2,135 images of South Florida botanicals, 1901-1938

Collection Number: M83-2

Creator: Small, John Kunkel, 1869-1938

Title: Correspondence and Photographs, 1902-1938

Quantity: 41.5 cubic ft.


This collection contains correspondence and photographs reflecting John Kunkel Small's career as a botanist and his frequent contacts with many leading botanists, scientists, explorers, and naturalists of his time including Oakes Ames, Roland M. Harper, Liberty Hyde Bailey, Lord Nathaniel Britton, David G. Fairchild, William Chambers Coker, Harold St. John, Thomas A. Edison, and fellow professionals at the New York Botanical Garden.

The letters discuss requests for or offers of botanical specimens; comparative descriptions of similar botanical species; unique features of particular species; discovery of new species, and discovery of known species in new geographic locations; determining the identity of questionable specimens; and specimen collection trips to several states including Florida, described as "the most interesting one, from a botanical standpoint, in the Union" (letter to Professor H.C. Beardslee, New Smyrna, Florida, March 18, 1920). Also in the collection are a number of unpublished manuscripts and botanical notes on Small's discoveries.

The collection also contains over 3,000 photographic images, including prints and glass plate negatives. Although primarily a record of Small's botanical research, the photographs also document Florida's Seminole Indians, ancient Indian mounds, lighthouses, sugar cane grinding and boiling, a coontie (arrowroot starch) mill, the plant introduction station at Miami, and the Royal Palm Park (now the Everglades National Park). Of particular significance are his photographs of Indian mounds and various views of hammocks before early development destroyed them. In almost all cases, identification of Small's images are taken directly from his notes.

Historical Note:

John Kunkel Small was renowned for his research on the flora of southeastern United States and concentrated his efforts on the study of the flowers, bulbs, and herbs of Florida. His writings on botanical subjects included more than 450 books and papers.

After receiving his doctorate from Columbia University, Small became the curator of the herbarium of Columbia University. His doctoral thesis, Flora of the Southeastern United States, won him a reputation as one of the foremost taxonomic botanists of the world. In 1898, he became curator of the newly founded New York Botanical Garden, where he devoted his life's work.

Small traveled to Florida for the first time in 1901. He explored and photographed the forests of tropical hardwood trees and the interesting variety of tropical plants scattered throughout the state. Through the patronage of Charles Deering, Small continued his Florida research for the next thirty-six years. His book, From Eden to Sahara - Florida's Tragedy, received acclaim in 1929 for documenting the destruction of Florida's natural environment. Small died in 1938.