Sara Plummer Lemmon

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Sara Lemmon authored the legislation to designate the golden poppy as California's state flower.

Sara Allen Plummer Lemmon (September 3, 1836 – 1923) was an American botanist. A number of plants are named for her, as is Mount Lemmon in Arizona for being the first white woman to ascend it. She was responsible for the designation of the golden poppy as the state flower of California in 1903.[1] Harvard University botanist Asa Gray named the new genus Plummera, now called Hymenoxys, in her honor.[2]

Early years[edit]

She was born in New Gloucester, Maine on September 3, 1836.[3] She was educated in Massachusetts at the Female College of Worcester.[4] Plummer then moved to New York City, teaching art there for some years,[5] and studying at Cooper Union.[6] She also served as a nurse for a year or two during the Civil War.[4]

Move to California[edit]

Mount Lemmon, Arizona, named after Sara Lemmon

Falling ill in 1868–69, she moved to California in 1869 for her health.[5] Newspapers of the day described Plummer as "one of the first 'intellectuals'" to move to Santa Barbara,[7] Indeed, in 1871[4] she established a lending library that became an important cultural center for Santa Barbara.[5] Shortly after arriving in Santa Barbara, she established the "Lending Library and Stationery Depot", with the aid of a friend, Unitarian minister Henry Bellows, who helped her acquire her first few hundred volumes.[5] Operating out of a jewelry store on State Street, Plummer charged $5 membership or 10 cents for borrowing books, and sold a variety of art and music supplies, and held cultural gatherings including lectures and art exhibits.[5]

While walking about Santa Barbara, she acquired an interest in botany, and turned her paintings towards botanical illustrations.[5] In 1876 Plummer met John Gill (J.G.) Lemmon (1831–1908) when he was giving a lecture in Santa Barbara.[8] Lemmon, a Civil War veteran and former Andersonville prisoner, was, like Plummer, a self-trained botanist.[8] In 1880 they married, Plummer assuming his name.[1] At that point, she sold her library to the Odd Fellows to operate, and she and John Lemmon began traveling and cataloging botanical materials.[5]

Lemmon and her husband John honeymooned in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson, Arizona.[9] With the aid of E. O. Stratton, they eventually scaled the tallest peak, which they named Mount Lemmon in her honor[9] – one of the few mountains named for a woman.[10][11] While on their trip, the Lemmons discovered and cataloged a number of species unique to the mountain.[10]

After returning from their trip, they continued their botanical endeavors. The Lemmons co-developed the Lemmon Herbarium at their home at No. 5985 Telegraph Avenue,[12] later donating it to UC Berkeley, where it was later merged into and called the University and Jepson Herbaria.[13] Lemmon continued her botanical illustrations, including as the official artist for the California State Board of Forestry (from 1888–1892)[4] and acquired a national reputation for her work.[5] During the 1890s she also advocated for the adoption of the golden poppy as the state flower of California, eventually writing the bill passed by the California Legislature and signed in 1903.[4][5]


Her husband J.G. died in 1908, and Sara Plummer Lemmon died in California in 1923. The couple is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, in Plot 46, with a poppy on her gravestone.[1][4]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Sara Plummer Lemmon, "The Ferns of the Pacific Slope" (San Francisco, 1882)
    • "Silk Culture in California" (1884)
    • "Marine Botany" (1886)
    • Marine Algae of the West
    • Western Ferns
  • and John Gill Lemmon, How to Tell the Trees and Forest Endowment of Pacific Slope (1902)


  1. ^ a b c "California Beat Hero: Sara Plummer Lemmon", May 27, 2009.
  2. ^ Dupree, A. Hunter (1988). Asa Gray, American Botanist, Friend of Darwin. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 389, 397–398. ISBN 978-0-801-83741-8. 
  3. ^ Plummer's gravestone indicates 1836 as her year of birth, although some accounts cite 1840. Matas, "Life Stories" (2011).
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Sara Allen Plummer Lemmon (1836–1923)", Find-a-Grave.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Michael Redmon, "Who is responsible for setting up Santa Barbara’s first library?", Santa Barbara Independent, April 10, 2008.
  6. ^ Appletons' cyclopaedia of American biography, Volume 7, edited by James Grant Wilson and John Fiske.
  7. ^ Unspecified newspapers cited in Kimberly Matas, "Life stories: Mt. Lemmon's namesake was female explorer", Arizona Daily Star, Oct. 31, 2011.
  8. ^ a b Kimberly Matas, "Life stories: Mt. Lemmon's namesake was female explorer", Arizona Daily Star, Oct. 31, 2011.
  9. ^ a b Carrie M. Miner, "Sara Plummer Lemmon", Arizona Scenic Roads (last visited Aug. 24, 2012).
  10. ^ a b Leo W. Banks, "Sky Island Parkway" (last visited Aug. 24, 2012).
  11. ^ E. O. Stratton, Pioneering in Arizona: The Reminiscences of Emerson Oliver Stratton and Edith Stratton Kitt. Tucson : Arizona Pioneers' Historical Society, 1964.
  12. ^ James Miller Guinn, History of the State of California and Biographical Record of Oakland and Environs (1907), Historic Record Company, pp.834–835. Available at California Biographies (last visited Aug. 24, 2012).
  13. ^ "Biographical Information", John and Sara (Plummer) Lemmon Papers, University and Jepson Herbaria Archives, University of California, Berkeley (last visited Aug. 24, 2012).

Further reading[edit]