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Here, Here – Cheers to You Friend of Nature

BY O. M. BRAIDA –

Dear Friends:  The following story of my 2008 trip to Kentucky is reprinted here as a tribute to John Beckner – Academy friend, botanist and former orchid identifier for the Marie Selby Gardens.  This August I left to teach again in Kentucky.  I called John to see how he was fairing.  A recent heart attack had left him weak and I wondered if I would make it back to Florida in time to see him again.  While teaching in class I received a call that John had passed on Monday, August 22, 2011.  I have been considering what to write about John when I stumbled on this previously written newsletter.  It seems apropos to share with you this information inspired by my conversations with John.  A real naturalist, an orchid judge, a Sierra Club member, a teacher, and a man with a wealth of information and the spirit to share it, John Beckner gave much to the society, the Academy and to me.  He will be remembered and missed.  I hope you will enjoy some of his “factoids” I share below.  God bless you and keep you John.  We, your friends at the Academy, salute you.

“When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrote in our life or in the life of another.”   

Helen Keller

August 2008:  What a wonderful trip to horse country. Lexington, Kentucky is a beautiful town and my new friends and students at the Arboretum/Kentucky University made my visit all the more enjoyable.

Roaming about the Kentucky countryside and visiting the beautiful gardens and horse ranches reminded me of my early years on horseback. I was getting quite good at riding in those young days, then stopped and didn’t ride again until while living in St. Croix my roommate bought a horse. So, says I, I’ll just saddle up the horse and go for a trot. Sorry to say the horse had other ideas and just like an old time Laurel and Hardy movie, Ollie threw one leg over the fidgety horse with such savoir faire that I landed not on the horse but flat on the ground!

Academy botanist, John Beckner, submitted to me information about two very famous Kentucky botanists. The irascible Rafinesque and the productive Sadie Price.

Rafinesque was the first professor of natural history west of the Allegheny Mountains, teaching at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. His years at Transylvania, 1819-26, though troubled were among his most productive publishing scientific names, both locally and in Europe, for plants and animals. He became interested also in prehistoric Indian sites identifying 148 of them in Kentucky alone. John Beckner spoke of the tragicomedic life of Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1783-1840) which he said is extraordinary. Rafinesque published perhaps 950 papers, books, notes, on Botany worldwide. He also wrote about animals, philosophy, banking, the Bible, poetry, etc. He wrote of natural hybrid orchids and plant evolution long before Darwin. He insulted, shocked, enraged, outraged everyone. In the 1930’s Donald Peattig noted that the Encyclopedia Britannica did not include his name. It does now. Rafinesque described many new genera and species and plants, and a significant number had to be accepted by the kicking and screaming botanists! The literature about Rafinesque is enormous. It takes over five pages of very fine print to list it in one standard reference. It is not surprising that many think of him as a botanical counterpoint to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He has also been compared to Roger Bacon, Paracelsus, Alexander von Humboldt, Darwin, Linnaeus. Peattig.  Beckner said, of all the naturalists who have ever worked on the American continent, Rafinesque is the only one who might clearly be called a Titan.

Sarah Frances “Sadie” Price (1849-1903) was born in Indiana. The family moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky while Sadie was an infant. Price spent much of her life as a semi-invalid. John Beckner elaborates, Sadie, orphaned after the war, made her living by teaching, botanizing, and painting often from her bed. Considered an excellent teacher, she led field trips, fully dressed in respectable skirts. She corresponded with far away experts at universities, wrote 40 plus papers, collected specimens, catalogued, illustrated and painted Kentucky dried specimens, living plants, birds, bird’s eggs, insects in life stages, freshwater fish and shells, and even clouds and stars. An exhibit of watercolor sketches of Warren County’s native plants and birds took first place in its class at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The principal collection of Price’s work, numbering over 965 pieces, resides at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.

Other greats of the area.

Andre Michaux (1746-1802), considered the most indefatigable explorer this country has ever known, is responsible for publishing the first book on the Flora of North America, North American Oaks, and making countless other discoveries.

