The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Page  506

THE BOTANICAL GARDENS

THE law of August 26, 1817, which actually created the University, provided that the governing board should have power to establish various "useful literary and scientific institutions," among which "botanic gardens" were named. During the twenty years of its existence in Detroit it cannot be supposed that the nascent University could do more than hold such an idea in memory.

The birthday of the University in Ann Arbor was June 5, 1837, when the Board of Regents held its first meeting there. The first professor to be appointed was the brilliant young botanist Asa Gray, who was soon to become the leader of botany in America, and to maintain his leadership for half a century.

His chief service to the University during the short period that he held the professorship of botany in absentia was to visit Europe to purchase books for the Library, and it is almost certain that it was he who designated the eastern half of the original forty-acre campus as the "Botanic Garden." He visited Ann Arbor in August, 1838, and made the original plan for the development of the campus. The early map which is referred to by local historians as long in the custody of the University Museum has disappeared, but the proposed botanical garden was mentioned in the Proceedings of the Board of Regents for December 20, 1841, only three years after Gray's visit to Ann Arbor, and a printed map dated 1854 actually shows the "Botanic Garden," but whether it was then in re or in spe nobody now knows.

If the Gardens were ever begun the evidence had disappeared by 1868, when Alexander Winchell pleaded with the Regents to get the Gardens under way (R.P., 1864-70, p. 301). Assistant Professor Mark Harrington did likewise in his report for 1873-74, and enough interest was aroused so that "a wealthy friend of the University" was at the point of establishing a botanical garden and conservatory by gift of "the fine brick residence and grounds of the well-known Smith property on Washtenaw Avenue across from the campus." This project was not carried out, and it remained for Professor Volney M. Spalding and Dr. Julius O. Schlotterbeck to start the Gardens on the campus itself. The first planting was done in 1897, with plants and seeds donated by the Michigan Agricultural College, through Professors C. F. Wheeler and W. J. Beal, and by the United States Department of Agriculture, through Mr. George H. Hicks.

Since 1897, although there have been two changes of location, the Botanical Gardens have had a continuous existence. Maintained in the early years on the campus as an adjunct of the Department of Botany and of the School of Pharmacy, the Gardens had no designated administrative official, depended largely upon voluntary labor of faculty and students, and led a precarious but scientifically productive life. It is recorded that the Regents "supplied an expert gardener and sufficient funds to increase materially the number of plants." The gardener seems to have been temporarily assigned by the superintendent of grounds. There was no greenhouse, but the Department of Botany rented space in the commercial greenhouses of Cousins and Hall on South University Avenue and was thus enabled to accumulate by gift and purchase a few interesting tropical or tender Page  507species which were to become the nucleus of the future greenhouse collections.

During the later years of the campus Gardens, additional land was rented elsewhere, because much material of single species was necessary for the phytochemical studies conducted by Professor Schlotterbeck and his pharmacy students. Inspection of William J. Hale's bibliography of the Chemical Laboratory for the years 1897 to 1906 will indicate the extent to which the Botanical Gardens contributed to research in that decade.

Maintenance of the Gardens on the crowded campus was so difficult that in 1899 energetic efforts to obtain a new site were begun, mainly through the initiative of Professors Volney M. Spalding and Frederick C. Newcombe, whose project was supported by Professor Jacob E. Reighard. Success was in sight in 1902, when it seemed that the properties included in Felch Park and the adjoining "cat-hole," on which are now located the various University buildings extending from the present Kellogg Foundation to the Storehouse, could be had for the Gardens. Just why the plan failed is obscure.

In 1906, however, on Newcombe's recommendation, Dr. and Mrs. Walter H. Nichols offered a tract of about twenty-seven acres between Geddes Avenue and the Huron River for the Botanical Gardens. The staff of the Department of Botany then included George P. Burns, the pioneer enthusiast in city planning through whose efforts Ann Arbor first became conscious of its need for a park system. He convinced the city authorities that they should permit the use of a tract of about twenty-five acres adjoining the Nichols property. Burns likewise secured a gift of thirty acres from the Detroit Edison Company. Thus, a tract of about eighty acres became available for the Botanical Gardens. This second site passed under the direct supervision of the Department of Landscape Design in July, 1916, although nominally it was controlled by the Botanical Gardens until the year 1919. In 1923 it became the present Nichols Arboretum. We are concerned here only with the period from 1906 to 1916, during which it was actually supervised by a director chosen from the Department of Botany and was known as the "Botanical Gardens and Arboretum."

