Natural History Essay

(250-300 words).

To complete this essay, you will need to take a walk in Florida’s woods or a tangled, overgrown backyard. Look around, ‘travel’ through the environment you choose, spend some time, record your ‘travels.’ Choose one particular native species (you may have to do some quick research to make sure it’s a native) and photograph or draw the plant’s blossom (if any), its habitat, leaves, stem, etc. Be sure to find its official scientific name. Then pretend you are a naturalist like Bartram and be prepared to write your own mini-Travels.

This essay asks you to recreate a lost form in the style of William Bartram. The essay is to accompany one plant specimen, which should either be drawn or photographed and included in your essay—like William Bartram! Rather than taking a strictly technical approach, you should draw more clearly from the model of the 18th c and Bartram’s Travels; that is, there should be no strict divide between scientific precision and verbal art. Your essay must fulfill the criteria of botanic description — it should account for the habitat, history, notable and descriptive elements of plant, but like Bartram you can bring it alive with some of his stylistic techniques, such as:

antique language and syntax: (“Behold!”)
anthropomorphizing both animals and plants: (Giving them human qualities)
a sense of moving through space—a travel narrative + natural history document
little dramas involving natives, plants, animals, other people
tools a naturalist brings along (fusee, clubs)

Secondary Reading Assignment for William Bartram

BARTRAM from Travels.
April. Set off having a very good interpreter. Rode a mile and half over low level land, almost entirely covered with small Dwarf Palmetto, under scattering Pine Trees, the soil a white fine sand, came to a branch of water, the bottom a hard white sand, the soil on each side for a small distance wet and owsey producing Red Bay, Candle Berry Myrtle, short Magnolia Glauca, then taller leaning Palmettos. Then we came to a sandy ridge, the sand dry, producing Palmettos, shrubby Oaks that grow about twenty feet high, large tall Pine Trees; these sand hills or ridges, are the highest land of those flat sandy countries of the sea coast of Carolina and Florida dividing the waters of different rivers from each other, generally dry white sand, they are generally, however, productive of grass and Palmettos, various little shrubs, such as, various species of Kalmia, Andromeda, Myrica Cerifera. Prinos, Little Dwarf Oaks, and Chinquapins, as well as good large Pine Trees of the long leaved species reconed the most valuable, both for lumber and its yielding Turpentine, Tar, and Pitch: we next come to Bay Gales, two miles through. As I shall have occasion often to mention these bay gales and savannahs in describing, the different situations of these countries, I shall now endeavour to explain them. These rivers that do not reach the hilly or mountainous parts of these countries have their source in small lakes or savannas that have been lakes or ponds now filled up and become grassy meadows or savannahs which sometimes are vast and extensive, and beautiful bay and expression, or rather they primarily derive from gale bays, which are vast extensive wet and boggy shrubby plains, producing Red Bay, Horse-Sugar Shrubs, Magnolia Glauca, Alcea Florida, all indifferently called Bays by the inhabitants, mixed with sweet Gale, Candle Berry Shrubs, Evergreen Prinos, various Andromeda. Which are perpetually kept low by the annual firing the woods, these gale bays are, on one side of the savannahs, roundabout under the sand hill and ridges, where the wet, owsing out, feeds the savannah with moisture; or the gale bays are on the lower side of the savannahs, where the brook begins a constant running stream. Next we come to a moist flat pine forest, the ground covered with low Palmitos, thus continued a mile then we came to a low wet extensive savannah, overgrown with very tall straight Swamp Pine that seemed to be of a new year’s growth, the soil a black sandy slush about a foot deep, on a hard white sandy bottom, this place was about one mile through, producing very good tall grass, intermixed with, various species of plants, Lobelia, Phlox, abundance of pretty large White Lilies, on dry knowles. Very large thistles, with red crimson and white flowers, Loblolly Bay, very tall beautiful trees, Magnolia glauca, finely in flower, tall and beautiful Cabbage Trees, (Palma vera). Thus having passed four or five miles through a very wet and disagreeable road, we got to dry pine forests. We began gradually to rise on the sand hills. We rode three miles, came to a large rapid stream of water, crossed and went through a narrow swamp of middling good land, then rise on the sandy pine forest, the ground covered with low Palmettos, and pretty good pine timber continuing several miles, rise higher land, Pine and Black Jacks. We continued rising sand hills, came to another large creek, some pretty good swamp land high sandy pine forest such as we had passed, the land becomes now higher and more uneven, beginning to form chains or ridges of higher sand hills, the appearance of which though sandy and barren, yet exhibits a pleasing prospect high pine forest, hills and little lakes and savannahs, some round, and deep between the hills, these ponds and little lakes are of various sizes and form, some one mile over, other five or six miles, some partly surrounded with delightful green level meadows, other encompassed by high steep hills, and the large pine trees, being thinly planted about the green grassy hills, we might from the top of the high ridges see numbers of these little lakes at a great distance glittering through the groves and surrounding us on every side and their banks frequently planted with orange groves, all in flower, perfuming the air, rendered our journey this part of the day perfectly agreeable and made ample amends for the difficulties I met with in the morning. This evening came to camp by the side of a large pond about seven or eight miles in length, bordered round with extensive green grassy lawns or meadow, sometimes partly dividing the waters by long points or peninsulas, everywhere inhabited with varieties, of species of Herons, Bitterns, Storks, herds of Deer. This is called Long Pond or Halfway Pond; the mosquitoes were very troublesome, got very little rest. This morning being very fine we early got on our way, but our people having occasion to hunt the woods for horses, we could not reach the town this day. We camped by the side of a pleasant pond. The face of the country was much the same as passed yesterday. Alternately high sand hills and green savannahs. Observed the sand hills to be the highest land, had yet seen in the isthmus and the surface of the earth about them to be covered with Pebbles, pieces of white and yellow flint, pieces of course kind of white limestone, being concretions of small pieces of seashells cemented together with sand, and some masses of rocks of the same composition appeared above the earth. Early this morning we came to a very pleasant creek, which emptied its waters into a large pond or lake. Now the land begins again to fall lower. From this creek for the distance of seven or eight miles we travelled over a level pine forest and some savannahs, overgrown with large timber and the ground richly covered with good grass intermixed with varieties of flowers of various species and colours, we crossed part of a vast extensive marsh, we then entered a hammock, through which we continued three or four miles. The soil pretty good, producing Live Oak, Water Oak, Hickory, Linden, Mulberry, Elm, Magnolia grandiflora; this sort of land is too high for the produce of rice, but is very proper for Corn, Indigo, and Cotton. Next we entered an open pine forest through which at a small distance presented to view an exceedingly beautiful lake. Our road passing but a small distance from it and observing a large Indian Mound, which stood on the high banks of the lake; I rode up to it from which I had an agreeable prospect over the water, that has been formerly an Indian town but unknown to the present Indian Nation inhabiting this country. Here are a few Indian houses, but the people were gone out hunting except a few women and children.