Aylmer Bourke Lambert and the Most Princely of Pines
Evergreens, pines, conifers. As the year draws to a close, many of us have welcomed these needly trees into our homes as part of long-established Christmas tradition. But before this tradition took root in England (via Germany), one Englishman devoted his life all throughout the year to the genus Pinus. That man was Aylmer Bourke Lambert.
Lambert was a voracious collector of books on botany as well as a gatherer of plants, and his herbarium (a collection of preserved plants) eventually grew to include more than 50,000 specimens from the world's forests. He was a founding member of the Linnean Society of London and was elected to the Royal Society as well, and he was known in the scientific community for his generosity in encouraging fellow botanists to draw on specimens from his collections while compiling their own scholarly publications. He also was a famous conifer expert.
The 1837 edition of his book A Description of the Genus Pinus held in the Library’s Rare Book Division stretches to three volumes, each over two feet tall. This work was Lambert’s monumental attempt to document, describe, and illustrate every species of pine known to him from around the world. One particular pine in the book, the sugar pine, was named Pinus Lambertiana in his honor. The sugar pine, largest of the conifers and also known as the most princely of pines for its immense size, was discovered by famed Scottish botanist and Pacific Northwest explorer David Douglas (of Douglas Fir fame).
The Library has digitized each of the handcolored engravings in this edition, and you can view them all in the Library’s Digital Collections. So, if you have found yourself stringing lights and threading cranberries onto thread to adorn an evergreen in your home this year, remember the botanists and collectors like Aylmer Lambert, who helped us to get to know these gymnosperms better!