A Botanical Journal’s Place in Local History

by Pat Goodfriend, Membership & Volunteer Coordinator
March 2, 2021

Tucked between volumes on landscapes and gardens, is a plain brown book in MCHS’s Research Library. Opening the cover of Apgar’s New Plant Analysis finds a rich botanical world that once existed in Morris County. Who documented 100 plant specimens for this historical resource? The author was Anna Wortman, a schoolgirl in Chester Township School District, School 1,  whose family had long ties to Chester’s Hacklebarney district.

Keeping botanical journals and herbariums, which contain dried plant specimens mounted on sheets of paper, were popular assignments in the late 19th century. An inside front cover label reveals Anna received her new journal on March 14, 1895. Her outdoor studies were in Spring 1895 and Spring/Summer 1896. Wildflowers and flowering shrubs are included in Anna’s survey. A few of the plants she included are now considered invasives.

Trillium erectrum (red trillium), a flowering plant described by Anna in her journal (top photo). Photo courtesy of USDA Forest Service.
Viburnum lentago (sheepberry) preserved in the United State National Herbarium held by the Smithsonian.

Understanding Botanical Terms was necessary before filling in a specific “Order of Description” on each specimen’s page. From roots to seeds, every feature was identified with remarks added, as well as its classification, name, locality and date (found). Anna carefully illustrated in pencil half of these plants. A few hand-picked, pressed specimens remain, such as a Viburnum lentago, or Sheepberry. Forty of the plants Anna identified were from the Hacklebarney area.

Although the land Anna knew has changed, not all is developed. In 1924, Hacklebarney State Park opened, preserving the Black River’s glacial ravine and forests. The park includes a designated Natural Areas System that has endangered plants: American ginseng, Virginia pennywort, and Leatherwood. These plants are not in Anna’s journal, but can instead be safely “collected” today…using a cell phone’s camera!