Moravian ministers, physicians, and educators with an interest and training in the natural sciences contributed to early botanical knowledge in America through their study, collections, and correspondence with other botanists. Moravians in North Carolina were among the noted contributors.
A keen awareness of the need to understand and manage their environment guided the Moravians as they began their North Carolina colony in 1753.
The identification of natural resources on their land was of primary importance, and Moravian surveyor and naturalist Philip Christian Gottlieb Reuter made inventories of the flora and fauna during his study and exploration of the Wachovia Tract, beginning in 1758. Reuter’s careful records of wild and cultivated plants and his excellent maps provide today’s researcher with a vast body of botanical information. (Extensive records of the Moravians are held by the Moravian Archives, Winston-Salem.)
Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus)
Moravian men and women continued the exploration of their natural world as begun by Reuter, with a particularly dynamic period of botanical inquiry in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Rev. Samuel Kramsch was Salem’s first botanist and in 1789-91compiled three floras listing the plants found growing around Salem. Two of his former students from Nazareth Hall in Pennsylvania also served in Wachovia, the Rev. Christian Frederick Denke and Rev. Lewis D. de Schweinitz. Denke collected plant specimens in and around Salem, cultivated gardens, and corresponded with other botanists until his death in 1838. His wife, the former Maria Steiner of Salem, had been the botany teacher at the Salem Girls’ School (forerunner to Salem Academy and College) and inspired a love of plants in her students.
Gustav Heinrich Dahlman, teacher in the Salem Boys’ School (1799-1806), and Bishop Jacob van Vleck, pastor of the Salem Congregation (1812-1822), also studied the native flora of the region and corresponded with other botanists.
Although active beyond Wachovia, Anna Rosina Kliest Gambold made contributions to botany as well. She and her husband John Gambold were missionaries from Salem to the Cherokee in Springplace, Georgia beginning in 1805, where she made collections, cultivated gardens, corresponded with contemporary botanists, and published findings.
photograph by NC Native Plant Society
Lewis D. de Schweinitz is the most famous Moravian botanist and was an internationally renowned scientific figure. His important herbarium is held by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Because of his extensive work in the identification and classification of fungi, he is considered “the father of North American mycology.” During his time in Salem as Administrator of Wachovia (1812-1821), de Schweinitz lived in the former Vierling House and cultivated a large terraced garden there. He spent much time in the natural world and compiled “Flora Salemitana,” a listing of all plants found growing within a 30-mile radius of Salem, including the perennial sunflower native to the Carolina Piedmont that was named Helianthus schweinitzii (the Schweinitz sunflower) in his honor. The species was listed as endangered in 1991, as much of its habitat has been lost. Old Salem Horticulture is working to establish a viable stand in Old Salem, after having received the required permission to cultivate this sunflower for educational purposes.
Exploration was ongoing and in 1903, Salem College professor Emma Lehman discovered a new species of the mycotrophic wildflower Monotropsis, at Roaring Gap in the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains, which subsequently was named in her honor: Monotropsis lehmanae.
In the spirit of this rich legacy of botanical inquiry, Garden Historian and Horticulturist Flora Ann Bynum initiated Old Salem’s Horticulture Program in 1972 and led the effort throughout her life.
Mrs. Bynum was the champion of garden and landscape restoration efforts in Old Salem and known across the country for her research-grounded, historic landscape restoration work. She was a founder of the Southern Garden History Society and the biennial Conference on Restoring Southern Gardens and Landscapes. Until her death in 2006 at age 81, Mrs. Bynum cultivated a beautiful heirloom garden at her home in Old Salem and was an active scholar, a devoted garden club member, and a leader of landscape restoration in Old Salem.
[view Flora Ann Bynum speaks on the Gardens at Old Salem (2005)]