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Lindheimer, Father of Texas Botany

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

How many times have you said or thought, “I wish I could remember what my grandmother told me about that.” If you have letters or a diary from your family, you are one of the fortunate ones. Our history of New Braunfels is almost totally based on the writings of Prince Carl, Hermann Seele, Ferdinand Roemer, Ferdinand Lindheimer and all those who told us our history because they were here. From them we learned what the town looked like, what people were doing, what they ate, how they felt, and what they thought. Even from the Spanish period in Texas we are told about routes along the Camino Real through the Comal Springs and about the missions established along the routes and how the explorers lived.

We live in what is called the communication age but you have to wonder how much of our “communication” today will be left for future generations to discover where we were and who we were. Remember that when you hit “delete” on your computer or cell text. Wonder if there is some kind of “cyber diary” out there that will be tapped in the future or will it all just be transported into outer space?

In 2013, I wrote an article about the life of Ferdinand Lindheimer, however, recently I read again A Life Among the Texas Flora by Minetta Altgelt Goyne, and decided to write more about this exceptional man. The book is a compilation of letters from Lindheimer to botanist George Engelmann.

Dr. Goyne, a descendant from some old New Braunfels families (Altgelt and Coreth), was teaching at the University of Texas at Arlington and could translate the old German script. She also knew a lot about New Braunfels history, Lindheimer and the history of Germany, all contributing to her insightful analysis published alongside the letters. The original letters are housed at the Missouri Botanical Garden at St. Louis. In 1979, the president of the New Braunfels Conservation Society approached Dr. Goyne to translate the letters. Copies of the letters had been acquired from Carlos Lindheimer, great-grandnephew of Lindheimer and native of Argentina.

Lindheimer came to New Braunfels in 1845 with Prince Carl at the age of 43. He did not travel to Texas on the ships with the first contingency of immigrants. He was already here in Texas. He was born and raised near Frankfurt, came to the United States in 1834, entering at New York. He traveled to Belleville, Illinois to the Hilgard Farm where he joined friends that had already emigrated from Germany. One of the friends was George Engelmann. Engelmann had studied medicine in Germany and had a practice in St. Louis but continued his plant studies. Engelmann and Lindheimer had studied botany together in Germany.

In the fall of 1834, Lindheimer set out from Illinois to travel south. His destination was Texas but it was considered dangerous to travel south directly into Texas from the northern route. He decided to travel to Mexico and then enter Texas from the south. He took a steamboat from Illinois down the Mississippi and arrived in New Orleans. then took a schooner to Veracruz, Mexico. He traveled to a German colony not far from Veracruz that he considered one of the most beautiful areas on earth. The German colony grew and exported sugarcane, coffee and tobacco. Lindheimer stayed there for a period of time working and observing the plantation. At that point, he thought he wanted to be a farmer.

We know that he left Mexico and enlisted in the Army of Texas, arriving with his company at San Jacinto one day too late. He received an honorable discharge at Houston on December 5, 1837. Apparently his commanding officers allowed him to collect botanical specimens while his fellow soldiers were performing drills. In 1939, he purchased a ten-acre farm near Houston not far from White Oak Bayou.

The letters to Engelmann beginning in 1841, indicate that he was accumulating equipment for his first botanizing in Texas. In 1835, while in Mexico, Lindheimer wrote to Engelmann about his interest in plants. Now in Texas, he was going to be paid to collect plant specimens and ship them to Engelmann in St. Louis.

Engelmann later organized the St. Louis Academy of Science in 1856 and what is now called the Missouri Botanical Garden. The archives house Engelmann’s plant collections and papers which include the Lindheimer letters. Many of the plant specimens collected by Lindheimer were also be sent to the famous botanist Asa Gray and actually all over the world. The Texas plants had never been collected and catalogued so completely before this time.

In the early 1840s, Lindheimer collected plants in the Houston and Galveston area, making little use of his home and living in a tent. His equipment consisted of paper, plant pressing equipment, magnifying glasses and botany textbooks. Specimens were shipped to St. Louis in wooden crates. Engelmann and Gray paid Lindheimer eight dollars per 100 specimens.

In 1842, Lindheimer wrote to Engelmann from Houston concerning the “Texas Star” flower (Lindheimeria texensis), “Did you write my name among the stars with this little Asteroid? Did I serve botany in that way? Not by knowledge of it but rather by love of this sleeping, dreaming daughter of Flora.” He continues, “So, if I die childless, then I shall nevertheless leave a little immortal daughter, the Lindheimer texensis!”

In 1843 and 1844, we find Lindheimer collecting specimens in (Wild)Cat Springs, San Felipe, Brazoria, Liverpool, the Brazos basin, Industry and the Chocolate Bayou. Wildcat or Cat Springs was established in 1834 by Robert Justus and Rosalie Roeder Kleberg. The 1831 settlement of Industry where Lindheimer visited is considered the cradle of German settlements in Texas. There was a small influx of German emigrants during most of the Republic of Texas period until the last year, when the major immigration to Texas occurred with Prince Carl.

In January 1845, Lindheimer wrote to Engelmann from the Adelsverein’s camp at Aqua Dulce. Many of the German Texans that had settled in Texas prior to the arrival of Prince Carl, joined with the prince at the coast. Then on April 18, 1845, we find that Lindheimer is writing his letter from the new German settlement on the Comal Springs. Lindheimer writes of New Braunfels, “Flower upon flower, richer than the richest Persian carpet. Fragrances that sometimes remind one of violets, often of vanilla, flow around the wanderer.”

In New Braunfels, Lindheimer reserved a piece of land for his botanical garden of Texas plants, arboretum and agricultural experiments. Under the employ of the Adelsverein, he received this farm and a house. By Christmas, he was living in a cold, poor, open hut and spending so much time on survival that he is having difficulty collecting plants. This situation was remedied when he met Eleanor Reinarz. Lindheimer described her as upright, understanding, diligent, solid, refreshing, generous and chaste. She shared in his interests and helped with his plant collecting. He wrote that in a couple of weeks, his weatherproof house will be ready alleviating the problem of moldy specimens.

From this home-base, Lindheimer traveled to the surrounding areas of San Antonio, Seguin, Austin, San Saba and the Pedernales to collect plant specimens.

Gray and Engelmann issued Plantae Lindheimerianae, Part I in 1845 and Part II in 1850, with many publications to follow. In the early 1850s, Lindheimer’s interests became more local and he spent more time raising his family with wife, Eleanor. New Braunfels was in need of a newspaper and on November 12, 1852, the first issue of the Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung was published with Lindheimer as editor. He continued botanizing to the end of his days. He died in 1879, and is buried in the Comal Cemetery. The first log home he built on Comal Avenue is no longer standing but his winterized home stands and is maintained amidst gardens by the New Braunfels Conservation Society.

Without a doubt, the letters establish why Lindheimer is considered the Father of Texas Botany.

Linda Sioux Henley, member of the Ferdinand Lindheimer Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, poses next to a clay sculpture she is designing of Lindheimer discovering the Texas Star.

Linda Sioux Henley, member of the Ferdinand Lindheimer Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, is designing a clay sculpture Lindheimer discovering the Texas Star.