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Brandegee, Townshend Stith (1843-1925) | University and Jepson Herbaria Archives, University of California, Berkeley

Name: Brandegee, Townshend Stith (1843-1925)
Variant Name: Brandegee, T. S.

Historical Note:

Townshend Stith Brandegee, botanist and expert on the Cape flora of Baja California, was born February 16, 1843 in Berlin, Connecticut to Elishama Brandegee and Florence Stith Brandegee.  He served in the Company G of the First Regiment of the Connecticut Artillery from 1862-1864.  His initial career path was that of an engineer and surveyor, obtaining his degree in 1870 in civil engineering from Yale's Sheffield Scientific School. While at Yale he was able to develop his boyhood interest in botany by studying with fern expert Daniel Cady Eaton. After graduation he was hired as County Surveyor and City Engineer in Canon City, Colorado where he botanized in his spare time, developing his own herbarium and sending specimens for identification first to Mr. John H. Redfield and then to Dr. Asa Gray. In 1875 Gray recommended Brandegee as assistant topographer and botanical collector on Ferdinand V. Hayden's exploring expedition of southwest Colorado and Utah. He was then hired as a surveyor on railroad surveys in Arkansas and New Mexico, where he continued to collect plants and send them to Asa Gray and Mr. Redfield. He went to New York to make a forest map of the Adirondack region and following that was hired as botanical collector and surveyor for the Northern Transcontinental Survey.  He then collected tree trunks in the west for Charles Sprague Sargent, for which he visited Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands of the coast of California. He moved to San Francisco, California to further study the flora of the Californian islands and that of Baja California. He was one of the earliest plant collectors to explore Baja California, and became an expert on the flora of the Cape region, where he collected extensively between 1889 and 1906. He collaborated with plant collector Carl A. Purpus; Brandegee's most famous work, his 12 volumes of Plantae Mexican Purpusianae, was published  after  Brandegee examined Purpus's specimens from Mexico.

In San Francisco Brandegee became a member of the California Academy of Sciences where he met and in 1889 married fellow botanist (Mary) Katharine Layne Curran; they married in San Diego and for their honeymoon walked back to San Francisco, collecting plants along the way. While in San Francisco they founded the biological journal Zoe. In 1894 they moved to San Diego, where together they built up an extensive herbarium and library. In 1906 the Brandegees moved to Berkeley and donated their extensive herbarium (more than 71,000 specimens) and botanical library to the University of California. Townsend Brandegee was appointed unpaid Honorary Curator of the University Herbarium.

He was a life member of the California Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the Botanical Society of America, Society of Sigma Xi, National Geographical Society, and the San Diego Board of Education.

He died in Berkeley on April 7, 1925


February 16, 1843 Townshend Stith Brandegee born in Berlin, Connecticut

1862-1864 Served in the First Regiment Connecticut Artillery, Company G

1870 Received Ph. B. degree in Civil Engineering from the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University

1871 Moved to Cañon City, Colorado to be a school teacher but shortly thereafter became County Surveyor and City Engineer

1875 Hired as assistant topographer and botanical collector to Hayden's exploring expedition of southwest Colorado

1886-1887 Collected tree trunks for C. S. Sargent to collect tree trunks in California, Montana, Washington, and Nevada for the Jesup collection of the Museum of Natural History in New York

1888  Visited the Santa Barbara Islands, began study of insular floras off the coast of California

1889 First trip to Mexico with Walter Bryant and Charles Haines

May 29, 1889 Married Katharine Layne Curran in San Diego. For their honeymoon they walk to San Francisco, collecting plants along the way

1890 The Brandegees begin publishing the biological journal Zoe

1894 Mr. and Mrs. Brandegee move to San Diego and start their herbarium and botanical garden

1896 Begin collaborating with plant collector Carl A. Purpus

1906 Mr. and Mrs. Brandegee move to Berkeley, donating their herbarium and library to the University of California. Mr. Brandegee hired as unpaid Honorary Curator

1909-1924 Townshend Brandegee published 12 volumes of Plantae Mexican Purpusianae

April 3, 1920 Katharine Brandegee passes away in Berkeley

April 7, 1925 Townshend Brandegee passes away in Berkeley


“American National Biography Online: Brandegee, Townshend Stith.” Retrieved May 13, 2009, from

Setchell, W. A. 1926. Townshend Stith Brandegee and Mary Katharine (Layne) (Curran) Brandegee. University of California Publications in Botany 13:155-178.

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