Image: Wikimedia Commons.
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Botany, a man’s world?

Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

What do you make of this: ‘In the 18th century, not yet 30 years old, she became the first woman to travel around the world. Along the way she helped collect thousands of plant specimens, some of which were new species. And she did it all dressed as a man’?

Sounds incredible, I know but apparently it is true and relates to one Ms Baret (or Baré). To cut a long (but fascinating!) story short, a wrong – that no plant was named after this indefatigable plants-person – has now been righted by Eric Tepe et al. Their article entitled, ‘A new species of Solanum named for Jeanne Baret, an overlooked contributor to the history of botany’ formally describes Solanum baretiae Tepe, sp. nov. As the authors proudly declare ‘This species in [sic] named in honor of Jeanne Baret (1740–1807), an unwitting explorer who risked life and limb for love of botany and, in doing so, became the first woman to circumnavigate the world… a woman dressed as a man, a female botanist in a male-dominated field, and a working class woman who had travelled farther than most aristocrats’.

Fittingly, S. baretiae is a new member of a cosmopolitanly cultivated, well-travelled and important food genus, suitably befitting for such a cosmopolitan, well-travelled lady! And let us not forget that the genus – Solanum – includes S. tuberosum, the potato, which itself can be dressed up in many different guises, e.g. chips (aka ‘fries’ in the USA, ‘frites’ in France, and – allegedly – ‘Fritz’ in Germany), mashed potato, duchess potato, jacket potato and crisps (bizarrely called ‘chips’ in the USA). But cross-dressing, eh? I think I’d be cross if I had to dress as a woman to pursue my botanical passion; but if that’s what it takes… Hopefully, however, and nowadays, we are much more egalitarian and anybody with the appropriate aptitude can aspire to be a botanist. Though with scientific names like Phallus impudicus and Clitoria for organisms within the remit of the Melbourne Code, and what with that racy Scandinavian Mr Linnaeus’ overtly sexually charged plant classification system, maybe botany is not such a suitable pastime for the gentler sex – or those otherwise of a nervous or sensitive disposition…?

Nigel Chaffey

I am a Botanist and former Senior Lecturer in Botany at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany I contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international phytological organ for almost 10 years. I am now a freelance plant science communicator and Visiting Research Fellow at Bath Spa University. I also continue to share my Cuttingsesque items - and appraisals of books with a plant focus - with a plant-curious audience at Botany One. In that guise my main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way) others about plants and plant-people interactions, and thereby improve humankind's botanical literacy. I'm happy to be contacted to discuss potential writing - or talking - projects and opportunities.
[ORCID: 0000-0002-4231-9082]

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