The development of the Huron River tract was planned by Mr. O. C. Simonds of Chicago, a member of the class of 1878. He carried out his work to the great satisfaction of everyone concerned. President Angell said, in his report of September, 1908:

The establishment of a botanical garden makes possible an extension of the work in other departments both in the line of teaching and that of research. Demonstration material will be grown for the use of the students in botany, forestry, and pharmacy. Opportunity is offered for investigation of many problems in plant physiology, plant breeding, plant disease, and ecology which could not hitherto have been attempted.

The first Director of the Botanical Gardens and Arboretum was George P. Burns, who served under definite appointment from February, 1907, until February, 1910. He went to the headship of the Department of Botany at the University of Vermont and was succeeded by Charles Herbert Otis, who served as Curator from 1910 to 1912 and as Acting Director in 1912-13. Otis left to accept a position at Cornell University and was followed by Adrian J. Pieters, of whose official appointment there seems to be no record, but who served as Acting Director from 1913 to 1915, when he left the University for the United States Department of Agriculture.

Henry Allan Gleason, the second regularly appointed Director, served from Page  5081915 to 1919. Before his appointment took place there had been more or less open dissatisfaction with the site of the Gardens, largely because of the very uneven topography of the tract. It had very little flat land, suitable for experimental work, but a predominance of bluffs broken by ravines, admirable for permanent collections of woody species and for demonstrations of landscape planting. It was felt, on the one hand, that the botanists were not giving proper attention to the sort of development that the tract was best suited for, and were therefore not serving the needs of the Departments of Landscape Design and of Forestry. On the other hand, the botanists were not finding the site adapted to systematic gardens or experimental cultures.

The dissatisfaction reached a climax in April, 1913, when the administration of the Gardens was vested in a board consisting of the president of the University, the dean of the School of Pharmacy, the heads of the Departments of Botany, Forestry, and Landscape Design, Assistant Professor Henri T. A. de L. Hus, of the Department of Botany, the superintendent of grounds, and the secretary of the University. Some were appointed by name rather than by position, but the intention was to have all membership except that of Hus ex officio. He had been the one person productive in published experimental research conducted at the Huron River site, and his special interest was recognized by giving him membership in the committee, which, until a year later, did not even include Pieters, who was in fact directing the Gardens.

This "committee of management of the Botanical Gardens" was to have custody over the Huron River site (the present Nichols Arboretum) and also of a new site where the botanists would have plenty of flat land for extensive greenhouses, formal plantings, and experiment plots.

Pieters did much scouting for the proposed new supplementary site, and in January, 1914, the Regents appointed a committee consisting of Regent Junius E. Beal and Secretary Shirley W. Smith to purchase whatever land seemed needed. As a result the University came into possession of the first twenty acres of the present Botanical Gardens, situated near Packard Road beyond the city limits in the direction of Ypsilanti.

Only the Department of Botany had been actively concerned in the development of the Huron River site from 1906 to 1914, but harking back to the time when the College of Pharmacy had made the chief use of the campus garden, and in recognition of the Department of Forestry's unfavorable report on the Department of Botany's stewardship of the Nichols site, it was decided by President Hutchins to give each presumably interested department a voice in the control of the reorganized Gardens and Arboretum. It was to have two branches, with the Department of Botany and the College of Pharmacy predominantly interested in one and the Departments of Landscape Design and of Forestry in the other. The director of the Gardens was to be a member of the staff of the Department of Botany, as required by the deeds of gift of the Huron River site, but he was to delegate actual control of the latter to the head of the Department of Landscape Design. It was in accordance with this scheme, formulated in 1914, that Professor Aubrey Tealdi took charge in 1916 of what was later to become, after modification of the deeds of gift, the Nichols Arboretum. Gleason went to the New York Botanical Garden in January, 1919, and the present Director, Harley H. Bartlett, was appointed his successor.

The interdepartmental committee did not function well, and after Bartlett had Page  509held the directorship for a year, President Hutchins was content to change the organization by the simple expedient of calling no meetings of the committee. The change was later officially recognized by the Regents. The Botanical Gardens became an autonomous department of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and was ordered to operate in whatever manner would best serve the purely botanical interests of the University. It was understood that the Department of Botany, as such, was to have no control over the policies or budget of the Gardens, but that whenever the directorship of the Gardens became vacant, it should be filled by the appointment of an active member of the faculty of the Department of Botany. The plan so informally put into effect has operated smoothly.

The reason for the change was well known at the time. Because of the wartime demand for drugs, Professor Henry Kraemer of the College of Pharmacy had been co-operating with various commercial manufacturers of pharmaceuticals in the growing of drug plants. The crops were successfully produced and sold, and the enterprise bade fair to absorb a lion's share of the facilities of the Gardens with no commensurate gain to science. The commercial side of the project (not handled officially through the director of the Gardens) was rapidly outrunning the educational and scientific. With Professor Kraemer (in 1919 appointed Dean of the College of Pharmacy) dominating the committee, there seemed no painless way to control the situation. He wanted to grow drugs and still more drugs, but as a purely commercial and demonstrational enterprise. President Hutchins made a wry face and decreed that there should be no committee!

