Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium

IMG_5348About a month ago, I ran across a reference to Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium. I was startled. Emily Dickinson had made a herbarium? I had to see it! As it turns out, Harvard University Press has published a facsimile edition of the herbarium–that was the good news. The bad news was that it was $145! So at our Library, I requested it through Inter-Library Loan, and within a week, I held the volume in my hand.

4184479
Cover of the herbarium.

At first, I was every so slightly disappointed. I’m not sure what I expected, but there were page after page of blossoms faded to brown, and I couldn’t understand the cryptic numbering system. Than I came to my senses. Pressing flowers was considered to be a suitable entertainment for young ladies of that era (in the 1840s), as was learning the “language of flowers.” It was all very genteel. Emily Dickinson, at the ages of 14 and 15 had collected specimens of every plant (there are 424 of them) within walking distance of her home, and had systematically pressed and mounted them in an album. It is through such things that we gain a moment’s insight into another person’s mind. The steadiness of purpose and perception–as well as her love for each flower–behind this herbarium is astonishing. Long after the other girls had moved on from pressing pansies, Emily had created an herbarium of every flowering plant in her world. Following are a few pages from the herbarium, but if you want to see everything, there is an online version. You can see each page up close, as well as an array of thumbnails.

IMG_5350The cryptic numbering system arose from using the Linnaean system of classification. The sets of numbers identify the class and order of the genus.

IMG_5353The specimens are not arranged in any particular order, though I noticed the geraniums were together, as were the pansies and violets.

IMG_5417I had long been interested in Emily DIckinson as a gardener, and found this magazine article in my clipping file. It noted that she was known in Amherst as a wonderful gardener–not a poet.

IMG_5396Walking in my garden today, I saw some flowers that made me think of her

IMG_5421One of her nicknames was “Daisy,” and while black-eyed Susans are not included in the list of flowers she grew, I think she might have liked these.

IMG_5425She grew ferns . . .

IMG_5419as well as phlox, and many other flowering plants.

IMG_5024At one point she compared herself to a so-called “Cow Lily,” because of the reddish highlights in her hair. We know this flower as Hemerocallis fulva, the orange daylily. (This is a double version.)

IMG_5422I have been making my own version of the herbarium, using a big notebook of nice drawing paper for mounting the specimens. I’m not sure my herbarium will be as all-encompassing as hers–she even included poison ivy!

When much in the Woods as a little Girl, I was told that the Snake would bite me,
that I might pick a poisonous flower, or Goblins kidnap me,
but I went along and met no one but Angels.

Emily Dickinson, in a letter to a friends, 1862.

And, to learn more about EmilyDickinson’s garden, there is an excellent book called The Gardens of Emily Dickinson, by Judith Farr.

img_0770Emily Dickinson was also an excellent baker. I have posted about her coconut cake on August 3, 2012.

dscf3517Also, for more on making a herbarium, please see my post from March 28, 2012.

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13 thoughts on “Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium

  1. Fran, Miss Dickinson’s herbarium is beautiful. So is yours! Also, I’m so glad you ID’ed those H. fulvas (AKA “ditch lilies”, “tiger lilies”, etc . . .) as “doubles” because I was wondering why mine looked somehow different from the regular wildings. They’re doubles!! Duh. If I had looked closer, I would have realized this!

  2. Fran, you are too funny – you always make me laugh! If I ever have a blog, I’m going to name it “please don’t eat the daylilies” in honor of you and your daylily eating habit!! (Just a gentle tease, my friend!)

  3. Fran, loved admiring your shadow box and other works of art on my way into the library today.
    It just brightened up my day to view each of your pieces. The silver oak seeds (helipcopters) made into butterflies was so adorable and very creative!

  4. Here is a new music video by Efrat Benzur for Emily Dickenson’s poem “if i could help one heart from breaking”. The video was made out of flowers and other organic materials in stop motion technique. Directed By Yuval and Merav Nathan. Enjoy

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