Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf Papers, 1867-1935

Overview of the Collection

Suksdorf, Wilhelm, 1850-1932.
Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf Papers
1867-1935 (inclusive)
7.5 Linear feet of shelf space, (14 Boxes), (5900 Items)
Collection Number
Cage 315 (collection)
The papers of Pacific Northwest botanical collector, Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf. These consist of correspondence, enclosures, bills and receipts, drafts and copies of writings, herbarium catalogs, field notes, maps, diaries, published works and other papers, and a few personal papers.
Washington State University Libraries' Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC)
Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections
Terrell Library Suite 12
Pullman, WA
Telephone: 509-335-6691
Access Restrictions

This collection is open and available for research use.

Additional Reference Guides

Northwest Botanical Manuscripts : an Indexed Register of the Papers, 1867-1957, of Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf, William Conklin Cusick, Charles Vancouver Piper, Rolla Kent Beattie, and Harold St. John in the Washington State University Library. Washington State University; 1976.

English and German,

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

The long and complex, if outwardly simple, life of Wilhelm Suksdorf began in rural Germany, near Kiel, in 1850. At the age of eight he emigrated to northeastern Iowa with his family. He lived there until 1874. In 1876 he was enrolled in a science/agriculture course at the University of California. Before graduating, however, he left school to join his father and several brothers at White Salmon, Washington, where he entered into their various farming and town promotion activities.

He started making botanical observations of an informal sort in Iowa, continued in California and began serious reconnaissance and collecting of Washington plants during the summer vacation of 1875. As much of the Washington vegetation could not be identified with existing manuals, in 1878 Suksdorf began corresponding with Asa Gray at Harvard University, in an effort to have his collection identified and named. Encouraged by Gray, who named a genus of plants for him, and by a visiting expedition of botanists in 1880, Suksdorf decided to make a serious distribution of Washington plants. These he offered for sale in 1882, the first of his thirteen fascicles of Washington plants.

In 1886, Gray asked Suksdorf to join him at Harvard as an assistant, apparently intending that the position would become permanent. A combination of complex circumstances, along with various physical and mental health problems which plagued him throughout his life, led Suksdorf to abandon Harvard in 1888. After a time of inactivity, he returned to collecting Washington plants and to a regular pattern of publication of his findings. Difficulties arose, however, because of his limitations with English and a strong personal desire to write in German. Consequently, many of his articles appeared in German and Austrian journals, or in obscure American journals which would carry articles written in German. This position, along with his strong adherence to the "International Rule" school of thought, led him into many minor disputes with botanists for the rest of his life. In the 1920s, he resolved some of these difficulties by founding a personal journal, Werdenda, which gave him an outlet for his views.

Suksdorf continued to live at Bingen, Washington, a town he and his brothers founded, for the rest his life and his botanical labors accordingly tended to reflect the vegetation of adjacent Klickitat County. This area contained vegetation representative of both humid, wooded Western Washington and arid, open Eastern Washington along with a major alpine area, Mt. Adams, which Suksdorf, following Indian practice, called Mt. Paddo. Thus he was exposed to much of the state’s varied flora without traveling great distances. He did, nevertheless, collect plants in the Spokane area in parts of Oregon and Idaho near to Washington, at one location in Montana and while on a major trip to California in 1913. In the 1920s he spent two winters at Washington State University, as a special fellow of the herbarium.

Suksdorf’s outlook on botany had been colored by his early exposure to the ideas of Asa Gray and the basic ideas of the Candollean school, as well as by his own personal experiences and emotions relative to the out-of-doors and to plants. Occupationally, philosophically, scientifically and emotionally he was a "naturalist," reflecting every sense of the meaning of the term. This led him to some practices which caused many to regard him as an eccentric: his reclusiveness, his preferences for field botany over laboratory study, and his tendency to be a splitter of species. For decades he fought against those botanical ideas which came from abstract study in herbaria and libraries and insisted that plants must be seen in the field for an understanding. Although this fight with academic botanists was generally a losing battle, Suksdorf continued to hope for a return of naturalism even to the later years of his life. He expressed this idea in 1928 when he wrote, "A collector sees the plants in the field and mostly many of each kind he collects, but his notes or remarks are seldom considered of importance. That was so, at least in the past. But I knew one botanist who was different; that was Dr. Gray. To him the collector was a helper, not merely a collector." (16 June 1928, Harold St. John Papers).

