plants have been named for André Michaux. The most spectacular
of these is the rare Carolina Lily, Lilium michauxii. In 2003
the North Carolina Legislature enacted a law making this lovely wild flower
the official wild flower of the state of North Carolina. The Carolina Lily is much smaller
and displays fewer flowers than the Turk’s Cap Lily, Lilium
superbum, which is more likely to be found at higher elevations.
Lilium michauxii is found as far west as east Texas and
as far north as Virginia.
While plants have been named in Michaux’s honor, his name is
primarily known from the plants that he himself named, not those
named for him by others. Writing in the Proceedings of
the American Philosophical Society in 1937, Rodney True
noted the persistence of the name Michaux in botanical textbooks.
True reported this was due almost entirely to the explorations,
critical study and accurate description of plants collected by
André Michaux who was remembered as a discoverer of many plants
new to science. Examining the 7th edition of Gray’s Manual
of Botany, which covers the northeastern and north central
United States, True concluded that André Michaux was responsible
for naming 24 new genera and 293 new species of flowering plants
found in Gray’s Manual.
Forty-two years later, David Rembert, writing in Castanea,
The Journal of the Southern Appalachian Botanical Society,
reported similar findings. Examining The Manual of the Vascular
Flora of the Carolinas for Michaux’s species, Rembert noted
that Michaux had named 26 genera and 283 species native to the
much smaller geographic area of North and South Carolina.
True and Rembert each noted that approximately one-third of
the species Michaux named had subsequently been placed in other
genera by later researchers, but remarked at the persistence of
Michaux names in spite of over a century of critical study by
later botanists. Neither study fully embraced the geographic sweep
of Michaux’s explorations. The French botanist collected from
Florida north to Hudson Bay and west to Missouri.
One of the geographic gaps of our knowledge of Michaux’s plants has been
filled with the 2002 publication by the University Press of Florida
of the book Michaux in Florida by Walter Taylor and Eliane Norman.
Oconee Bells - Shortia galacifolia
André Michaux is best known for discovering and naming hundreds
of plants new to science. However, the plant most often associated
with André Michaux is one he collected but did not name, Shortia
galacifolia commonly known as the Oconee Bells.
This herbaceous evergreen ground cover, which blooms early in
spring, is found in only a few places in the mountains of NC and
SC. Excellent displays of this plant may be found at Devils Fork
State Park, SC.
For many years Duke Energy Company owned much of the land where
the Oconee Bells are found and Duke scientists have a special
interest in this species. These photos are from the collections
of Duke scientists John Garton and Robert Siler.
The story associated with the naming and subsequent search for
this plant is perhaps the very best story of nineteenth century
American botany. Visiting Paris in 1839 young American botanist
Asa Gray found a specimen of the plant in Michaux’s herbarium
and learned it had never been classified. Gray seized the opportunity
to name the plant for Kentucky botanist Charles W. Short. After
returning to America Gray arranged a trip to the "high mountains
of Carolina" where Michaux’s note indicated he had found the plant.
Gray’s search, and further searches by every botanist who visited
the Southern Appalachians for nearly the next half century, failed
to find the plant. The rediscovery of the "lost Shortia"
became a goal for many botanists, but all were unsuccessful and
the plant’s whereabouts remained shrouded in mystery.
Shortia was eventually rediscovered, not by a searching
botanist, but by seventeen year-old George Hyams near Marion,
NC in 1877. Subsequently, a decade later, and virtually one hundred
years after the French botanist’s visit, Shortia was found
in the Oconee County, SC locale where Michaux had encountered
it. Asa Gray eventually did get to see Shortia in its native
habitat, but he never visited the locale where Michaux had found
reference to the "high mountains of Carolina" proved misleading
to Gray and other botanists. Knowing of Michaux’s ascents of the
highest peaks in the southern mountains, they anticipated finding
the plant at a high elevation. However, the Oconee County sites
where Michaux encountered the plant actually have an elevation
of only about 1000 feet. However, Michaux’s reference to "high
mountains" becomes understandable in the context of his earliest
journeys to the mountains in 1787 and 1788. At that time, climbing
to the headwaters of tributaries of the Savannah River near the
present town of Highlands, NC (elevation 3,835 feet), he believed
that he was in the high mountains of Carolina. Indeed he was in
high mountains, but these were not the highest mountains he visited
in the region. In later journeys he approached the southern mountains
by traveling along the Catawba River through the central Piedmont
of NC. Following this route, Michaux reached peaks over 5,000
feet including the summits of Roan and Grandfather Mountains.
Gray and others understandably, but incorrectly, assumed that
his reference to collecting this plant in the high mountains meant
these much higher peaks Michaux visited later.
