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Merritt Lyndon Fernald (1873-1950)



Merritt Lyndon Fernald was born in Orono, Maine, on October 5, 1873. His father taught and served two terms as president of the Maine State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, which later became the University of Maine. Fernald began his college studies at the State College in 1890, and shortly thereafter had his first botanical publication appear the the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. Based on the strength of these writings and a letter he wrote to Sereno Watson in 1891, on the subject of Juncus (J. bufonius), Fernald was offered a position at the Gray Herbarium. An arrangement was made that allowed Fernald to work part time at the Herbarium while taking two academic courses per year. In March of that year Fernald traveled to Cambridge and began his work at Harvard. In the fall of 1891, he enrolled in the Lawrence Scientific School, graduating with his S.B., magna cum laude in 1897. Fernald would continue working for the Gray Herbarium in one capacity or another for the rest of his life. He worked as an assistant in the herbarium from 1891 to 1902; as an instructor of botany from 1902 to 1905; as an assistant professor from 1905 to 1915; and as Fisher Professor of Natural History from 1915 to 1947. He was also curator of the Gray Herbarium, 1935-37, and director, 1937-1947.

Fernald is known for his work on phytogeography. He combined extensive field work with his herbarium work, concentrating on the flora of eastern North America. He did much exploring in Quebec in his younger years; when older, he worked in Virginia. During his lifetime Fernald produced over 750 papers and memoirs. Within a year of beginning his work at Harvard, he completed the second edition of the Portland Catalogue of Maine Plants, publishing supplements in 1895 and 1897 (Pease 34). With Benjamin Lincoln Robinson he produced the 7th revision of Gray's Manual, which appeared in 1907. He wrote Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America with Alfred C. Kinsey, published in 1943. His major work was the 8th revision of Gray's Manual, published in 1950. Before his death, he was planning "a large work on plant distribution." (Pease 36). He was active in the New England Botanical Club, serving as president from 1911-1914 and as associate editor of Rhodora from 1899 until 1928, when he succeeded B. L. Robinson as editor-in-chief. He was a member and served as president of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, and was an active memeber in a number of other scientific associations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Linnaean Society (London) and the Torrey Botanical Club. He received honorary degrees from Acadia University (D.C.L., 1933) and the University of Montreal (D.Sc., 1938).

Fernald married Margaret Howard Grant in 1907. They had three children, one of whom died young. Fernald died on September 22, 1950.


Bartlett, Harley Harris. "Fernald as a Reviser of Gray's Manual." Rhodora. 53(626): 44-55.
Fogg, John M. "Fernald as a Teacher." Rhodora. 53(626): 39-43.
Griscom, Ludlow. "Fernald in the Field." Rhodora. 53(626): 61-65.
Pease, Arthur Stanley. "Merritt Lyndon Fernald 1873-1950." Rhodora. 53(626): 33-39.
Rollins, Reed C. "Fernald as a Botanist." Rhodora. 53(626): 56-61.

Scope and Content:

There are several distinct categories of Fernald materials in the archives:

1. Notebooks or bound typed sheets pertaining to plant distribution and regional floras, especially of Canada. They date from about 1904 to 1925.
2. Unpublished manuscripts and supporting materials. Mostly for articles on phytogeography.
3. Galley proofs, notes and illustrations for Edible Wild Plants.
4. Notes apparently used in the revision of Gray's Manual.
5. Certificates of membership in organizations and other honors.
6. Maps used by Fernald during his collecting trips.

There are also 17 folders in the Semi-Historic files which contain letters written and received by Fernald; biographical information; drafts for Milton/Clark travel grants; small manuscripts; correspondence relating to the publication of the 8th edition of Gray's Manual; correspondence, reviews and advertisements pertaining to Edible Wild Plants; etc. There are also a couple early plant lists in the inactive plant list file and in Plant List Book 3.


Most of the Fernald papers probably accumulated at the Gray Herbarium during his years here. No record has been found of any major gifts or bequests, by Fernald or others.

Container Listing: BOX AE - AG & AI, AJ, & AW


1. "Notes on Distribution of Vascular Plants of Newfoundland, Labrador and adjacent Quebec. 1910-11, 1914"
2. "Notes on Distribution of Vascular Plants of Newfoundland, Labrador, and Adjacent Quebec"
3. "Notes on the Flora of Sandiest Southeastern Massachusetts, 1918-1919"
4. "Notes on the Flora of Nova Scotia, 1920-1921"
4A. "Notes on the Flora of Newfoundland. M.L. Fernald, K.M. Wiegand and others, 1925"
5. Diary of trip to Canada, June 29- Aug. 19 1904. "Plants of Alpine and Subalpine Regions, Mt. Albert, 1905- 1906"
6. "For sets 1906" -- list of plants arranged by regions, probably M.L. Fernald; "Distribution on Table-topped Mt." -- list of plants names, latter part set up as a chart comparing Mt. Albert and Table top Mt.; in Fernald's hand "List of plants collected on the occasion of his visit to Newfoundland in 1766" by Sir Joseph Banks