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The papers contain Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf’s correspondence, along with many enclosures; his diaries; drafts or copies of many of his writings; his catalog of his herbarium; and many of his field notes, along with maps and explanations of place names. Most materials relate to Suksdorf’s plant collecting, subsequent classification and distribution of specimens, and his professional writing, though some personal and family papers are included. Materials from the papers of Fermen Pickett, Alice Eastwood, and Carleton Ball are interfiled within the correspondence. Other correspondents include: R. Kent Beattie, Alice Eastwood, Asa Gray, Louis Henderson, Thomas Howell, Charles Piper, and Harold St. John. Both personal and scientific correspondence is included. Approximately one-fourth of the material is in German.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Copyright restrictions may apply.

Preferred Citation

[Item description]

Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf Papers, 1867-1935 (Cage 315)

Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


The papers are arranged in five series; correspondence, writings, notes, diaries and oversize material. The correspondence has been arranged in chronological sequence. A sub-series contains many enclosures, bills and receipts which had been separated from the correspondence in previous handling of the papers.

Custodial History

The papers of Wilhelm N. Suksdorf, 1850-1932, of Bingen, Washington, were acquired by the Washington State University Herbarium in 1933 as a part of the bequest which willed Suksdorf's herbarium and library to the University. The herbarium added and interfiled various materials during the 1940s, principally from the papers of Fermen Pickett of Washington State University, Alice Eastwood of the California Academy of Sciences and Carleton Ball of the United States Department of Agriculture.

Acquisition Information

The papers, along with those of four other Pacific Northwest botanists, were transferred to the Washington State Library in 1975 by the Marion Ownbey Herbarium of Washington State University.


Biographical sketches of Suksdorf include: George Neville Jones, "William N. Suksdorf," Washington Historical Quarterly, 24 (1933) 128-129; Alice L. Kibbe, Afield with Plant Lovers and Collectors (Carthage, Ill.: Carthage College, 1953) 353-356; Erwin F. Lange, "Pioneer Botanists of the Pacific Northwest," Oregon Historical Quarterly, 57 (1956) 113-114; Harold St. John, "Biography of Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf, 1850-1932, Pioneer Botanist of the State of Washington," Research Studies, 23 (1955) 225-282; and William A. Weber, The Botanical Collections of Wilhelm N. Suksdorf (Master’s Thesis, Washington State University, 1942), partially reprinted in Research Studies, 12 (1944) 51-122. Weber’s essay contains detailed explanations of Suksdorf’s symbols, as well as a detailed itinerary of his collecting trips.

Related Materials

Northwest Botanical Manuscripts : an Indexed Register of the Papers, 1867-1957, of Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf, William Conklin Cusick, Charles Vancouver Piper, Rolla Kent Beattie, and Harold St. John in the Washington State University Library. Washington State University; 1976.

Washington State University Botanical Papers, 1881-1973 (Cage 53)

Xerpha Mae Gaines Papers, 1948-1970 (Cage 122)

William Conklin Cusick Papers, 1906-1924 (Cage 316)

Charles Vancouver Piper Papers, 1888-1926 (Cage 317)

Rolla Kent Beattie Papers, 1899-1956 (Cage 318)

Harold St. John Papers, 1912-1957 (Cage 319)

