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Nathaniel Lord Britton


American botanist known for his works on classification of plants, and first director of the New York Botanical Garden. He was born on Staten Island (now a part of New York City) on Jan. 15, 1859. From childhood, he manifested an interest in botany.


Britton, Nathaniel Lord was born on January 15, 1859 in New Dorp, S.I., New York, United States.


Studying at Columbia College, he majored in mining and engineering, and graduated in 1879.


He was employed a short time by the Geological Survey of New Jersey, where he compiled a flora of that state. He was then appointed professor of botany at Columbia College, a post he filled unostentatiously until 1895, when he retired as emeritus at the early age of 37.

When Britton returned from research work in England in 1887, he began organizing an American botanical institution analogous to the Royal Botanic Gardens. As a result of endeavors by Britton and others, the New York Botanical Garden was incorporated in 1891 and was opened to the public about ten years later with Britton as director.

Britton took part in the movement between 1888 to about 1900 for reforming the rules of botanical nomenclature, and somewhat later he was active in the adoption of the type method in botanical taxonomy. His first important publication was the Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions (with Addison Brown), a work which did much to stimulate popular interest in botany. It was followed by a succession of works on the flora of the Bermuda Islands, the Bahama Islands (with C. F. Millspaugh), and Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (with Percy Wilson). He also began preparation of floras of Trinidad and Cuba; the former was taken over by the Trinidad government, and the latter uncompleted at his death. He was the author, with Joseph N. Rose, of the sumptuous Cactaceae (1924), on the cactus family. He wrote a number of less well-known books, and also published shorter articles on botanical research. He held offices in several scientific organizations, including the presidency of the Botanical Society of America. Britton retired in 1929, but continued research until shortly before his death.


  • book

    • Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions

    • Cactaceae (1924)


In 1885, he married Elizabeth G. Knight, also a gifted botanist; they had no children.

Elizabeth G. Knight - botanist