Thomas Nuttall

"Nutt." redirects here. For other uses, see Nutt (disambiguation).
Thomas Nuttall

Thomas Nuttall
Born 5 January 1786
Long Preston, Yorkshire, England
Died 10 September 1859 (1859-09-11) (aged 73)
St Helens, Lancashire, England
Nationality English
Fields botanist
Author abbrev. (botany) Nutt.

Thomas Nuttall (5 January 1786 – 10 September 1859) was an English botanist and zoologist who lived and worked in America from 1808 until 1841.[1]

Nuttall was born in the village of Long Preston, near Settle in the West Riding of Yorkshire and spent some years as an apprentice printer in England. Soon after going to the United States he met Professor Benjamin Smith Barton in Philadelphia. Barton encouraged his strong interest in natural history.

The Genera of North American Plants

In 1810 he travelled to the Great Lakes and in 1811 travelled on the Astor Expedition led by William Price Hunt on behalf of John Jacob Astor up the Missouri River. Nuttall was accompanied by the English botanist John Bradbury, who was collecting plants on behalf of Liverpool botanical gardens. Nuttall and Bradbury left the party at the trading post with the Arikara Indians in South Dakota, and continued farther upriver with Ramsay Crooks. In August they returned to the Arikara post and joined Manuel Lisa's group on a return to St. Louis.

Although Lewis and Clark had travelled this way previously, many of their specimens had been lost. Therefore, many of the plants collected by Nuttall on this trip were unknown to science. The imminent war between Britain and America caused him to return to London via New Orleans. In London he spent time organising his large plant collection and discussing his experiences with other scientists.

Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and of Canada

In 1815 he returned to America and after spending some more time collecting published The Genera of North American Plants in 1818. From 1818 to 1820 he travelled along the Arkansas and Red Rivers, returning to Philadelphia and publishing his Journal of Travels into the Arkansas Territory during the year 1819. He was elected an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1823.[2] In 1825 he became curator of the botanical gardens at Harvard University. He published his Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and of Canada (1832 and 1834).

In 1834 he resigned his post and set off west again on an expedition led by Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth, this time accompanied by the naturalist John Kirk Townsend. They travelled through Kansas, Wyoming and Utah, and then down the Snake River to the Columbia. Nuttall then sailed across the Pacific Ocean to the Hawaiian Islands in December. He returned in the spring of 1835 and spent the year botanizing in the Pacific Northwest, an area already covered by David Douglas. On his return trip he stopped off in San Diego, where he met Richard Henry Dana Jr. The character of 'old curious' in Dana's book Two Years Before the Mast is based on Nuttall.

From 1836 until 1841 Nuttall worked at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. During this time he made contributions to the Flora of North America being prepared by Asa Gray and John Torrey.[3] The death of his uncle then required Nuttall to return to England. By terms of his uncle's will, to inherit the property, Nuttall had to remain in England for nine months of each year. His North American Sylva: Trees not described by F. A. Michaux, which was the first book to include all the trees of North America, was finished just before he left the US in December, 1841. From 1842 until his death in 1859 Nuttall lived at Nutgrove Hall [4] in St Helens, Lancashire, built by printer Jonas Nuttall in 1810.[5] Nuttall is buried at Christ Church in the nearby village of Eccleston.

Named after him

The World Register of Marine Species lists 44 marine genera and species named after him with the epithet nuttalli.[6] Various plants and birds were named after Nuttall, including Nuttall's woodpecker Picoides nuttallii by his friend William Gambel, and yellow-billed magpie Pica nuttalli and common poorwill Phalaenoptilus nuttallii by John James Audubon.[7] He is also commemorated in the Pacific dogwood Cornus nuttallii, Nuttall's larkspur, Nuttall's oak Quercus texana, the catclaw briar Mimosa nuttallii, Nuttall's violet Viola nuttallii, Nuttall's saltbush Atriplex nuttallii, and Nuttall's rayless goldenrod Bigelowia nuttallii.[8]

The Nuttall Ornithological Club of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is named after him.[9]


  1. Graustein, Jeannette E. 1967. Thomas Nuttall, Naturalist: Explorations in America, 1808-1841. Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA
  2. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter N" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  3. Dupree, A. Hunter. 1952. Thomas Nuttall’s controversy with Asa Gray. Rhodora 54:293-303.
  4. Historic England List Entry for Nutgrove Hall
  5. History of Nutgrove Methodist Aided Primary School
  6. Species with the epithet nuttalli
  7. Richard and Barbara Mearns - Audubon to Xantus ISBN 0-12-487423-1
  8. "USDA PLANTS Profile". Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  9. "Nuttall Ornithological Club". Retrieved 29 March 2012.
  10. IPNI.  Nutt.
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