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Series 1: CorrespondenceReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
General Correspondence
Box Folder
1 1
90 items.
1 2
60 items.
1 3
110 items.
1 4
110 items.
1 5
160 items.
2 6
150 items.
2 7
120 items.
2 8
70 items.
2 9
25 items.
2 10
30 items.
2 11
80 items.
2 12
60 items.
2 13
125 items.
3 14
125 items.
3 15
150 items.
3 16
130 items.
3 17
100 items.
3 18
110 items.
4 19
70 items.
4 20
45 items.
4 21
80 items.
4 22
100 items.
4 23
120 items.
4 24
75 items.
4 25
60 items.
4 26
90 items.
5 27
100 items.
5 28
80 items.
5 29
80 items.
5 30
95 items.
5 31
55 items.
5 32
45 items.
5 33
60 items.
5 34
40 items.
5 35
90 items.
5 36
75 items.
6 37
70 items.
6 38
70 items.
6 39
60 items.
6 40
80 items.
6 41
155 items.
6 42
135 items.
7 43
100 items.
7 44
125 items.
7 45
170 items.
7 46
110 items.
8 47
90 items.
8 48
95 items.
8 49
120 items.
8 50
75 items.
8 51
100 items.
8 52
190 items.
Supplemental Correspondence, Enclosures, Bills and Receipts
Box Folder
8 53
Correspondence of Theodor Suksdorf and Fermen Pickett, and others, relative to the estate of Wilhelm Suksdorf and acquisition of the Suksdorf herbarium
130 items.
9 54
Copies of correspondence with Alice Eastwood
20 items.
9 55
Extracts of correspondence of the several Suksdorf brothers, relative to business arrangements
50 items.
9 56
Enclosures, advertisements, printed materials, circulars and brochures from the correspondence of Wilhelm Suksdorf
250 items.
circa 1875-1930
9 57-59
Bills and receipts
300 items.
circa 1875-1930

Series 2: WritingsReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
10 60
Flora of Washington, catalogs for Fascicles 1 through 13 of plants distributions; irregular price lists
30 items.
10 61
Flora Washingtonensis, Phaenogamia and Pteridophyta of Washington
1 item.
circa 1895
10 62
Articles, notices and reprints
10 items.
circa 1895-1910
10 63
Flora of Mt. Adams, known to the Natives as Mt. Paddo, draft copy
1 item.
10 64
Werdenda. Beitrage zur Pflanzenkunde, Band I, Nos. 1-18.
15 items.
10 65-67
Werdenda, drafts, including some notes on the genus Ansinckia
50 items.
circa 1925-1931

Series 3: NotesReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Herbarium Catalog
Box Folder
11 68
Washington 1-1837
11 69
Washington 1838-4653
11 70
Washington 4654-8437
11 71
Washington 8438-11495
11 72
Washington 11496-13883
11 73
11 74
11 75
11 76
Botanical Notes
Box Folder
12 77
Flora Von Washington
1 notebook
circa 1887
12 78
Records and notes of distribution
2 Books
circa 1882-1910
12 79-80
Catalogs of other collectors.
20 items.
13 81
Collections notes
19 notebooks
13 82
Maps, keys to symbols, place names, Indian words and other such notes
50 items.
circa 1890-1925
13 83-85
60 items.
circa 1885-1920

Series 4: Diaries and Biographical MaterialsReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
14 86
15 items.
14 87
Iowa plants and Diary
1 item.
14 88
Journal of Trip to California
1 item.
14 89
Photographs, chiefly portraits
13 items.
14 90
Drawings and water colors
2 Books
circa 1860-1869
14 91
Notes of biographers, several short biographic sketches
10 items.
circa 1920s-1955

Series 5: OversizeReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
14 92
Notes of Flora of Mt. Adams, Falcon Valley, Butterfly Lake; maps and drawings of these and other locations
35 items.
circa 1895-1920

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Botanists -- United States -- Correspondence.
  • Botany -- Research -- Northwest, Pacific.

Personal Names

  • Beattie, R. Kent (Rolla Kent), 1875-1960.
  • Eastwood, Alice, 1859-1953.
  • Gray, Asa, 1810-1888.
  • Henderson, L. F. (Louis Fourniquet), 1853-1942.
  • Howell, Thomas Jefferson, 1842-1912.
  • Piper, Charles V. (Charles Vancouver), 1867-1926.
  • St. John, Harold.
  • Suksdorf, Wilhelm, 1850-1932 -- Archives.