Ynes Mexia

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Ynes Mexia
Born May 24, 1870
Washington, D.C.
Died July 12, 1938(1938-07-12) (aged 68)
Citizenship Mexico, then United States
Nationality American
Fields Botanist
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley

Ynes Enriquetta Julietta Mexia (May 24, 1870 – July 12, 1938) was a Mexican-American botanist known for her collection of novel plant specimens from areas of Mexico and South America. She discovered a new genus of Compositae and was the most accomplished female plant collector of her time, travelling farther and collecting more specimens than any other.

Life and education[edit]

Ynes Mexia was born in Washington, D.C. on 24 May 1870 to her Mexican diplomat father, Enrique Mexia, who separated from her mother, Sarah Wilmer, in 1873. Her early education began at the age of 15, at Saint Joseph's Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland; after she finished there, she moved to Mexico City, where she lived at the family hacienda for 10 years and took care of her father, who died in 1896.[1][2] She married Herman de Laue, a Spanish-German merchant, in 1897 but the brief marriage ended upon his death in 1904.[1][3] Her second marriage, to D. Augustin Reygados, 16 years younger than she, was also short-lived. He badly mismanaged her poultry business while she received medical treatment in San Francisco, leading her to divorce him in 1908.[1][4] After her marriage to Reygados ended, she began a career as a social worker in San Francisco. In 1921, she matriculated at the University of California, Berkeley, motivated by trips with the Sierra Club, where a botany class sparked her interest in the field; she never received a degree.[1][5] She died in Berkeley on 12 July 1938 from lung cancer after falling ill on a collecting trip to Mexico.[4]

Career and legacy[edit]

Mexia began her career at the age of 55 with a 1925 trip to western Mexico under the tutelage of Roxanna Ferris, a botanist at Stanford University. Mexia fell off a cliff and was injured, halting the trip, which yielded 500 specimens, including several new species. The first species to be named after her, Mimosa mexiae, was discovered on this excursion.[3] Over the next 12 years, she travelled to Argentina, Chile, Mount McKinley (in 1928), Brazil (in 1929), Ecuador (in 1934), Peru and the Straits of Magellan (in 1935), and southwestern Mexico (in 1937) on 7 different collecting trips, discovering one new genus, Mexianthus, and many new species among her 150,000 total samples.[3][1][4] During her trip to Western Mexico, she collected over 33,000 samples,[1] including 50 new species.[6] In Ecuador, Mexia worked with the Bureau of Plant Industry and Exploration, part of Ecuador's Department of Agriculture.[7] There, she looked for the wax palm, cinchona, and herbs that bind to the soil.[7] Mexia once traveled up the Amazon River to its source in the Andes mountains with a guide and three other men in a canoe.[2] She also spent three months living with the Araguarunas, a native group in the Amazon. [2] All of these excursions were funded by the sale of her specimens to collectors and institutions alike.[4] Mexianthus, named for Mexia, is a genus of Asteraceae.[4] Specimens from these trips were stored in the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.[5] Mexia was remembered by her colleagues for her expertise on life in the field as well as her resilience in the tough conditions,[3] as well as her impulsiveness and fractious but generous personality.[5] They lauded her meticulous, careful work and her skills as a collector.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Ogilvie & Harvey 2000, pp. 889-890.
  2. ^ a b c McLoone 1997, pp. 23-30.
  3. ^ a b c d Yount 1999, pp. 150-151.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Petrusso 1999, pp. 391-392.
  5. ^ a b c Bailey 1994, pp. 248-249.
  6. ^ Oakes 2002, pp. 252-253.
  7. ^ a b Mongillo 2001, pp. 179-180.
  8. ^ "Author Query for 'Mexia'". International Plant Names Index. 
  • Bailey, Martha J. (1994), American Women in Science, ABC-CLIO, ISBN 0-87436-740-9 
  • McLoone, Margo (1997), Women Explorers in North and South America, Capstone, ISBN 9781560655077 
  • Mongillo, John (2001), Environmental Activists, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 0313308845 
  • Oakes, Elizabeth H. (2002), International Encyclopedia of Women Scientists, Facts On File, Inc., ISBN 0-8160-4381-7 
  • Ogilvie, Marilyn; Harvey, Joy (2000), "Ynes Mexia", The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science, ISBN 0-415-92038-8 
  • Petrusso, Annette (1999), Proffitt, Pamela, ed., "Ynes Mexia", Notable Women Scientists (Gale Group Inc.), ISBN 0-7876-3900-1 
  • Yount, Lisa (1999), A Biographical Dictionary A to Z of Women in Science and Math, Facts on File Inc., ISBN 0-8160-3797-3 

External links[edit]