KateFurbish7:30 pm (Berwick Academy)

A century ago, a woman doing solitary fieldwork throughout Maine discovered the slender blue flag, Iris prismatica, which exists today only in Wells. This was just one of more than 1000 plants found and painted in watercolors by Catherine Furbish as she did her work from York to Aroostook counties.

Nancy Wetzel of South Berwick will give a talk 7:30 pm Thursday, Oct. 25, about the life of Furbish, a dedicated botanist, scientific artist and founding member of Maine's Josselyn Botanical Society. The free talk, sponsored by the Old Berwick Historical Society, will be at Berwick Academy's Jeppesen Science Center on Academy Street. The public is invited and refreshments will be served.

Photo credit as requested by Bowdoin College Library:
Courtesy the Kate Furbish Collection, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine.

Furbish lived from 1834 to 1931, most of that time in Brunswick.  Furbish's lifework, the Flora of Maine, is a collection of watercolor paintings of flowering plants that she found when doing arduous, solitary fieldwork from Aroostook to York County.  

Furbish’s travels gave her a counterpoint to the many hours she spent classifying and recording, publishing, lecturing and corresponding with New England's preeminent botanists. The Flora was begun in 1870 and presented to Bowdoin College in 1908, comprising 1,326 images of plants in their habitats.

Furbish also presented 4,000 mounted plant specimens to the Harvard (Gray) Herbarium in Cambridge, Mass., where they were added to the New England Botanical Club collection.  

In the early 1900s, Furbish became interested in the plants of the Maine coast.  Her cousin, Joseph Donnell Eaton, hosted her on Drake's Island in Wells, where she was drawn to the marsh habitat for botanical exploration. She found plants that are rare in Maine, including the slender blue flag, Iris prismatica, whose only known Maine location today is Wells. An earlier plant discovery in Aroostook County, Furbish's lousewort, Pedicularis furbishiae, was so rare that construction of the Dickey-Lincoln hydroelectric power plant and dam on the St. John's River in the late 1970s was scuttled to protect it.

Wetzel writes and lectures on various aspects of landscape history. She wrote the entry for Catherine Furbish in The Encyclopedia of New England.  Wetzel’s landscape gardening practice includes the museum home of 19th century writer Sarah Orne Jewett in South Berwick, now a property of Historic New England. Wetzel has introduced heirloom plants at the historic house that are mentioned in Jewett's work, some of which are also collected in Furbish's Flora of Maine.

The lecture is part of the Old Berwick Historical Society's 2012 series of talks, walks and historical events. The series, supported by member donations, includes seven monthly evening presentations as well as other local history events around South Berwick.

More information on the Counting House Museum and all the Old Berwick Historical Society’s programs is available at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or by calling (207) 384-0000.

To Read the Old Berwick Historical Society's Strategic Plan,  Click here.


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