By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Seldom do individuals have clubs or anything named after them. A person becomes famous because of something outstanding that they have done for the advancement of society. All you historians out there and those that have a passing interest in history know the name Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer. This extremely interesting person has been the object of my curiosity for quite a while.
Lindheimer, known as the “Father of Texas Botany”, has 38 plants containing his name. Several organizations in New Braunfels have his name as their chapter names, and his picture is larger than life on a downtown mural. He is buried in the Comal Cemetery and his Texas Centennial headstone was given by the State of Texas. What did he actually do for the community? Let’s look first at his background:
Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer was born the 21st of May, 1801, in Frankfurt am Maine in Germany. He came from a wealthy family and was educated at the Prussian University at Bonn. At age 25 he left the university to teach at a boys’ school. At this school in 1832, a student riot occurred. At that time there was much dissatisfaction in the way German states were governed, especially among the young people. In this case, the government just closed down the school and the teachers were asked to leave the area. Lindheimer and other educated men decided to emigrate to the United States.
Eight men of high intellect and high education level migrated to a farm called Belleview Farm in Illinois. These men, including Lindheimer, soon tired of the life of idleness and headed south, bound for New Orleans with the idea of coming to Texas . He then boarded a ship and eventually landed on the Mexican coast at Vera Cruz where he started botanizing (collecting plants) in a big way. He stayed there for 18 months.
Lindheimer then involved himself in the Texas War of independence. He enlisted in April, 1836, and was discharged December 1837. His certificate of discharge describes him as a teacher, 5’8” tall, with dark hair and blue eyes. After this military stint, he bought a small farm outside of Houston, but in his own words, ‘was a failure at farming”. Farming and botanizing are two different things and he preferred botanizing.
In 1841 Lindheimer began his correspondence with well-known Illinois botanist Dr. George Englemann. This acquaintance became a lifetime of selling plants to Englemann, who as a professor and doctor, had the means to publish the information that Lindheimer sent to him. Lindheimer showed from the start that he had a keen ability to collect, describe in words and even illustrate plants. A letter to Englemann mentions a woman in Lindheimer’s life. She is not named. He calls a person named Ann his child. No evidence of a child has been found in records. There are no birth records. Could Ann be the woman?
Lindheimer met Prince Carl at Industry not far from Houston. He decided to join the Adelsverein. In that group was Rev. Louis Ervendberg and their friendship and interest in botany lasted their lifetimes.
The Adelsverein granted Lindheimer a large section of land for the services performed for that organization. Now he could botanize full time. The Lindheimer house that you see on Comal St. is on the site of the original log cabin. Maps show a large area around this area called the Botanical Garden. He married Eleanore Reinarz who according to writer Minetta Altgelt Goyne in her book “A Life among the Texas Flora”, was “sometimes difficult”. He was becoming a valuable member of the community “despite what seems to have been some eccentricities”.
In early fall of 1845 famed botanists Asa Gray and George Engelmann published results of Lindheimer’s 1843 and 1844 collections. There are 38 plants named after him and the one that we know best is “Lindheimeria texana” (or Lindheiumeria texensis), the Texas yellow star. It’s not difficult to see why this flower is so popular.
In 1850, Lindheimer became editor and eventually owner of Neu Braunfelser Zeitung. The first issue was on Nov. 12, 1852. The newspaper had difficult financial times the whole time he was editor. During the Civil War, he was influential in the secessionist movement. Although against slavery, he was an adamant “states righter” and did not want the federal government making decisions for the state. Comal County was the only predominantly German community that joined the Confederacy. The decision to secede from the union was a controversial one.
He retired from the newspaper in 1872. He is remembered for more than being the “Father of Texas Botany”. Always on the side of freedom, he was an advocate of education for all. He was on the committee pushing for the establishment of the NB Academy and for the Texas Legislature to levy taxes for the financial support of public schools.
When Ferdinand Lindheimer died in 1879, he was buried in the Comal Cemetery surrounded by family members and the flowers that he loved. Most of the information in this article came from Goyne’s book, “The Life among the Texas Flora” available in Sophie’s Shop at the Sophienburg. Goyne’s footnote explanations read almost like “the rest of the story”.