DEPARTMENT OF BOTANY
“On the heights and broken surface of the country at the Mississippi the beauty of the vegetable kingdom surpasses the imagination,” Joseph N. Nicollet writes in his unfinished manuscript entitled The Rise and Fall of the Vegetation.
Nicollet—assisted by John C. Frémont—led expeditions in 1838 and 1839 to explore the triangle of land bordered by Canada and the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The most historically significant achievement of the expeditions was the publication of a hydrographical map of the Upper Mississippi River Basin, but botanical collecting was also a priority for Nicollet.
“In order to obtain this [plant] collection, I engaged, at my own expense, the services of a practical botanist, Mr. Charles Geyer,” Nicollet writes in his expedition report. Geyer collected hundreds of plants throughout both expeditions. Much to Nicollet and Geyer’s disappointment, many of the 1838 specimens were lost while being shipped from Fort Snelling to St. Louis. The specimens that survived the journey were sent to Botanist John Torrey to identify. Despite the many losses, Torrey predicts that the plant “catalogue will, nevertheless… be a valuable contribution to the geographical distributions of American plants, as well as for the number of new species it adds to our flora.”
Bray, Martha Coleman. “Joseph Nicolas Nicollet, Geologist.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 114 (February 1975): 37-59.
Bray, Edmund C. and Martha C Bray. Joseph N. Nicollet on the plains and prairies: the expeditions of 1838-39, with journals, notes, and letters/translated from the French. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1976.
McKelvey, Susan Delano. Botanical Exploration of the Trans-Mississippi West, 1790-1850.” Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts: The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, 1955.
Nicollet, J.N. Report intended to illustrate a map of the hydrographical basin of the upper Mississippi river. Washington, DC: Blair and Rives, 1843.
Nicollet, Joseph N. “The Rise and Fall of the Vegetation.” St. Olaf University. Unfinished manuscript, transcribed by C. E. Ubanhowar Jr. n.d.
St. Olaf University. “Nicollet Index.” Re-imaging Joseph N. Nicollet’s Mapmaking Expeditions, n.d. http://www.stolaf.edu/academics/nicollet/index.html