In 1924 the School of Forestry moved its nurseries from lots on State Street near Ferry Field, which had been outgrown, to the Botanical Gardens. Here they have remained ever since. The expansion was made by the purchase of slightly more than two acres of additional land adjoining the Gardens at the southeast. At this time the western end of the Gardens and the adjoining property on the west and southwest were of little utility because they were frequently flooded by an open drain. In order to encourage land reclamation by the construction of a deep concrete conduit and also to provide for further expansion of the Gardens, three other parcels of land, aggregating nearly thirty acres, were purchased in 1924 and 1928. The Ford Motor Company gave an unused right of way along the western boundary (about half an acre) in 1925. The present area is 51.72 acres, and as a result of the improvement of the drainage it is all available for planting.

No effort has been spared which might make the Gardens of service to the University and the community as a whole. An annual chrysanthemum show has been held since 1912. This is the most important horticultural and popular activity of the Gardens.

The predominant activity of the Gardens, however, has, from the very first, been research, and there has been a steady increase in the volume of work carried on. In the fields of genetics and experimental taxonomy there has been long-continued research on the evening primroses (genus Oenothera), which became well known to experimentalists at the beginning of the century through the mutation theory of Professor Hugo de Vreis of Amsterdam. His extraordinarily important studies attracted the attention of other workers to the same genus, among them Professor Bradley M. Davis and the present Director of the Gardens. Previous to 1919, Davis had carried on his Oenothera work at the Harvard Botanical Garden, at the Woods Hole Page  510Marine Biological Laboratory, and at the University of Pennsylvania.

Bartlett's Oenothera experiments, begun at Washington in 1909 and continued after 1915 at Michigan, were the first research for which provision was made at the Packard Road site. This work for some years occupied not only much of his own time but also that of the Assistant Director. Other members of the present botanical staff have utilized the research facilities of the Gardens for themselves and their students. Especially indefatigable has been Professor Felix G. Gustafson, who has carried out such interesting work as the induction of seedless fruit formation (parthenocarpy) by the action of hormones. Professor Edwin B. Mains and his students have been actively engaged in the study of physiological races of the fungi which cause plant disease and have been breeding useful and ornamental plants for disease resistance at the Gardens since 1930.

Members of the Michigan faculty whose doctoral dissertations were based upon work done at the Gardens include William Campbell Steere, who worked on forms of Petunia and other Solanaceae with supernumerary chromosomes, and Kenneth L. Jones, who investigated the heredity of sex forms of ragweed.

Special collections have been built up for continuing research in several groups. The collection of wild roses was especially notable during the years in which the researches of Dr. Eileen Erlanson were in progress. The most extensive outdoor planting now is that of Prunus (plums and cherries). The best greenhouse collections are those of Cactaceae, studied by Dr. Elzada Clover, and various succulents of other groups, now being used for cytological investigations. The first large accession of greenhouse plants came from the Missouri Botanical Garden, through the friendly interest of Dr. William Trelease, the director.

The administration of the University once planned, by a gradual process of accretion, to transform the Botanical Gardens into a general biological institute. This idea was originally suggested by the fact that the genetical investigations of Ernest Gustav Anderson (National Research fellow from 1923 to 1926; Assistant Professor, 1926-27; and Lloyd fellow, 1927-28) were concerned with both maize and Drosophila — the fruit fly, chief laboratory organism for studies in genetics. It led to the authorization of investigations at the Gardens in the inheritance of melanism in snakes by Frank N. Blanchard, of the Department of Zoology, and his wife, the Assistant Director. This work has continued to the present time and has had many interesting by-products. The Gardens lacked the necessary facilities, however, for taking care of President Little's experimental mice when he moved to Ann Arbor from Maine, and so the animal work more naturally developed elsewhere (see Part VIII: Laboratory of Vertebrate Biology).

