200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 165: “Lewis David von Schweinitz: The Botanist Bishop ”

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drawings of mushrooms by Lewis David von Schweinitz
Eight of the 940 watercolor illustrations of fungi by Lewis David von Schweinitz in the Academy Archives. Ewell Sale Stewart Library and Archives Coll. no. 437.

Lewis David von Schweinitz: The Botanist Bishop

Many people are keen to avoid fungi at all costs, but not Lewis David von Schweinitz, an early Academy member. A Moravian bishop by trade, von Schweinitz devoted himself to the study of fungi. He ultimately described more than 1,000 new species of fungi in the early 19th century, an endeavor which earned him the title of Father of American Mycology. Von Schweinitz first immersed himself in the study of fungi during his studies abroad at the Moravian Theological Seminary. He continued his passion for mycology upon his return to the United States in 1812. Two of his publications on North American fungi, Synopisis fungorum in Carolinae superioris (1822) and Synopsis fongorum in America Boreali (1832), form the foundation of American mycology and are housed the Academy’s Ewell Sale Stewart Library.

Von Schweinitz did not limit himself to fungi, as his collections include both mycological and botanical specimens. Assembled from his own fieldwork and the collaborative efforts of correspondents across the globe, his collection of 23,000 fungi and plant species was the largest herbarium in the New World at the time. When he died in 1834, von Schweinitz left the collection to the Academy, where it greatly enlarged the Philadelphia Herbarium. Today, the herbarium has expanded to include 1.4 million specimens. It continues to be a leader in botanical research and a vital resource for research on the history of American botany. The herbarium holds some of the oldest and most important plant collections in the Americas, including all but a handful of the original specimens from Lewis and Clark’s expedition.

Find out more about the Philadelphia Herbarium’s incredible collection.

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