From Plant Press, Vol. 18, No. 4, October 2015.
By Judith Knight
A new illustrated facsimile of the first edition of Estudios Para La Flora de Puerto Rico (Studies of the Flora of Puerto Rico), written by Agustin Stahl from 1883 to 1888, presents for the first time 390 of the author’s botanical watercolors in their intended context: printed alongside the original text. Estudios, which is the earliest scientifically rigorous treatment of Puerto Rico’s flora, was originally published without the illustrations during Stahl’s lifetime due to lack of support and funding.
The new three-volume edition, published by the Smithsonian Institution, was compiled and annotated with updated nomenclature by Curator Pedro Acevedo, marking the culmination of over a decade of research and painstaking digital restoration work on hundreds of scanned images of Stahl’s original watercolors. These works are currently housed at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez and the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture in San Juan. Many are poorly conserved and are rapidly deteriorating. The Atherton Seidell Endowment Fund of the Smithsonian Institution generously provided financial support for the publication of this rare book, complete with surviving illustrations, in both hard copy and digital formats (the latter will be available through the Department of Botany website).
Stahl (1842 – 1917) was Puerto Rico’s most significant botanist of the 19th century. A medical doctor and prolific scholar, he combined his profession with the study of natural history, researching, collecting, and illustrating specimens from around the island, as well as raising public awareness of botany as an educator. His academic contributions, which were written in Spanish and therefore accessible to local readers, provided a catalyst for Puerto Rico to develop a sense of pride and responsibility for its natural and cultural heritage. According to Acevedo, the Estudios marked “the beginning of a scholarly journey that has resulted in Puerto Rico currently being one of the better known Floras of the region, if not worldwide.”