Nathaniel Lord Britton

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Nathaniel Lord Britton
Born(1859 -01-15)January 15, 1859
DiedJune 25, 1934(1934-06-25) (aged 75)
EducationColumbia University School of Mines
Known forIllustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada, and the British Possessions, with Addison Brown; The Cactaceae‘‘, with Joseph Nelson Rose
SpouseElizabeth Gertrude Knight
Scientific career
InstitutionsColumbia University, New York Botanical Garden
Author abbrev. (botany)Britton

Nathaniel Lord Britton (1859 – 1934) was an American botanist and taxonomist who co-founded the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, New York.

Early life[edit]

Britton was born on the 15 of January 1859 at New Dorp, Richmond County, New York (state) to Jasper Alexander Hamilton Britton and Harriet Lord Turner.[1][2] His parents wanted him to study religion, but he was attracted to nature study at an early age.

He was a graduate of the Columbia University School of Mines and afterwards taught geology and botany at Columbia University. He joined the Torrey Botanical Club soon after graduation and was a member his entire life. Britton was an elected member of the United States National Academy of Sciences,[3] the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,[4] and the American Philosophical Society.[5] He married Elizabeth Gertrude Knight, a bryologist, on August 27, 1885. They had met when she joined the club and were lifelong collaborators in botanical research.

New York Botanical Garden[edit]

During their honeymoon in 1888, they visited Kew Gardens, which led to his wife proposing a botanical garden for New York at a Torrey Club meeting. Together, they campaigned to bring about the NYBG. Britton left Columbia in 1895 to become the first director of the New York Botanical Garden, a position he held until 1929. He was on the first Board of Managers for the institution, along with Andrew Carnegie, J. Pierpont Morgan, and Cornelius Vanderbilt II. He engendered substantial financial support for the botanical garden by naming plants after wealthy contributors.

Scientific research[edit]

Much of his field work was done in the Caribbean, where he visited frequently when the winter weather in New York City became too severe. His contributions to the study of Caribbean flora are undisputed.

He wrote Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada, and the British Possessions (1896) with Addison Brown, and The Cactaceae with Joseph Nelson Rose.

Britton is also remembered as one of the signatories of the American Code of Botanical Nomenclature[6] that proposed such radical changes to the rules governing nomenclature that a compromise was not reached (and some of the principal American provisions adopted) until nearly 30 years later.

Death and legacy[edit]

He died at his home in the Bronx on June 25, 1934, after suffering a stroke 9 weeks earlier.[7]

The house he lived and worked in, the Britton Cottage, is preserved at Historic Richmond Town on Staten Island.

The genera Brittonastrum (now a synonym of Agastache Clayton ex Gronov.[8]), Brittonella (a synonym of Mionandra Griseb.[9]), Brittonamra (which is now a synonym of Coursetia DC.), Brittonia (synonym of Ferocactus Britton & Rose[10]), and Brittonrosea (a synonym of Echinocactus Link & Otto[11]) and also Neobrittonia.[12] As well as the botanical journal Brittonia are all named after him.[13][14]


John Hendley Barnhart contributed a bibliography of all of Britton's works to Biographical memoir of Nathaniel Lord Britton, 1859-1934 authored by Elmer Drew Merrill and presented to the National Academy of Sciences at the annual meeting, 1938.[16] In 1960, Henry A. Gleason published The scientific work of Nathanial Lord Britton, where he summarized and provided commentary on Britton's early botanical activities, botanical organizations, his nomenclatural work, the Illustrated Flora, his leadership of the New York Botanical Garden, his West Indian Flora, his North America Flora, his Flora of Northern South America, his North American Trees, and his monographic work.[17]


  1. ^ Fraser, Susan. "NATHANIEL LORD BRITTON RECORDS (1875-1934)". New York Botanical Garden. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  2. ^ "Toddler's Dress". Online Collections Database. Staten Island Historical Society. Retrieved 11 May 2011.
  3. ^ "Nathaniel Britton". Retrieved 2023-07-26.
  4. ^ "Nathaniel Lord Britton". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. 2023-02-09. Retrieved 2023-07-26.
  5. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 2023-07-26.
  6. ^ "American Code of Botanical Nomenclature". Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 34. 1907.
    * Works related to Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club/V34/American Code of Botanical Nomenclature at Wikisource
  7. ^ "Dr N.L. Britton, 74, Biologist, is dead" (PDF). 26 June 1934. New York Times. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  8. ^ "Brittonastrum Briq. | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  9. ^ "Brittonella Rusby | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  10. ^ "Brittonia C.A.Armstr. | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  11. ^ "Brittonrosea Speg. | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  12. ^ "Neobrittonia Hochr. | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 18 May 2021.
  13. ^ Michael Charters. "California Plant Names". Retrieved 30 October 2019.
  14. ^ William T. Stearn (11 October 2017). "Botanical Latin". David & Charles. Retrieved 30 October 2019.
  15. ^ International Plant Names Index.  Britton.
  16. ^ Merrill, Elmer D. (1938). Biographical memoir of Nathaniel Lord Britton, 1859-1934.
  17. ^ Gleason, Henry A. (1960). "The Scientific Work of Nathaniel Lord Britton". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 104 (2): 205–226.

Further reading[edit]

  • Merrill, E. D. (1938). "Nathaniel Lord Britton" (PDF). National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoirs. 19 (5).
  • Sterling, Keir B., ed. (1997). "Britton, Nathaniel Lord". Biographical Dictionary of American and Canadian Naturalists and Environmentalists. Greenwood Press.

External links[edit]