Purple Laurel - Rhododendron catawbiense
Perhaps the greatest treasure for horticulture of Michaux’s North
American discoveries was the Rhododendron catawbiense,
commonly known as the Catawba Rhododendron or Purple Laurel. Found
in the wild on the peaks of some of the highest mountains in the
Southern Appalachians, and in a few places in the Piedmont, this
evergreen shrub is one of the genetic parents of many beautiful
Rhododendron catawbiense is the signature plant of the
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. This close-up of the flower found
throughout our web pages is from the collection of Mike Bush,
former Executive Director of the Daniel
Stowe Botanical Garden. Used by permission.
Bigleaf Magnolia - Magnolia macrophylla
Michaux’s most exciting discovery from the Carolina Piedmont was
Magnolia macrophylla, the Bigleaf Magnolia. Shown here
holding a flower is Edgar "Cap" Love Jr. owner of Magnolia Grove,
an 1824 residence in Lincoln County, NC listed on the National
Register of Historic Places. Magnolia Grove boasts both the earliest
and the longest continuous use of Bigleaf Magnolias in landscaping
to be found in NC. Peter Smith, the father of the builder of Magnolia
Grove, was one of André Michaux’s hosts in 1789. Elizabeth Rinehart
Love, "Cap" Love’s late wife, was a descendant of Peter Smith
and Christian Reinhart. Both of these early settlers were Michaux’s
hosts in the area.
Rare and seldom seen in NC, though found in greater numbers in
a few states to the west of the Appalachians, Michaux’s Magnolia
macrophylla is a tree of superlatives. It boasts the largest
flowers and largest simple leaves of any tree native to temperate
North America. The flowers, which often have purple spots at the
base of the petals, may be up to a foot and a half in diameter,
and the leaves may be a foot wide and up to three feet long. In
his journal, in which he recorded
of miles of travel, André Michaux mentioned finding this unusual
tree only in the Carolina Piedmont and in the Cumberland region
Spear-Leaved Yellow Violet - Viola hastata
Michaux was interested in all plants whether they were large and
showy or small and inconspicuous. He noticed the smallest plants
growing on the forest floor. Until Michaux collected and named
it, this small yellow violet was not known to science. Michaux
mentioned it several times in his journal and gave it the name
Viola hastata in his FLORA. The name reflects the distinctive
shape of the leaves. Each leaf is shaped like an arrowhead or
spearhead and the botanical Latin word for this shape is hastate.
In spring, this violet briefly brightens the forest floor in both
the southern mountains and in the Piedmont.
Flame Azalea - Rhododendron calendulaceum
The flame azalea, Rhododendron calendulaceum, which so
delighted William Bartram when he observed it in the southern
mountains, is among the shrubs named by Michaux. The genus was
later changed from Azalea to Rhododendron, but Michaux’s specific
epithet calendulaceum describing the marigold-orange color
of the flower was retained. The flowers may actually exhibit a
wide range of colors from fiery red-oranges to soft yellows.
Umbrella-Leaf - Diphylleia cymosa
Michaux was often the first to find unusual plants endemic to
the Southern Appalachians. Umbrella-Leaf, Diphylleia cymosa,
pictured here is found infrequently. It prefers to grow only on
rich seepage slopes. Each plant produces a leaf one to two feet
in diameter. The large leaves make its white flowers seem tiny
Spring Beauty - Claytonia caroliniana
Michaux often found a new species that would have appeared to
be a well-known species to an untrained observer. The lovely little
Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginia named for the 18th century
Virginia botanist John Clayton by Linnaeus, is a widespread plant
that had been known to botanists for many years. Michaux, however,
discovered a different species of Spring Beauty with wider leaves
than this earlier known species. He christened the new species
Fever-Tree - Pinckneya pubens
Shown here is Redouté's illustration of the Fever-Tree, Pinckneya pubens,
from Michaux’s FLORA OF NORTH AMERICA, 1803. The FLORA and Michaux’s OAKS were both
illustrated with drawings by Pierre J. Redouté. The artist would become the most celebrated
botanical illustrator of the age. Redouté later found a patroness with the largesse to support
his talent in Napoleon’s Empress Josephine. With her financial support, Redouté created some
of the most celebrated illustrations of flowers the world has ever known.
The common name Fever Tree suggests the tree’s
important medicinal properties. Plants with medicinal properties
were especially important to early botanists. The Fever-Tree,
Pinckneya pubens, was such a plant. Found in a few places
along the Southeastern coast, this tree was used by local inhabitants
as a cure for fever.
Most of Michaux’s hundreds of plant names were
descriptive of the plant, or sometimes of the locale where he
found it. Magnolia macrophylla translates literally as
big leaf magnolia; the Rhododendron catawbiense was found
near the headwaters of the Catawba River. However, in the case
of Pinckneya pubens, Michaux exercised his discoverer’s
privilege of naming plants by honoring a friend. Charles Coatesworth
Pinckney was a helpful friend to both André and François André
Michaux. Pinckney, who belonged to a leading Charleston family,
was an important political and military leader, and US diplomat.
This is only a sampling of the plants named
by André Michaux. A list of plants native to the Carolinas named by André Michaux
is available from the plant