Asa Gray born 200 years ago, how to celebrate

Asa Gray (1810-1888)

Botanist Asa Gray and friend of Darwin was born November 18, 1810. This year, then, marks a bicentennial. If you happen to be near the Harvard Museum of Natural History, there are events this fall to celebrate his legacy:

RE:Design: A Dramatization of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin and Asa Gray
A one-act play performed by the Menagerie Theatre Company and a panel discussion with Paul Bourne and Janet Browne
RE: Design is a fascinating dramatization of the 30 years of correspondence between Charles Darwin in England and Asa Gray in Boston, produced by the English theatre group, Menagerie, and commissioned by the Darwin Correspondence Project at the University of Cambridge.

Adapted exclusively from their own words — including previously unpublished letters — RE: Design offers a window onto the minds and worlds of these two groundbreaking 19th century naturalists as they debate the consequences for religious belief of Darwin’s new theory of evolution by natural selection. Intellectual debate around science and religion is interwoven with gossip, opinion, and anecdotes about everything from war and slavery, to family incidents and unfortunate gardening accidents. The one-act play will be followed by a panel discussion with RE:Design director Paul Bourne and Janet Browne, the Aramont Professor of the History of Science at Harvard. (This event is in lieu of Professor Janet Browne’s lecture, Corresponding Naturalists: Asa Gray, Charles Darwin, and the Making of American Botany.) Free and open to the public, Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street. Part of the Asa Gray Bicentennial series.

Darwin’s “Abominable Mystery” and the Search for the First Flowering Plants
Lecture by William (Ned) Friedman
Charles Darwin was baffled by many big questions in evolutionary biology, and none more so than the mystery of how the planet’s first flowering plants came to be. Join William (Ned) Friedman, newly appointed Director of the Arnold Arboretum and Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, for an exploration into the evolutionary origin of flowering plants, and how recent advances in the fossil record have shed new light on what they may have looked like, where they “lived,” and how they reproduced. Free and open to the public, Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street.

Thoreau as Climatologist: Tracking 160 Years of Climate Change
Lecture with Charles Davis
Over 160 years ago, Henry David Thoreau initiated a study of flowering times at Walden Pond. Today, a research team including, Charles Davis, Assistant Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Curator in the Harvard Herbarium, has updated Thoreau’s records with current data and integrated them with modern evolutionary biology to reveal how climate change and earlier flowering times have affected Walden’s plants. Those that have greatly declined include many charismatic native wildflower species, while those that have thrived include many nonnative and invasive species. Davis will explore how an integration of historical records combined and cutting edge science can help us potentially mitigate the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. Free and open to the public, Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street.
Image of Charles Davis courtesy of Harvard University News Office.

Drawing Plants and Flowers A workshop for adults
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 16, 9:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Explore the beauty and diversity of the plant kingdom through the medium of pencil and paper. Taught by artist and educator Erica Beade, this half-day workshop will introduce botanical drawing techniques through close observation and exercises in contour, gesture, foreshortening and shading. All skill levels are welcome. Advanced registration required.

Grow, Eat, Learn: Members family program at the Harvard Community Garden
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Harvard and the local community are creating and maintaining a vegetable garden in the heart of Harvard Square. Explore the basics of plant and soil science with Harvard Professor Donald Pfister; learn about sustainable urban agriculture with Kathleen Frith of Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment; hear growing tips from students; and get your hands dirty harvesting your crops. Bring a bag lunch to enjoy with your harvest. Location: 27 Holyoke Place in Harvard Square. Pre-registration required. RSVP to or call 617.496.6972. Learn more about membership in the museum.

Walking Tour of Mount Auburn Cemetery: Members Tour with Donald Pfister
Asa Gray’s central role in establishing Harvard as the botanical center of North America can be appreciated through the impressive landscape, history, and flora of the Mount Auburn Cemetery. Join Donald Pfister, Asa Gray Professor of Botany and Director of the Harvard Herbaria, for a tour of Mount Auburn Cemetery, site of Gray’s grave and the Asa Gray Garden, and other sites of interest, including the monument to the lost members of the United States Exploring Expedition, Louis Agassiz’s grave, and numerous horticultural gems. Space is limited. Pre-registration required. RSVP to or 617.496.6972. Learn more about membership in the museum.

1 thought on “Asa Gray born 200 years ago, how to celebrate

  1. Pingback: Killer Links from Outer Space | Evolving Thoughts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s