5 Black innovators who changed the plant world

illustration of two black men and a black woman on a pink and cream background

George Washington Carver, Anne Spencer and O’Neil Ray Collins
(Ariel Rucker Ehlers / For The Times)
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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.”

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Edmond Albius

An illustration of Edmond Albius on a pink and orange background

(Ariel Rucker Ehlers / For The Times)

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.

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Marie Clark Taylor

An illustration of Marie Clark Taylor on a blue and yellow background with flowers

(Ariel Rucker Ehlers / For The Times)

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.

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O’Neil Ray Collins

illustration of a man on a purple background with green mushrooms

(Ariel Rucker Ehlers / For The Times)

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.

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Anne Spencer

An illustration of Anne Spencer on a blue and yellow background with pink flowers

(Ariel Rucker Ehlers / For The Times)

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.

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George Washington Carver

An illustration of George Washington Carver on a maroon background with blue flowers

(Ariel Rucker Ehlers / For The Times)

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.

Ariel Rucker Ehlers is an artist and photographer from Los Angeles. Follow @latimesplants on Instagram.

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