Charles Wright (botanist)

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Charles Wright
Born29 October 1811
Died11 August 1885 (although one reference says 1886)
Known forTaxonomy
Scientific career

Charles Wright (October 29, 1811 – August 11, 1885) was an American botanist.


Wright was born in Wethersfield, Connecticut,[1] the son of James Wright and Mary née Goodrich. He studied classics and mathematics at Yale,[1] and in October 1835 moved to Natchez, Mississippi to tutor a plantation owner's family. His employer's business failed two years later, and he moved to Texas, working as a land surveyor and teacher. He surveyed ground for the Pacific Railroad Company.[2] During this time, he also collected plants for Asa Gray. Gray thought of Wright as one of his most trusted collectors.[3][4]

In 1849, he joined an army expedition (with Gray's help)[2] through Texas, botanising from Galveston to San Antonio and then on to El Paso. But he had to walk most of the 673 miles, (which took over 104 days effort).[5] He collected seeds of Penstemon baccharifolius (Hook), between Texas and El Paso, which were later given to William Hooker. Also, Castilleja lanata (found near the Rio Grande) and Castilleja integra (found in the Organ Mountains, near El Paso).[6] In the spring of 1851, he joined the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey (also with Gray's help).

His collections from these two trips, formed the basis of Gray's Plantae Wrightianae (1852–53). He found around 50 new plants in the area.[3]

Between 1853 and 1856, he took part in the Rodgers-Ringgold North Pacific Exploring and Surveying Expedition,[1] collecting plants in Madeira, Cape Verde, Cape Town, Sydney, Hong Kong, the Bonin Islands, Japan (at Hakodate, Tanegashima, the Bonin Islands and the Ryukyu Islands including Okinawa)[7] and the western side of the Bering Strait. He collected over 500 specimens while the ships were delayed at Simon's Bay, near Cape Town.[1]

Wright left the expedition at San Francisco in February 1856 and went south to Nicaragua.[2] His collection of plants from Hong Kong was used by George Bentham for his Flora Hongkongensis (1861).

Between 1856 and 1867, he led a scientific expedition to Cuba.[2] In 1859 he joined Juan Gundlach in the area around Monteverde, and in the winter of 1861-62 they explored together around Cárdenas. He was also still in communication with Asa Gray and via him, Charles Darwin, discussing orchids.[8] This was possible because at the start of the American Civil War, he was in Cuba and Gray kept him there until 1864 to keep Wright safe and his ongoing botanical work intact.[9] In 1871, he went with the US Commission to Santo Domingo.[2]

From 1875 to 1876, he was the librarian of the Bussey Institution at Harvard University.[10]

His lichen specimens were given to Edward Tuckerman.[1]


Charles Wright is commemorated in the names of a number of plants, including Datura wrightii, the genus Carlowrightia (wrightworts) and Geissorhiza wrightii (Baker).[1] George Engelmann named a small cactus after him, Wright's fishhook (Sclerocactus uncinatus var. wrightii).[5] He is also commemorated in the name of the American grey flycatcher (Empidonax wrightii ) found near El Paso. Tropidophis wrighti (Wright's dwarf boa) was also named after him.[2]

Charles Wright Elementary School in Wethersfield, Connecticut is named after him.[12]

See also[edit]


  • Barbara and Richard Mearns - Audubon to Xantus, The Lives of Those Commemorated in North American Bird Names ISBN 0-12-487423-1
  • Richard A Howard Charles Wright in Cuba, 1856-1867 ISBN 0-89887-059-3
  1. ^ a b c d e f Mary Gunn and L. E. W. Codd Botanical Exploration Southern Africa, p. 381, at Google Books
  2. ^ a b c d e f Bo Beolens, Michael Watkins and Michael GraysonThe Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles, p. 290, at Google Books
  3. ^ a b Carolyn DodsonA Guide to Plants of the Northern Chihuahuan Desert, p. 24, at Google Books
  4. ^ Dupree, A. Hunter (1988). Asa Gray, American Botanist, Friend of Darwin. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 165–166. ISBN 978-0-801-83741-8.
  5. ^ a b Dan Lewis Fische Early Southwest Ornithologists, 1528-1900, p. 82-83, at Google Books
  6. ^ Francis Whittier PennellThe Scrophulariaceae of Eastern Temperate North America at Google Books
  7. ^ Barnes, Peter. "Japan's botanical sunrise". Archived from the original on 23 April 2012. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  8. ^ Charles Darwin The Correspondence of Charles Darwin:, Volume 12; Volume 1864, p. 212, at Google Books
  9. ^ Dupree, p. 310
  10. ^ OBITUARY RECORD OF GRADUATES OF YALE COLLEGE Deceased during the Academical Year ending in June 3 1856 (PDF). 1856. pp. 302–03.
  11. ^ International Plant Names Index.  C.Wright.
  12. ^ Zymaris, Eva; Polansk, Rob (12 May 2017). "Kindergartner receives 'princess' treatment for last day of cancer treatment". Archived from the original on 16 May 2017. Retrieved 15 July 2017.

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