Thomas J. Howell (botanist)

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Thomas J. Howell
Thomas J. Howell, Botanist of the Pacific Northwest.jpg
Thomas Howell in 1910
Born October 8, 1842
Cooper County, Missouri
Died December 3, 1912 (1912-12-04) (aged 70)
Woodstock, Oregon, USA
Occupation Botanist

Thomas Jefferson Howell (October 8, 1842 – December 3, 1912) was an American botanist from Oregon.[1]:118–119[2] Howell is considered one of the top three self-taught botanists of his era for the Pacific Northwest; the other two being Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf and William Conklin Cusick.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Howell was born in Cooper County, Missouri on October 8, 1842.[4] He came west with his parents, Elizabeth and Benjamin Howell, and his four siblings in 1850.[2] The Howells took up a Donation Land Claim on Sauvie Island in 1854.[2] Howell was largely self-taught, and only had six months of formal schooling.[5] His father was a doctor who had taught him some Latin and science, but he mostly educated himself while farming along the Clackamas River after leaving Sauvie Island.[2][5] He owned several grocery stores in the Portland area over years.[2] He served as the first post master of the Willamette Slough post office on Sauvie Island starting in 1873.[6] He later served as the first postmaster of Creighton post office in Oak Grove, Oregon, beginning in 1904.[6] Howell married Effie McIlwane in 1892.[2] The Howells had two sons, Dorsey R. Howell (born in 1894) and Benjamin A. Howell (born in 1904). Howell died on December 3, 1912 in Woodstock, Oregon (now a neighborhood in southeast Portland).[4]


Soon after arriving in Oregon, Howell and his brother Joseph developed an interest in botany.[2] An aquatic plant sent to Harvard botanist Asa Gray in 1878 was named Howellia aquatilis by him in the brothers' honor. In 1877, Howell started an herbarium, in which he cataloged 2,152 species.[5] Today his collections are in many American and European herbariums.[5] Howell published his first catalog of regional plants in 1881.[2] He compiled and published A Flora of Northwest America: Containing brief descriptions of all the known indigenous and naturalized plants growing without cultivation north of California, west of Utah, and south of British Columbia between 1897 and 1903.[2] Lacking funds, he borrowed type and hand-set the book a few pages at a time, taking them to Portland to be printed.[5] It was the most comprehensive list of Oregon and Washington plants published up to that time.[5]


Over 30 species of plants are named howellii.[2] Howell donated his collection of approximately 10,000 plant specimens to the University of Oregon. He spent the 1903-1904 academic year cataloging the collection for the university.[4]

Thomas J. Howell is one of the 158 names of people who are notable in the early history of Oregon painted in the friezes of the House and Senate chambers of the Oregon State Capitol.[5] Howell's name is in the House side.[5]

His family's home, the Bybee–Howell House, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was purchased by Howell's brothers Joseph and John in 1873 from James and Julia Bybee and was adjacent to their parents' home.[2]


  1. ^ Makers of American Botany, Harry Baker Humphrey, Ronald Press Company, Library of Congress Card Number 61-18435
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Engeman, Richard H. (2009). The Oregon Companion: An Historical Gazetteer of The Useful, The Curious, and The Arcane. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press. p. 184. ISBN 978-0-88192-899-0. 
  3. ^ Love, Rhoda M. (Fall 1998). "Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf (1850-1932) Pioneer Botanist of the Pacific Northwest" (PDF). Pacific Northwest Quarterly: 176. 
  4. ^ a b c Ornduff, Robert, "Thomas Jefferson Howell and the First Pacific Northwest Flora", Kalmiopsis (Volume 15), Native Plant Society of Oregon, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, pp. 32–41, 2008.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Cogswell, Philip Jr. (1977). Capitol Names: Individuals Woven Into Oregon's History. Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society. p. 126. 
  6. ^ a b McArthur, Lewis A.; McArthur, Lewis L. (2003) [1928]. Oregon Geographic Names (7th ed.). Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society Press. pp. 713, 1040. ISBN 978-0875952772. 
  7. ^ IPNI.  Howell. 

External links[edit]