In 1842, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society held its annual exhibit in a building that was originally the Chinese museum of Philadelphia. Covering the show, the Farmers’ Cabinet** reported an Urania Speciosa, a banana-like plant donated by Richard S. Field of Princeton as one of the star attractions. The plant must have been quite tall because the report notes that there was fortunately enough space for its towering stalks in the large exhibition room with high ceilings. A year earlier, a description of important green houses in Princeton*** lists an Urania Speciosa among a collection of plants in the hot-house of Richard S. Field. Thus, we can safely assume that this Urania Speciosa was the same plant as the one entered into the show in Philadelphia a year later. Richard Field who is also the first owner and creator of what is now Marquand Park, may have carefully cultivated this exotic and rare species to be exhibited in the show.
The Urania Speciosa or Ravenala madagascariensis (also known as the Traveler’s tree) is a tropical plant with large paddle-shaped leaves arranged like a giant fan. Although already mentioned in the 17th century by explorers traveling to Madagascar, it was carefully described and illustrated for the first time by Pierre Sonnerat in his Voyages aux Indes orientales et à la Chine
of 1782. Arboreta like Kew Garden in London and Les Jardin des Plantes in Paris had an Urania Speciosa in their collection in the 19th century. They were considered rare and exotic specimens. Richard Field was an active collector of plants and trees and well known for his horticultural interests. Privately owning and exhibiting such a plant must have been especially thrilling for him.
** The Farmers’ Cabinet, and American Herd-book: Devoted to …, Volume 7; edited by Francis S. Wiggins, James Pedder, Josiah Tatum, 1842, p. 103
*** The Magazine of Horticulture, Botany, and All Useful Discoveries …, Volume 7; edited by M. Hovey, Boston 1841, p. 123.
In the morning of February 20th, 2018, Andrew Sutphin discovered that a large lead of the Goldenrain tree, located in the middle of the park, had been uprooted due to significant rainfall the previous day. Another lead in the same grove was lost in the storm the next week. Luckily, no other trees in the immediate vicinity were damaged. This Goldenrain grove has been in the park for over 70 years. It was already mentioned on a map of the park in 1959. Pictures show the Saturday Volunteer crew cleaning up after the storm.
According to an article by Arun Bose and coworkers**, changes in forest composition associated with climate change have been observed in the forests of the North-Eastern United Sates. The occurrence of American Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) has increased while at the same time the number of sugar maples (Acer saccharum), red maples (Acer rubrum) and birch trees (Fagus grandifolia) has declined resulting in a clear shift in species composition. The increased dominance of beech trees raises concerns about a lack of biodiversity. Also, the American beech is disease prone and commercially less desirable than other tree species.
**Bose, A. K., Weiskittel, A. and Wagner, R. G. (2017), A three decade assessment of climate-associated changes in forest composition across the north-eastern USA. J. Appl Ecol, 54: pp. 1592–1604.
On November 28, 2017, Pamela Machold gave an important lecture on the life on Eleanor Marquand (1873-1950) for the Garden club of Princeton. Eleanor Marquand was the wife of Allan Marquand, the third owner of Guernsey Hall and the adjacent land that is now Marquand Park. Her activities and contributions to this community were numerous. She served among others on the Princeton Board of Education, was a member of the board of the State Hospital in Trenton, and became an active member of the Village Improvement Association.
We know little about Eleanor Marquand’s formal education but she was recognized during her life time as an accomplished horticultural specialist and plant historian Her careful investigation of the flora of the Unicorn tapestries in the Cloisters, in NY, resulted in the identification of 46 plant species and their symbolic meaning in the Middle Ages. During her lifetime, she lectured on plant illustrations and published several articles in horticultural journals. In addition, her memberships in organizations such as New York Botanical Society, the Garden Club of America, the Horticultural Society of New York and the Garden Club of Princeton, of which she was a charter member, confirm her life long passion for plants and formal gardens.
Eleanor Marquand lived at Guernsey Hall most of her life and must have played an important role in decisions concerning the acquisition of trees and shrubs on the property. In 1917 she did a careful inventory of plants and trees on the estate; her index cards and a map with the location of the plants and trees are preserved in the Princeton University library. They clearly show that she was intimately familiar with the flora around Guernsey Hall. We hope that comparing this map with another inventory of the early 1950s, completed shortly after Eleanor’s death and around the time the property was bequeathed by the Marquand family to the town of Princeton, will provide an opportunity to study how the park changed in the first half of the 20th century.
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