Dr. Benjamin Saurman, obscure Fl botanist, and life-saver?

20 May

As John and I worked today on our almost-done soon-to-be-printed informal wildflower identification guide based on John’s wildflower photos, the picture sorting ran us past a very odd species, if it is a species at all, Narrowleaf Hornpod, Mitreola angustifolia. For a very long time, I’ve suspected this species is no-good, merely a mutated form of the more common Lax Hornpod, Mitreola petiolata. All that is boring, and we’re not going there. The only reason I mention the problem is to note that, well, if you think a species is fake news, go look at the original specimen(s) used in naming it. Now THAT gets interesting.

Mitreola angustifolia

Mitreola “angustifolia” is based on plants preserved before 1841 by the remarkable Alvin Chapman, M.D. and first-ever important Florida botanist living in Florida. He lived in Apalachicola through the Civil War years and discovered a lot. Just like the species problem, it is not my goal now to explore Dr. Chapman’s astounding life and legacy, but rather that of a different M.D., also in Apalachicola at the same time, Dr. Benjamin Saurman. Dr. Saurman gathered more or less the 2nd oldest preserved M. angustifolia in 1867. Wazzup with that?

This is more or less the 2nd collection of Mitreola “angustifolia.” Look at the label in the next photo:

This label is hard to read, but look who collected it (lower right corner). 1867!

Thanks in significant part to the biographies of people who contributed plants to the
Putnam Museum Herbarium and to the Missouri Botanical Garden archives, we know some things about Dr. Saurman.

Dr. Saurman was an 1867 medical school graduate of the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. But instead of becoming a fancy Philadelphia physician, Benjamin had other ideas. He answered a Craig’s List ad to migrate to the boondocks in Florida and serve as a botanical (not medical) assistant to Dr. Chapman. While in Florida, Saurman collected a whole lot of plants, even after Dr. Chapman died, including the mysterious “Mitreola angustifolia.”

But that’s not all Saurman did, and now we get to the good stuff. He was beyond multitalented. In 1875 Saurman founded and served as Editor of the Apalachicola Times newspaper, which lives on to this day.
Writing and editing must have agreed with him, as Saurman later went on to edit newspapers in Pennsylvania and in New England and co-wrote a history book.

But B.S. was not merely a physician, botanist, writer, and editor. Add inventor to the list. In 1875, in Florida, he patented a “Lady’s Thread Cabinet.” You can still look up the patent via the U.S. Patent Office website. Apparently its cool innovative feature helped dispense the thread directly from the cabinet, no muss, no fuss, no tangles.

Saurman’s next invention was pretty different. He witnessed a head-on train crash in 1899. He must have been struck with the avoidability of the tragedy, because he patented a new railway signal system.

From a California newspaper…but after all, Saurman was connected in the newspaper world.
1 Comment

Posted by on May 20, 2022 in Uncategorized


One response to “Dr. Benjamin Saurman, obscure Fl botanist, and life-saver?

  1. theshrubqueen

    May 21, 2022 at 8:23 am

    Multi talented botanist.


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