Francois Andre Michaux (1770-1855) son of Andre Michaux, arrived in Kentucky in 1802 to conduct studies of forestry and agriculture. His writings offer a glimpse of the natural environment of the state two centuries ago.  Michaux  in his account of Kentucky’s natural environment gave vivid descriptions of the wide expanses of forest, the huge trees, and the great natural beauty of the region as is still evidenced today.( Plant Life of Kentucky, Jones. Pg 74)

William Clark (1770 -1838) was an American explorer, soldier, Indian agent, and territorial governor. A native of Virginia, he also grew up in pre-statehood Kentucky. Along with Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809), Clark led the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803 to 1805 across the Louisiana Purchase to the Pacific Ocean.

Charles Wilkins Short, (1794-1863) graduated in 1810 from Transylvania University, and in 1815 from University of Pennsylvania medical school. He practiced medicine in frontier Kentucky where he was born and raised but devoted his leisure time to Botany. At his death his vast herbarium was bequeathed to the Smithsonian Institution and then it passed to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.  Read more about Plant Life of Kentucky: An Illustrated Guide to the Vascular Flora by Ronald L. Jones

And

For those of you who visit or live in Kentucky, you may want to check out the Kentucky Society of Natural History a nonprofit organization incorporated in 1943 to promote the study of nature and the natural sciences.

Well, it was a story of gardens, horses, adventure, hard work, falling down, getting up, moving on and just desserts. No whimps!  I called out to the students. The only way to break into a gallop is to spur yourself onward. And so they did, we did. Thank you everyone for a great week! And to anyone who has put down their pencil or paintbrush, it’s time to get back on the horse. God bless. OM

 

John Beckner (1932-2011) was a longtime Florida botanist, horticulturist, and environmental consultant. He was a specialist in the field of Orchid Identification and aquatic plants.   His comprehensive fieldwork in the U.S. and Neotropics included 67 counties in Florida.   Mr. Beckner has been a commercial grower of Bromeliads and Orchids, has staged many show exhibits, built gardens utilizing these plants, and done extensive field observations.

Mr. Beckner was an Accredited Orchid Judge from 1963 and was a Senior Judge with the American Orchid Society. He authored many publications and founded of The Orchid Conservation Committee (TOCC) and Journal AA.  His CV includes over 100 scientific and popular publications on his various interests.  He has known (and often worked with) many of the leading Bromeliad experts such as Mulford Foster, Lyman Smith, Bob Wilson, Harry Luther, Denis Cathcart, David Barry, Victoria Padilla, to name a few.  He has also worked extensively in herbaria and in the field with many prominent botanists.

His extensive teaching career at numerous colleges and gardens has covered such topics as Botanical Illustration, Landscape Design, Florida Soils and Vegetation, Plant Biodiversity, Genetics of Horticultural Plants, Plant Physiology, and Florida Aboriginal Food Plants.  He also taught “Plant Morphology for Artists” for the Academy of Botanical Art and the Ringling School of Art and Design, CSSP, Certificate Program in Botanical Art & Illustration.

The Academy of Botanical Art is most appreciative of Mr. Beckner’s contribution to its certificate course programs, including his collaboration on the book, “Plant Morphology for Artists” by O.M. Braida, volume ten of “Ten Steps – A Course in Botanical Art & Illustration,” as well as his contribution of Academy Course Pak #14: Bromeliads, Academy Course Pak #15: Palms, and Academy Course Pak #16 Endangered Plant Species of the World. Mr. Beckner was a consultant for all scientific reference in materials distributed by the Academy and one of the judges for granting Botanical Art Certificates to Academy students. He died in Sarasota, Florida on August 22, 2011.

 

 

12 Responses to “Here, Here – Cheers to You Friend of Nature”

  1. Suzanne Cooper says:

    O.M. Thanks for your loving tribute to John Beckner. I have just heard of his passing from Dan Ward and, in looking for info, found your note.
    I met John while a student at USF and had the ‘pleasure’ of spending time with him in the field with Dr. Robert Long.
    That generation of true taxonomic botanists is quickly being called away, with very few to replace them.

    Thanks again

    S. T. Cooper

    • admin says:

      Suzanne: I am very glad you found this tribute to John. Yes, he was a treasure of information and will be missed. Olivia

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