By Emily Hunter, Field Book Project
While cataloging the field notes of David Griffiths (1867-1935) I was intrigued to find interesting markings in one book. The book includes Griffiths’s field notes from Texas and Mexico, 1905. It looked as if something wet was stamped on the paper and then outlined in pencil. Upon further investigation, I excitedly formed a theory that remains unproven.
During the time this book was created, Griffiths worked for the USDA, where he studied grasses as well as cacti of the United States southwestern region and northern Mexico. The Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History, has ten of Griffiths’s field books.
Reading through the 1905 field book, I saw that Griffiths was collecting Opuntia species, focusing especially on fruit. Griffiths’s entries included detailed physical observations of cacti specimens (fruit color, flower color, size, shape, etc.) and notes on the use of fruits as food. Locally, the fruits are called “tuna” and Griffiths includes notes on how Mexicans cut and eat them.
Just from visual observation I could tell the following:
- The paper is stained darker, forming a particular shape.
- That shape was outlined in pencil.
- Some of these images have a light-colored powder on them.
- Some of the shapes have a small check mark.
My hypothesis is this: Griffiths cut the fruit lengthwise and pressed the cross section against the paper to record the shape and size of the fruit. He then traced an outline, possibly to indicate the peel or skin of the fruit, and the knobby appearance of the outsides of it. The light-colored powder may be mold from the juices.
I asked Rusty Russell, Collections Manager in the National Museum of Natural History Department of Botany, what insights he could offer. He hadn’t seen anything similar recorded in field books before, but thought that my “cactus fruit stamp” hypothesis sounded plausible.
I’m still unsure what the check mark means. I hoped that it meant that the specimen was collected, since collector numbers seem to be included with most entries. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a match between specimens recorded in the field book and the collections in the U.S. National Herbarium, so all of this is still just an educated guess.
I’d love to hear if anyone else has come across this kind of field note recording. I would also be very interested to know if anyone does something similar in their own field notes! Please feel free to comment below.