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by Tom Thomson
A Flower for Floyd
Whenever I see a profusion of late summer wildflowers I think of my old friend Floyd Bartley who was born in 1888 on a farm in Pickaway County, not far from Circleville. He died in 1975, but during his lifetime he made numerous contributions to the scientific study of botany in Ohio, even though he only went through grade school and chose to make his living as a farmer.
For many years he drove his faithful 1931 Model A Ford around the state collecting and preserving plant specimens. In the trunk of the car was a home-made plant press, consisting of two pieces of plywood holding together a stack of folded newspapers between which he would insert flowers and leaves, the whole thing tightly bound with a couple of straps.
Floyd's ruddy complexion, pale blue eyes, and wisp of white hair, usually pushed down under a beat-up old felt hat, were his personal trademarks. But his kindly disposition and infinite patience in passing on his knowledge of botany were what endeared him to so many students and lay persons. I remember how he taught me to recognize several species of the helianthus genus-the true native American sunflowers.
The hills of southern Ohio - and the plants that are there - were Floyd's greatest passion as he searched for rarities with an enthusiasm seldom found even among professionals.
As a result of his diligent searching, he discovered species of plants new to the state of Ohio. One of them was the bigleaf magnolia, a tree that was thought to have been indigenous to the Carolinas. But more than that, this farmer, this dedicated amateur botanist, discovered at least three totally new species, species new to science, including one that represented an entirely new genus.
Floyd contributed specimens to such prestigious museums and herbaria as the Smithsonian Institution, the New York Botanical Garden, and Ohio University. The Ohio Academy of Science made him an honorary life member in 1966 and Ohio University established the Floyd Bartley Herbarium.
The late Dr. Harold E. Burtt, Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Psychology at The Ohio State University and an avid naturalist himself, used to tell this story about Floyd.
With a neighbor friend who was also interested in botany Floyd took a trip to Cedar Swamp one autumn day to see the fringed gentian. When they found a spot with an abundance of the bright blue flowers, they sat down and Floyd took a book of poetry from the pocket of an old suit coat that he sometimes wore on his trips afield. He thumbed through the book until he found William Cullen Bryant's poem about the fringed gentian, and as the two of them sat there together, he read it aloud. The two final verses go like this:
Then doth thy sweet and quiet eye
Look through its fringes to the sky,
Blue - blue - as if that sky let fall
A flower from its cerulean wall.
I would that thus, when I shall see
The hour of death draw near to me,
Hope, blossoming within my heart,
May look to heaven as I depart.
Isn't that wonderful? Two old farmers. Botanists. Enjoying a poem. What is the world coming to?
Floyd and his plant press.
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