Asa Gray

Asa Gray

Asa Gray, 1865. Photograph by J.A. Whipple, courtesy of the Archives of the Gray Herbarium, Harvard University Herbaria.

Historical Biographies

Asa Gray (1810-1888)

Born in Sauquit, NY, Gray became an MD 1831. In 1842, Gray was appointed professor of natural history at Harvard, a post he retained until 1873. He is considered the father of American botany and instrumental in unifying the knowledge of the plants of North America in his Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, from New England to Wisconsin and South to Ohio and Pennsylvania Inclusive. Known as Gray’s Manual, it has gone through eight editions and remains a standard in the field.

By donating his book and immense plant collection which numbered in the thousands, he effectively created the botany department at Harvard; the Gray Herbarium which is part of the Harvard University Herbaria is named after him. The Gray Herbarium at its original location on Garden Street in Cambridge is now the home of the Harvard University Press.


Jenkins, Charles F. “Asa Gray and His Quest for Shortia galacifolia.” Arnoldia 51(4), Winter 1991 [pdf].

Library and Archives of the Gray Herbarium, Harvard University Herbaria. Asa Gray Papers [link].

Powell, Alvin. “Gray gets stamp of approval: Postal Service honors Harvard’s famed ‘closet botanist.’” Harvard Gazette, June 30, 2011 [link].