During recent years the investigations at the Botanical Gardens have taken an increasingly systematic and phytogeographic trend. The Director's participation in scientific expeditions to Mexico in 1930 and the Mayan region of Guatemala and British Honduras in 1931 resulted in the accumulation of living collections of plants which had not been adequately studied at the Gardens. Mexico, Guatemala, and the Southwest have subsequently yielded considerable numbers of unidentified succulents and other plants especially suitable for greenhouse culture. The first student expedition to Mexico representing the Gardens was that of Mr. and Mrs. C. L. Lundell, Mr. Alfred F. Whiting, and others in 1934. It was financed in part by the gradual accumulation of small gifts from the membership of the Botanical Gardens Page  511Association, an organization authorized by the Regents in 1925. Subsequently, expeditions to Mexico and the Southwest have been made every year. From the standpoint of publicity the most notable of these has been the trip of Dr. Elzada U. Clover and Miss Mary Lois Jotter, to the canyon of the Colorado. They are to the present time the only women who have ever attempted and survived the trip by boat through the canyon. Lundell was still connected with the Gardens at the time of the Michigan-Carnegie expedition to Guatemala in 1933 and of his first Michigan excursion to Mexico (1934), after which he was transferred to the Herbarium and the Botanical Gardens' participation in the biological survey of the Mayan area ceased. More recently the Gardens have participated in Mexican exploration through collaboration with Dr. Forrest Shreve, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and Dr. Ivan M. Johnston, of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, in a study of the Sonoran Desert.

Only four head gardeners have been so designated by official appointment. The first was Martin Bilon (1916-21), who had become greatly devoted to Bartlett's Oenothera research in the United States Department of Agriculture; he came soon after the transfer of that work to Ann Arbor. He only returned to Washington at the latest date that permitted him to regain his civil service status. He was highly skilled in the handling of experimental cultures and in propagation. As gardener assigned to assist the famous rose-breeder, Dr. Walter van Fleet, he had saved, by means of grafting, fine horticultural rose varieties that had originated as interspecific hybrids whose embryos proved incapable of producing a primary root. He devised the method of grafting them, as minute objects in the cotyledonary stage, on unhybridized stock seedlings.

The second was Adriaan P. Wezel (1921-30), trained in Holland, an expert grower of chrysanthemums whose plants took prizes with unfailing regularity. He is known in Holland as a writer on American horticulture for Dutch periodicals. He left Michigan for a corresponding position at Smith College. From 1930 until 1935 Jacob J. Van Akkeren was the acting head gardener. He was succeeded by the present incumbent, Walter Kleinschmidt, who was trained at our Botanical Gardens and has reached his present position by conspicuous success in the complicated routine of growing plants for research and instruction.

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bartlett, Harley H. MS, "The Botanical Gardens of the University of Michigan, 1897-1937." Univ. Mich.
Bartlett, Harley H."A University Expedition in Mexico. The Michigan Botanical Expedition for 1934."Mich. Alum. Quart. Rev., 41 (1935): 357-58.
Flook, Lyman R., , and Henry A. Gleason. "The University's Botanical Garden."Mich. Alum., 23 (1917): 460-63. Contains perspective sketch and ground plan of the greenhouses, as originally proposed and approved.
Gager, C. Stuart. "Botanic Gardens of the World: Materials for a History."Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record, 27 (1938): 151-406.
Gray, Asa. Letters of Asa Gray. Ed. by Jane Loring Gray. London: Macmillan and Co., 1893.
[Hale, William J.]"Bibliography."In Edward D. Campbell, History of the Chemical Laboratory of the University, 1856-1916. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1916.
Newcombe, Frederick C."The New Botanic Garden."Mich. Alum., 13 (1906): 99-102.
Newcombe, Frederick C."A Quarter Century of Botany at Michigan."Mich. Alum., 21 (1915): 477-80.
[News notes.]Mich. Alum., 5 (1899): 290;Page  512 19 (1912): 108; 20 (1913): 64; 20 (1914): 302.
President's Report, Univ. Mich., 1853-1940.
Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1864-1940 (especially 1899-1940). (R.P.)
[Robbins, Frank E.]"An Earlier Campus Plan."Mich. Alum., 29 (1923): 793-95.
Robbins, Frank E."Asa Gray's Visit to Ann Arbor."Mich. Alum., 36 (1930): 483-84.
[Schlotterbeck, Julius O.]"The Botanical Garden at the University."Phi Chi Communicator [Ann Arbor], 11 (June, 1899): 1-2.
[Schlotterbeck, Julius O.]"A University Arboretum."Univ. Newsetter, No. 25 (1899), suppl.
[Schlotterbeck, Julius O.]"Will Grow Its Own Plants."Univ. Newsetter, No. 36 (1899).
Spaulding, Volney M., , and Frederick C. Newcombe. "Needs of the University. III. A Botanical Garden."Univ. Newsletter, No. 51 (1900).
Tealdi, Aubrey. "The University Arboretum: a Beautiful Setting for the Study of Plant Life."Mich. Alum., 28 (1922): 713-17.
U. of M. Daily, Apr. 24, 1900.
University of Michigan Regents' Proceedings, 1837-1864. Ed. by Isaac N. Demmon. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1915.