Despite underrepresentation, Black people have made considerable contributions to the fields of botany and horticulture. Artist and photographer Ariel Rucker Ehlers highlights five of these historical Black figures. “In a moment of reflection during Black History Month, it is a privilege to recognize a few of the most renowned and accomplished individuals.”
Albius was a horticulturist from Réunion. Born a slave, he eventually became an important figure in the cultivation of vanilla. When he was only 12, he invented a method for pollinating vanilla orchids quickly and profitably.
Marie Clark Taylor
The first African American woman to receive a PhD in botany, Taylor also served as a department head at Howard University. Her research was in photomorphogenesis, which is the influence of light on plant growth.
O’Neil Ray Collins
Collins completed his bachelor’s degree in botany at Southern University in Louisiana in 1957. He acquired his master’s degree in 1959 and doctorate in 1961 from the University of Iowa. He is a world-renowned expert on slime-mold genetics. His PhD thesis confirmed his discovery of myxomycete mating types.
Spencer was a great American poet of the Harlem Renaissance, a civil rights activist and a passionate gardener. Her life story is an example of the power of Black women in the most hostile settings. The Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum is located in Lynchburg, Va., and is a testament to the power of the garden as a place of inspiration and sanctuary.
George Washington Carver
Carver was born into slavery in the 1860s. Carver left home at a young age to pursue an education; he would eventually earn a master’s degree in agriculture science from Iowa State University and teach at Tuskegee Institute. Some of Carver’s best known contributions are promoting crop rotation methods and researching and developing hundreds of peanut products and uses.