas, of course, to speak at the formal opening of the new Rice Institute. (His talk, entitled “Mutations in Heredity,” is here, in the first volume of the Rice Institute Pamphlet.) At some point in this long trip he and Huxley traveled around the state inspecting the native flora. This picture was taken in San Antonio in October, 1912, the same month as the opening. Huxley’s note on the back reveals a bit of puzzlement: they’re not sure what that thing is, but they want to call it a cylindrical arborescent opuntia. And who am I to say it’s not?

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14 Responses to Hugo de Vries and Some Strange Vegetation, 1912

  1. effegee says:

    Perhaps Buckhorn Cholla or Staghorn Cholla? According to they are difficult to distinguish from one another. Harder in this case, owing to lack of a high-resolution color photo and to lack of apparent fruit.

  2. Looks like a variety of kinnikinnick to me.

  3. Karen says:

    Actually, it’s an andromeda. Scientific name is Pieris Japonica. If you look at the foliage, you’ll recognize the relationship to rhododendrons, and azaleas. I’ve got several in my yard, and they make a nice border shrub.

    • The leaves said “rhody” to me, but the bell-shaped flowers look nothing like that family, so I went with kinnikinnick. So much for guessing.

      I grew up with azaleas and we have a western azalea in our back yard. That is a lovely native rhody with fragrant flowers.

  4. mjthannisch says:

    I have some strange mini Azaleas. They apparently think that spring is all year. They’ve bloomed almost continuously for the last five or six years.

  5. john wolda says:

    Your strange mini Azaleas are surely Encore Azaleas which bloom more than once a year.

  6. Kathleen Boyd says:

    Melissa: My friends in Seattle say “The plant is very common here in the drearies – Pieris japonica.”

    Kathleen A. Boyd 713-306-4665

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Melissa Kean says:

      It really is pretty dreary, but we saw an enormous rainbow when the sun broke through this afternoon.

      • Those times when the sun comes out or the clouds clear are especially nice up there.

        As Brian Bowers wrote in the song “The View from Home”: “But all the natives know when the mountain lifts her skirts / The view from home will flat-out melt your mind.”

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