Life Among the Texas Flora
Ferdinand Lindheimer's Letters to George Engelmann
Texas History
6 x 9, 256 pp.
9 b&w photos.
Pub Date: 06/01/2000
Price:        $17.95 s

Price:        $44.50 s


Published by Texas A&M University Press

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San Antonio Conservation Society Publications Award. Presented October 1991.

Life Among the Texas Flora

Ferdinand Lindheimer's Letters to George Engelmann

By Minetta Altgelt Goyne

From an endangered species of prickly pear cactus to a daisy and even a snake, the name Lindheimer is tied to the nomenclature of Texas natives in nature. The name originally belonged to Ferdinand Lindheimer, one of the Southwest's first serious scientists, who came to be known as the "Father of Texas Botany." This immigrant from Frankfurt, Germany, spent more than a decade living on a shoestring budget as he searched the wilds of Central and Southeast Texas for new species. His correspondent, friend, fellow botanist, and fellow Frankfurt native was George Engelmann, who also served as Lindheimer's conduit to civilization and to botanic circles worldwide. Like Lindheimer in the tangled prairies, Minetta Altgelt Goyne spent more than a decade on a difficult task: deciphering and translating more than forty of Lindheimer's letters, contained in the Engelmann Papers at the Missouri Botanical Garden archives. Goyne’s biographical research and annotations make Lindheimer’s letters a fascinating window on his excitement in discovering new species and oddities and his frustrations with immigration politics and frontier life. His comments in his letters to Engelmann about the personalities and practices of the Texas German immigrants and their leaders are at times witty and biting. His wealth of experiences and pointed observations make this a story that will intrigue botanists, Germanists, historians, and Texans everywhere.

MINETTA ALTGELT GOYNE has written and lectured extensively about the German language and culture and is the author of Lone Star and Double Eagle. She is retired from the faculty of the University of Texas at Arlington and is a freelance translator and writer.

What Readers Are Saying:

"Deciphering Lindheimer's letters was a task somewhat comparable to deciphering the Rosetta Stone--only the writing on that is easier to read. . . . [The letters] are entertaining, lively and full of not only botanical information but shrewd observations and gossip about prominent pioneer Texans. The book is also excellently annotated and contains a first-rate bibliography." --German-Texan Heritage Society Journal,

"For many readers, a rose by any other name is simply a mystery. But even the most botanically inept will find much of interest in A Life among the Texas Flora. . . . The work of Minetta Altgelt Goyne contributes greatly to the success of this book for the general reader. Her biographical essays that introduce each chapter place the correspondence in the appropriate historical and personal context and give a great deal of information in their own right. Her footnotes and index are likewise excellent." --Texas Libraries

"For the translations alone, Minetta Goyne deserves praise; for her interpretations, she merits commendation. . . . [M]ore exciting than the letters is how Goyne reads and connects them. . . . she moves competently between immigration history and biography, on one hand, and intellectual and cultural history, on the other hand." --Southwestern Historical Quarterly

"The letters themselves are so entertaining, perhaps because of the grace with which they are translated, one is sorry to see the book end." --Review of Texas Books

"Anyone who loves nature, wildflowers, Texas history and its early ways will feel deep gratitude to the author for providing us with all of those items and her own well-written interesting passages woven between the letters." --San Marcos Daily Record

". . . rich in accounts of wilderness travel and the joys of living and working in nature (and finding a good woman to do it with), intermixed with a good helping of professional jealousies, grousing about the weather and shortages of money, apologies for ennui, and searing criticisms of the failures that accompanied early German colonization." --Texas Books in Review,

"Minetta Altgelt Goyne has performed a real service to the social history of science and the cultural history of the German settlements in Texas . . . Her translations of the difficult German texts are excellent, and the supporting research in both Germany and Texas is meticulous and imaginative." --Western Historical Quarterly

" . . . a rich primary source for anyone wishing to know more about the natural history of early Texas, the difficulties of travel and collecting in the 1840s, and life and leaders in the early settlements." --East Texas Historical Journal

"In a behind-the-scenes documented exposé Minetta Goyne . . . translated 42 heretofore unpublished Lindheimer letters that informed Engelmann how his collections were made. More than 1,200 `herbarium' sheets were assembled in sets and sold to subscribers here and abroad at $8 per hundred. This industry, overlooked by biohistorians for its part in the history of plant systematics, spawned competition . . . Goyne has opened a `fascinating window' to the life of more than a plant hunter who, with uncommon zeal, enlightened the scientific fraternity of frontier Texas for others to glimpse." --Journal of the West

" . . . an important tool for those interested in the history of science and mid-nineteenth-century Texas, for they offer evocative testimony of the impact of German immigrants on American science and on Texas." --Journal of American Ethnic History


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