Plant hunters – Dr Albert Kellogg


Dr Kellogg was an American physician and pharmacist. Born in New Hartford (named after Hertford, the county capital of Hertfordshire), Connecticut in 1813, he trained in medicine at Charleston, South Carolina before settling in San Francisco, California in 1849. He had previously developed an interest in botany. One of the seven founding fathers of the California Academy of Sciences in 1853, he was their first Curator of Botany.

He took part in a number of plant gathering expeditions. However, it was through a third party, Augustus T Dowd, that he learnt of the existence of the Giant Sequoia. Dowd is usually described as a hunter but according to a US Government source he was an employee of Union Water Company (while another source describes him as a hunter employed by the Union Water Co). Whatever his status, he was allegedly pursuing a wounded grizzly bear when he chanced upon one of the two Calveras groves where the Giant Sequoia can be found growing naturally (one theory is he invented the story about the bear because people wouldn't have believed him if told them he wanted to show them giant trees).

As Dr Kellogg did not have a complete picture of the tree and its reproductive structures he delayed publishing a description (although the existence of the trees was known to European settlers and reportedly first published in 1839 – as an account of an expedition, and not as a scientific paper). Accounts contradict at this point – some indicate that William Lobb heard about the tree at a meeting of the academy, others that Dr Kellogg had generously shown the samples and knowledge he had. Although it is possible that the tree was mentioned at the meeting which led to Lobb making further enquiries about it. Whatever, the chain of events it led to Lobb hastily collecting samples and returning to England, where the first description was published, which gave the author, John Lindley, naming rights and he called it Wellingtonia – much to the dismay and outrage of the Americans.

Dr Kellogg, who appears to have been a very mild mannered and gentle man, had wanted to call the great tree Washingtonia – in honour of the great American (and first president) George Washington.

Sadly, Dr Kellogg died in 1887, and a lot of the documents and samples he amassed for the Academy were lost in the fire that followed the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. However, he is remembered with honour and affection – and remains a giant of the American scientific establishment.


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