Sophora nuttalliana

Silky Sophora - Sophora nuttalliana
Warm Springs Wash
East of Hillsboro, New Mexico, USA
Early May 2015

While on a walk up Warm Springs Wash, east of Hillsboro, New Mexico, USA - in early May - we found the Silky Sophora, Sophora nuttalliana, pictured above (aka Nuttall’s Sophora).  To view the treatment of this species on the Vascular Plants of the Gila Wilderness follow the link.  

Nuttall was the first person to collect this species (in 1811, in South Dakota).  He first described it and named it Sophora sericea in 1818 in Genera of North American Plants (see his original description below).  Bille Turner renamed the species, Sophora nuttalliana, in 1956.

Thomas Nuttall (1786 - 1859) was (is still) a preeminent student of the natural history of North America and is recognized in the names of many species (plant and animal).  He was born in England but travelled to the United States in 1808.  Almost immediately he began to study under Benjamin Barton, one of the great American naturalists of that time.  Nuttall was more than a botanist.  For instance, he published A Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and of Canada while Curator of the Harvard Botanical Garden.  In 1834 he traveled west on one of this many exploring/collecting trips on an expedition led by Nathaniel Wyeth.  On that trip, Nuttall took along his young friend, John Townsend.  Townsend wrote Narrative of a Journey Across the Rock Mountains to the Columbia River... in 1839, a reprint of which is proudly housed in our personal library.  In his travels and work, Nuttall often faced hardship and danger, sometimes he just seemed out of place.  Richard Henry Dana, in “Two Years Before the Mast”, describes a chance meeting with Nuttall in California:  “[He]... was no one else than a gentleman whom I had known in my better days; and the last person I should have expected to have seen on the coast of California - Professor N -- -, of Cambridge.  I had left him quietly seated in the chair of Botany and Ornithology, in Harvard University; and the next I saw of him, he was strolling about San Diego beach, in a sailor's pea-jacket, with a wide straw hat, and barefooted, with his trowsers rolled up to his knees, picking up stones and shells....  I was often amused to see the sailors puzzled to know what to make of him, and to hear their conjectures about him and his business.... The crew christened Mr. N., "Old Curious," from his zeal for curiosities, and some of them said that he was crazy, and [it was a shame] that his friends let him go about and amuse himself in this way.  Why a rich man (sailors call every man rich who does not work with his hands, and wears a long coat and cravat) should leave a Christian country, and come to such a place as California, to pick up shells and stones, they could not understand.”

Thomas Nuttall, and many others of that era and ilk are my heroes.  People who set out to understand the world, to appreciate it in its many facets, to revel in its mysteries.  

© Robert Barnes 2018-2023