Author, artist, conservationist, botanist

Lichens and mosses I’ve always been fond of lichens – I recall surveying different types as a measure of air quality for a high school project, long ago. It turns out that another resident of my home county shared my interest, some 100 years before me. You may know her better as an author and illustrator of children’s books. However, Beatrix Potter was also a talented amateur botanist. What’s more, we learn from a recent article in The Scientist that she was the first person to propose that lichens are a symbiotic partnership of fungi and algae.
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In April 1897, after painstaking preparation, Potter was ready to present her first and only paper, “Germination of the spores of the Agaricineae,” to the Linnean Society of London. While there is no record of the paper’s content, her notes and journal suggest that she described her experiments cultivating the germinating basidiospores and her in-depth observations. In a letter written prior to her paper submission, Potter said she grew 40 to 50 kinds of spores, but only submitted observations of A. velutipes (now known as Flammulina velutipes).

However, women were not allowed to attend official Society meetings. Potter’s paper was offered instead through a botanist at Kew Gardens, George Massee, a member of the Society. In her journal, which was published in 1966, she wrote about Linnean Society members’ dismissive attitudes towards her work.
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