A July 4th Rose for the Mother of Balboa Park

Kate Session's Personal Herbarium

Kate Olivia Sessions (1857 – 1940) fell in love with the idea of cultivating plants after moving to San Diego from San Francisco as a young woman to work as a schoolteacher. She purchased a nursery in 1885 and by 1892 had so much plant-growing experience that she negotiated with the City of San Diego to grant her 30 acres in City Park (now called Balboa Park) where she could grow more trees and plants. For her part, she promised to plant 100 trees every year in the park. Because of this, she has been called the “Mother of Balboa Park.”  She traveled throughout Baja California and Europe, bringing back specimens of many trees, shrubs, and plant seeds that she introduced to San Diego. Many of the largest trees in the San Diego area were planted by her. The introduction of such commonly appreciated plants often seen in San Diego landscaping such as jacarandas, bougainvilleas, tropical palms, olive trees, and eucalyptus, have all been attributed to her.  

This fragile volume in our Rare Book Room is her personal herbarium of pressed plants. It was presented to her in 1872 by her mother for her 15th birthday, and has the dedication page written with the letters formed with delicately pressed and dried plant materials. Obviously Kate Sessions treasured it, since she kept it all her life.

This one-of-a-kind book is on view in the Extraordinary Ideas exhibition on the third floor at The Nat. Extraordinary Ideas from Ordinary People: A History of Citizen Science highlights naturalists—both past and present—and the impact their work and observations has had on science as we know it today. The people featured do not represent professional scientists. These are men and women who, despite lacking formal training in science, had a passion for some aspect of natural history that fueled their tireless work on one particular topic. This includes individuals such as John James Audubon, who despite lacking training as an ornithologist, made extraordinary contributions to our knowledge of American birds through his powers of observation and artistic ability. Rare books, art, photographs, and historical documents from our Research Library’s 56,000-volume collection are displayed alongside plant and animal specimens and brought to life through touchable objects and multimedia experiences that allow deeper access to these impactful works. Maybe you'll even find inspiration for your own herbarium.

Posted by Margaret Dykens, Research Library Director on July 4, 2019

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