Monday, May 25, 2015

A great Colorado botanist most of us have never heard of - by Irene Shonle

Many of the early botanists in Colorado are familiar to people, if only because their names are memorialized on mountain peaks and with specific epithets:  the twin fourteeners Grays and Torreys  (named after Asa Gray and John Torrey of Flora of North America fame), or Townsendia hookeri (named after William Hooker), Primula parryi (named after Charles Parry), and on and on…  for an interesting read on these famous explorers and botanists, go here:

But, when I recently came across a book about Hazel Schmoll, a Colorado botanist who did much to protect our state flower, I was chagrined to realize I had never heard of her.  Here is a little bit about what I learned:

  • She was determined and took schooling much further than most women in her era. She graduated from CU in 1913 with a degree in biology, then earned a master's degree in botany at the University of Chicago.   Even more unusual, she went back and became the first woman at University of Chicago to obtain a doctorate degree in ecological botany (the at-the-time new science of studying plants in their natural environment).  A woman after my own heart (since I also have a doctorate from there in Ecology and Evolution). Further evidence of her rebellion against the limitations put on women were in evidence in her dress (she refused to use a sidesaddle but shockingly wore a split skirt and often even pants) and that she chose to never marry.  She also worked bring the right to vote to the Eastern States while she was teaching at Vassar  - she did not like not being allowed to vote out there after being allowed to vote in Colorado (Colorado was the second state to allow women to vote in 1893).
  •  From 1919 to 1935, Hazel Schmoll was Colorado's State Botanist at the Colorado State Museum.  When the museum closed the thousands of herbarium sheets she had worked on went to CSU and CU, and are still used today.  At the time, there were still quite a few men in opposition to a female State Botanist, and this was discouraging, but her struggles and excellent work paid off since she won the respect of many.
    Hazel Schmoll is shown in 1924, when she worked in the Colorado State Museum as state botanist. (Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society collection /Courtesy photo)
  •  While conducting a plant survey at Mesa Verde National Park, she discovered Astragalous schmollae, a rare plant now named in her honor.
  •  In that early era, people would head for the hills to pick armloads of wildflowers (for example, in 1911, a single trainload of people picked over 25,000 columbines in one day in Silverton). Hazel noted that the populations were diminishing, and that our state flower was in danger (it was voted as state flower in 1899).  Hazel led the effort of the Colorado Mountain Club, and in 1925, she helped pass the "Columbine Bill" which still protects our state flower.
  •   She lived until she was 99!
I wonder how many would be left in the wild today without the Columbine Bill?

So, next time you see a meadow full of Columbine, give a nod of gratitude to Hazel Schmoll, an underappreciated botanical treasure!

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful column! Thank you for such an enlightening history lesson.