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The Botanical Legacy of Agustín Stahl

by P. Acevedo-Rodrguez


Agustín Stahl Dr. Agustín Stahl (1842-1917) is the earliest renowned Puerto Rican scientist. He worked in numerous disciplines of the natural sciences including, agriculture, archaeology, botany, ethnology, medicine, and zoology. He was responsible for writing the first full-fledged flora of Puerto Rico, "Estudios sobre la flora de Puerto Rico" published from 1883-88 in 6 fascicles that covered all the dicotyledons known to him to occur on the island. His flora is concise and precise, with numerous comments on botanical concepts by his predecessors and contemporaneous botanists. However, his flora was never finished as his treatment for the monocotyledons and the approximately 720 watercolors prepared for it were never published. Although Stahl based his descriptions chiefly on live plants, he collected approximately 1,330 plant collections (with several duplicates) dating from 1882 to 1889.

His collections aren't in chronological sequence, therefore it is difficult to interpret his itinerary or whether he preserved a specimen while writing his flora. The first set of his collections went to Berlin (Krug and Urban herbarium) and were destroyed during the 2nd World War. Duplicates of his collections are known to exist at various herbaria as follows: Botanic Garden & Museum Berlin-Dahlem, Berlin, Germany [B(6)], National Botanic Garden of Belgium [BR(1)]; Botanical Museum, Univ. of Copenhagen, Denmark [C(9)]; Conservatory & Botanic Garden Ville de Geneve, Switzerland [G(1)]; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA [GH(1)]; Systematisch-Geobotanisches Institut, Göttingen, Germany [GOET(6)]; Rijksherbarium, Leiden, Netherlands [L(7)]; Botanische Staatssammlung, Munich, Germany [M(1)]; The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY, USA [NY(1)]; Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, Sweden [S(130)], Dipartimento de Biologia Vegetale, Torino, Italy [TO(2)]; and United States National Herbarium, Washington, DC, USA [US(48)]. Stahl's collections are important because they constitute early records for many native and introduced plants in Puerto Rico. For example, Arrabidea chica (Bignoniaceae) is still known in Puerto Rico from a single collection of Stahl (no. 79), and Anechites nerium (Apocynaceae) collected by Stahl in 1888, has only been recently recollected in Arecibo. His collections were the basis for numerous studies by specialists, some of them resulting in new taxa to science. Stahl described several new species himself (most of which are considered synonyms by modern botanists), but further study is necessary to assess whether his collections or his watercolors constitute types of these names.

Stahl prepared numerous watercolors intended to illustrate his flora, but they were never published. Their location remained unknown until 1922-23 when they were found by Drs. C. E. Chardon and N. L. Britton at the Colegio Santa Rosa in Bayamón (Chardon, 1924). His watercolors for the most part are very accurate and artistically pleasant, depicting approximately 687 species. These are today deposited in various institutions as follows: 583 at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus in the Puerto Rican Collection (Sala Manuel Maria Sama y Auger-Colección Puertorriqueña) of the General Library; 137 at the Archivo General of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña in San Juan; and approximately 10 at the Office of Parques Nacionales in San Juan (Dr. Juan Rivero, pers. comm.).

Stahl's taxonomic work include the publication of 4 new species, but only Clusia gundlachii [Cupey de altura] (see description) is considered a good species by modern botanists. Stahl's contribution to botany is honored by the legume genus Stahlia and by 9 specific epithets of plants that bear his name, five of which are currently considered as good taxa. These are as follows:
1. Argythamnia stahlii Urb.;
2. Cassia stahlii Urb. = Senna pendula var. stahlii (Urb.) Irwin & Barneby;
3. Eugenia stahlii (Kiaersk.) Krug & Urb.;
4. Ficus stahlii Warb.= Ficus trigonata L.;
5. Lyonia stahlii Urb.;
6. Psychotria stahlii Urb.= Psychotria ligustrifolia (Northrop) Millsp.;
7. Spiranthes stahlii Cogn. = Mesadenus lucayanus (Britton.) Schlechter;
8. Ternstroemia stahlii Krug & Urb.;
9. Tetrazygia stahlii Cogn. = Tetrazygia urbanii Cogn.;

Stahlia monosperma from the Center for Plant Conservation websiteThe genus Stahlia is represented by a single species, S. monosperma (Tul.) Urb. and it is know to occur only in Puerto Rico and eastern Dominican Republic. The species, known in Puerto Rico as Cóbana negra is currently listed as threatened in the USFW Federal Register, Apr 5, 1990.

Biographical Sketches:
1. Chardon, C. E. 1924. Haciendo Patria. Homenaje al Dr. Agustín Stahl. Revista de agricultura de Puerto Rico. 12(11): 65-84.
2. Coll y Toste, C. 1926. Destierro del Dr. Stahl. Expulsión del Dr. Agustín Stahl de la isla. Boletín Histórico de Puerto Rico. Tomo 13: 59-60.
3. Gutierrez de Arroyo, I. 1978. El Dr. Agustín Stahl, Hombre de ciencia: Perspectiva Humanística [with bibliography]. Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras.

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