7. "Spiranthes tuberosa again"; "Ranges of Northwestern European Plants and their American Representatives"; "Geographic Relations of the Living Flora of New England, eastern Canada and adjacent Regions"
8. Bundle of handwritten notes consisting of numbered list of taxa
9. "Observations upon the Physical Geography and Geology of Mount Ktaadn and the Adjacent District" by C.E. Hamlin, 1881; "Remnants of an old Graded Upland on the Presidential Ranges of the White Mountain" by James Walter Goldthwait, 1914; "Glaciation in the White Mountains of New Hampshire" by Goldthwait, 1916 and Harvard Alumni Bulletin, Feb. 21, 1936
10. "Driftless Areas and Plant Distribution in Eastern America"
11. ms notes on newsprint, appear to be on the glaciation theme; "The Survival of Pre-Wisconsin Plants in Northeastern America"


12. bundle of galley proofs
13. bundle of galley proofs
14. folder containing Alfred C. Kinsey's page notes
15. bundle of notes on 3 x 5 slips of paper
16. ms. notes on large sheets of heavy paper
17. ms. notes on large sheets of newsprint
18. ms. notes, ordinary paper


19. - 21. bundle of notes re plants, presumably for Manual
22. Blank notebook labeled "Gray's Manual 8th ed." and "Prof. Fernald his book"; presented to him at 400th meeting of New England Botanical Club, includes signatures of members
23. Checklist of plants in 6th ed. of Gray's Manual, 1893 (John A. Allen) annotated
24. "Guide to Bibliogr. Gray's Manual Revision" notebook with lists of vol. #'s and years of periodicals
25. "Guide to Bibliogr. Gray's Manual Revision" notebook like above
25A. "Repaired Bibliogr. Gray's Manual, ed. 7 manuscript" consisting of about 300 large sheets pasted on newsprint backings; bibliographical notes arranged by species. With this manuscript are 13 smaller sheets of notes.
26. "Gray's Field, Forest and Garden Botany -apparently notes for a revision which was not published.

27. "Gray's Field, Forest and Garden Botany I. 20 Apr. 1909"

28. "Manual Bibliography Catalog"


25B. Description of Antennaria megacephala Fernald in Raup, Contr. Arnold Arboretum 6: 208 (1934)


29. Notices of election: Amer. Antiquarian Society, Amer. Academy of Art and Sciences, Amer. Philosophical Soc., N.E. Botanical Club, Nova Scotia Inst. of Science, Philadelphia Botanical Club, Portland Soc. of Natural History
30. Certificate of Mass. Hort. Society Gold Medal for Edible Wild Plants
31. Certificate of membership in National Security League
32. Notice of naming as member of Norske Videnskaps Akademi and rules of society; notice of election to Assn. of American Geographers
33. Notice of election as foreign member to Linnean Society; notices of election of Societas Phytogeographica Suecana
34. Large certificates: Notice of election to membership in the Society of the Sigma Xi, Yale; certificate of election to membership in Societas Linnaeana Londinensis; certificate of election as member of National Academy of Sciences; certificate of election as correspondent of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia; honorary Doctor of Science, Montreal; certificate of honorary membership in Franklin Institute


35-38. Virginia Maps - arranged alphabetically by counties; topigraphical; some issued by the U.S. War Department and the State of Virginia
39. Virginia Maps - Index to maps found in Folders 35-38
40. Virginia Maps - Road Maps; Store-bought; some annotated by Fernald; undated
41. Virginia Maps - Other; undated
42. Virginia Maps - black and white photoprints of maps
43-44. Virginia Maps - Soil Survey Maps; issued by U.S. Department of Agriculture; undated
45. Virginia Maps - Notes taken by Fernald; undated
Other maps (loose): Documenting boundaries of areas in Arizona, New Mexico, and Newfoundland; n.d., 1913, 1918

See Also:

Historic Letter Collection
Semi-Historic Letter Collection
Gray Archives Photograph Collection: #0142-0152, #0154-0159, #0161-0162, #0528-0533, #0559-0564, #0585-0586, #0589, #0613, #0754, #1007, #1048, #1086, #0932, #1138, #1514-01 thru -06, #1515-01 thru -04, #1516-1520, #1521-01, -02, #1524-01, -02, #1526, #
Jane Gray Autograph Collection


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