Joseph Dalton Hooker: Botanist for the Ages

An exquisitely rendered sample from J.D. Hooker’s The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya

I write a blog every month about a scientist worth knowing. For June’s scientist, I have chosen a rather obscure botanist (obscure by American standards), Joseph Dalton Hooker. He meets my criterion of being born in June—June 30, 1817—to be precise. And, a happy coincidence, the first full week in June is National Garden Week. Since students everywhere are about to be released into the wild, a June blog also about getting them into gardening seems like a good plan. Hope you agree.

Joseph Dalton Hooker, the son of a botanist, became a master of phytogeography, the branch of botany concerned with the geographic distribution of plants around the globe. In the early 1800s, the study of botany was shaped by its value to medicine. Hooker studied to become a doctor and that enabled him to join a voyage to the Antarctic as an assistant surgeon. Hooker collected and catalogued all sorts of plant specimens while island-hopping his way to the South Pole. After this voyage, which lasted four and a half years, a close lifelong friendship developed between two scientific greats, Joseph Hooker and Charles Darwin. Years of their correspondence has been saved. Hooker continued to travel, collecting and naming plant specimens as he went. He traveled to the Himalayas, parts of Africa and the Middle East, and America. He succeeded his father as the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (outside of London), a place of outstanding botanical research, ongoing specimen development, and acres of plant curiosities for interested visitors. Hooker, a most influential botanist and gifted director of the gardens, eventually earned the title, ‘King of the Kew.’

As June hosts National Garden Week, I’m providing several links to both outdoor and online gardening activities for kids. With a little luck, this seed of an idea will germinate, with many young students blossoming into happy gardeners. (Pun intended!)

Informational Links

The Great Plant Escape (students learn about plants while solving a mystery for Detective LePlant)

How Seeds Are Spread (Dorling Kindersley seed mini lessons for young children)

Starting to Grow: Where Do Plants Come From  (includes brief videos on germination, seed dispersal, plant parts, etc.)

First Space Zinnia Blooms – See How NASA Has Made Botany Cool (growing plants in space may throw a monkey wrench into phytogeography)

Outdoor Activities

Seed Bombing is a fun way to beautify the neighborhood by planting wildflowers. I like this activity because it uses around-the-house items with only 2 small purchases; self-hardening clay and wildflower seeds. It’s fun for all ages, and it could involve an initial, as well as several follow-up walks, outdoors. It leaves students feeling good and neighborhoods more beautiful. You can pair it with a map skills activity, so your seed bombs are charted. CAUTION: Not all empty or near-empty lots are candidates for seed bombing; scout out and discuss before letting students bomb away. Empty areas with some weeds are usually good candidates.

Sandbox to Planter Box is a group activity. It requires seedlings, some construction, and therefore some expense, or an existing sandbox that can be converted into a planter. While written as a family activity, it is almost effortless to subdivide tasks for a classroom, so all students are involved.

(Pinterest has many fun ideas using a plastic turtle sandbox. Remember to plan for drainage.)

Post Author: Diane

Diane D has been researching and writing for Simple Solutions since retiring from her teaching position at the Nordonia schools. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. Diane, who is fluent in Italian, travels a lot, bikes every opportunity she gets, rock climbs, skis, and has recently joined a rowing team.