Lindheimer’s Star

Lindheimer mural, New Braunfels, Texas

Political refugee, explorer, diplomat, newspaperman: all these aspects of his life help to make Ferdinand Lindheimer one of the more interesting early Texans. But it was his life as a botanist that most firmly secured his place in history.

After settling in New Braunfels, Texas, he began building his reputation as the “Father of Texas Botany” by collecting, categorizing, and sharing hundreds of plants. Taxonomic changes over the years make it hard to pin down exactly how many bear his name today, but at least thirty seems a reasonable number, and there may be more.

A mural on the west side of the Hoffman Building in New Braunfels, completed in 2001 by San Antonio artist Alex Brochon, shows Lindheimer holding a small bouquet of flowers: Lindheimera texana, or Texas yellowstar.


Lindheimer originally named the plant Lindheimeria texensis,  but referred to it affectionately as his “little asteroid.”***

In a May, 1842 letter written to George Engelmann, another German-American botanist, his association of botanical immortality with the flower becomes clear: 

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 by love of this sleeping, dreaming daughter of Flora?
Epaminondas died childless, and when his friends complained to him about this, he said, “I leave two little immortal daughters, the battle of Leuctra and the battle of Montinea.” So, if I die childless, then I shall nevertheless leave a little immortal daughter, the Lindheimeria texensis.

A particularly delightful aspect of Lindheimer’s star is its ability to shine on even after its vibrant yellow petals have faded away. Its gone-to-seed structure is so pleasing, so appealing in its own right, I’ve often wished one or two had been included in Lindheimer’s mural bouquet. I’ve no doubt he loved even these dimming little asteroids.

 

 

Comments always are welcome.

***Note: Since posting, I’ve discovered that George Engelmann proposed the name Lindheimeria texana to Asa Gray, and told Lindheimer about that in March of 1842. In her book, A Life Among The Texas Flora, Minetta Altgelt Goyne ascribes the naming to Lindheimer, but that seems not to be so. More details can be found in comments to WOL and Steve Schwartzman, below.