Donald C. Peattie

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Donald Culross Peattie
BornJune 21, 1898
DiedNovember 16, 1964
Scientific career

Donald Culross Peattie (June 21, 1898 – November 16, 1964) was an American botanist, naturalist and author. He was described by Joseph Wood Krutch as "perhaps the most widely read of all contemporary American nature writers" during his heyday. His brother, Roderick Peattie (1891–1955), was a geographer and a noted author in his own right. Some[who?] have said that Peattie's views on race may be considered regressive, but that expressions of these views are "mercifully brief and hardly malicious".[1]

Early life[edit]

Peattie was born in Chicago to the journalist Robert Peattie and the novelist Elia W. Peattie. He studied French poetry for two years at the University of Chicago and then transferred to – and graduated (1922) from — Harvard University, where he studied with the noted botanist Merritt Lyndon Fernald. After field work in the Southern and Mid-West United States, he worked as a botanist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (1922–1924). He was then nature columnist for the Washington Star from 1924 to 1935. At some point in the late 1920s Peattie and his wife, with their four-year-old daughter and baby son, moved to Paris to "launch the frail bark of our careers". At two days in Paris the daughter died "of a malady unsuspected and always fatal". In a "search for sunlight" they re-settled in Vence in the south. Another son was born there.

Later life[edit]

Peattie was an advocate for protecting the Indiana Dunes. He served on the Save the Dunes Council in the late 1950s, helping to bring Illinois' Senator Paul Douglas into the fight to protect the Indiana Dunes from industrial development.[2]

Literature work[edit]

Peattie's nature writings are distinguished by a poetic and philosophical cast of mind and are scientifically scrupulous. His best known works are the two books (out of a planned trilogy) on North American trees, A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America (1950) and A Natural History of Western Trees (1953), with woodcut illustrations by Paul Landacre. Peattie also produced children's and travel books, altogether totaling almost forty volumes. He also published the classic, botanical treatment on the Flora of the Indiana Dunes (1930).

An example of Peattie's views that can be construed as racist is the following, from "An Almanac for Moderns": "Every species of ant has its racial characteristics. This one seems to me to be the negro of ants, and not alone from the circumstance that he is all black, but because he is the commonest victim of slavery, and seems especially susceptible to a submissive estate. He is easily impressed by the superior organization or the menacing tactics of his raiders and drivers, and, as I know him, he is relatively lazy or at least disorganized, random, feckless and witless when free in the bush, while for his masters he will work faithfully."[3]

On the other hand, there's a strain of at least mild anti racism often discernible in Peattie's commentary. For example, in his discussion of Linnaeus, the Swedish founding father of taxonomy, Peattie describes, in 1936, how Linnaeus grew up in a small, provincial town far from the scientific capitals of Europe: "To the astonishment of all the wise men, he (Linnaeus) was not a product of Wittenberg, or the parks of Versailles or even of English country life, that nurse of so much delicate feeling for natural beauty. But genius so seldom grows where the highly born and the members of the eugenical societies tell us to expect it!"[4] (This is a slap against the American Eugenics Society, a national group formed in 1921, which was prominent in the 1930s, promoting "racial betterment." During that time, the group consisted of "mostly prominent and wealthy members who more often than not were non-scientists."[5])

Furthermore, according to Peattie's grandson, David Peattie, "In the period following the bombing of Pearl Harbor... [Donald Culross Peattie] spoke out eloquently against the internment of Japanese Americans, and wrote letters to the editor in their defense".[6] That was after he witnessed a Japanese gardener, who had been hired by the owner of a house he was renting in California, interned in the camps. Thus, Peattie's belief in the inferiority of people of African descent seems to be specific to them, and does not seem to have extended to other non-white people, nor implied a broader support of eugenics.


  • Vence, the Story of a Provencal Town through Five Thousand Years (published privately in Nice in 1930 and circulated only in France)
  • Happy Kingdom (date unknown, written with Louise Redfield Peattie, published by Blackie & Son, Ltd. in Glasgow)
  • Flora of the Indiana Dunes (1930)
  • Trees You Want to Know (1934)
  • An Almanac for Moderns (1935)
  • Singing in the Wilderness: A Salute to John James Audubon (1935)
  • Green Laurels: The Lives and Achievements of the Great Naturalists (1936)
  • A Book of Hours (1937)
  • The Story of the New Lands (1937)
  • This is Living, A View of Nature with Photographs (1938)
  • A Prairie Grove (1938), a narrative of the history and family home of naturalist Robert Kennicott
  • Flowering Earth (1939)
  • "Audubon's America" (1940)
  • The Road of a Naturalist (1941)
  • The Great Smokies and the Blue Ridge: The Story of the Southern Appalachians (1943), edited by Roderick Peattie ["The contributors: Edward S. Drake, Ralph Erskine, Alberta Pierson Hannum, Donald Culross Peattie [and others] ..."]; New York, The Vanguard Press.[7]
  • Journey into America (1943), a series of letters he writes to a presumably killed European friend explaining the history and culture of the United States.
  • Forward the Nation (Armed Services edition) (1944)I
  • Immortal Village (1945, a completely revised edition of Vence)
  • American Heartwood (1949)
  • A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America, Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1950; 2nd ed 1966; Reprint as trade paperback with intro by Robert Finch, 1991. (Portions were previously published in The Atlantic Monthly, Natural History and Scientific American in 1948–49.)
  • A Natural History of Western Trees, Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1953; Reprint as trade paperback with intro by Robert Finch, 1991.
  • Best in Children's Books (6) by Donald Culross Peattie, Phyllis Krasilovsky, Rudyard Kipling, and Rachel Field (1958)
  • A Natural History of North American Trees (2007), an abridged one-volume selection from the previous two volumes[8]
  • The Rainbow Book of Nature (1957)



  1. ^ "8. Donald Culross Peattie's An Almanac for Moderns | Natural History Network". Archived from the original on December 13, 2013.
  2. ^ Kauffman, P.W. (2006). National Parks and the Woman's Voice. Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press. p. 202. ISBN 9780826339942.
  3. ^ Peattie, Donald C. (2013). An Almanac for Moderns. San Antonio, Texas: Trinity University Press. p. 114. ISBN 9781595341563. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  4. ^ Peattie, Donald C. (1936). Green Laurels: The Lives and Achievements of the Great Naturalists. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 79.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "A Grandson's Hot Butter Rum Toast to Donald Culross Peattie: Trinity University Press". Archived from the original on December 9, 2014.
  7. ^ Edited by Roderick Peattie, Donald's brother, this book contains long sections of some of his best writing, including a history of naturalist/explorers in the southern mountains, and some beautiful descriptions of the southern spruce-fir forest.
  8. ^ This reprint contains 112 of the original 257 essays and 135 of the original 365 illustrations. It won the National Outdoor Book Award (Outdoor Classics, 2007).
  9. ^ International Plant Names Index.  Peattie.

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