NATHANIEL LORD BRITTON
Photo of Nathaniel Britton

Nathaniel was born on January 15, 1859, in New Dorp on Staten Island, New York. He joined the Torrey Botanical Club in 1877 at the age of 19 and immediately began publishing papers on plants. Columbia College’s School of Mines gave him an engineer of mines degree in 1879. He taught as an assistant in geology and botany and, for five years, was assistant geologist for the Geological Survey of New Jersey. In 1881, Columbia College awarded him a PhD degree with a botanical thesis.

He edited the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club from 1888 to 1898. During this time he laid the groundwork for Britton & Brown’s three volume Illustrated Flora of the Northern States and Canada (1896-98) and launched the New York Botanic Garden in 1891. By 1896, he resigned his Columbia professorship, becoming a professor emeritus at the age of 37, and became director-in-chief of the Garden. By 1901, plans were completed for a North American Flora. He was a prime mover in framing the Brittonian Codes that resulted in schism in nomenclature that lasted almost 25 years until 1930 when his basic ideas (like the type method) prevailed. Britton and Rose published their massive Cactaceae (1919-23). That work and his work on the Flora of Porto Rico were extremely influential. He retired in 1929 at the age of 71.

He died on June 25, 1934, at the age of 75 in New York City.

Nathaniel was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1904 and was an honorary member from 1905 until his death.