YNES MEXIA: A BOLD, BODACIOUS BABES OF BOTANY SERIES

June 16, 2016: It has recently come to my attention that all the not-so-boring botanists I have highlighted in the past have been men. In my own defense, I'd like to say it was myself that brought this to my attention and in the interest of fairness and parity I should like to highlight some female botanists and that is just what I will do in this new series - Bold, Bodacious Babes of Botany (or BBB of Botany).

Considering that your typical male not-so-boring botanist of the past could devote their lives to trekking the far reaches of the planet searching for rare flora and getting their names splashed about the botanical news rags of the day. All the while unencumbered by things like child birth, child rearing, care giving , and all that other stuff women were responsible for back then, it's no wonder that most people (or, let's be honest now, men) have not heard of the achievements of women botanists of yore. That's why I was determined to discover the BBB's of Botany through an intensive, all-day, self study on the internet course in women's botanical studies. And I found them. And I'm proud to present my first bold, bodacious babe of botany - Ynes Mexia.

What's really bodacious about Ynes was that she didn't even start her career as a botanist until she 55. 55! When I was 55 I was crossing off the years left till retirement.

Born of a Mexican diplomat father and an Anglo-American mother in 1870, she spent her childhood and teen years in the US and then moved to Mexico with her father to take care of him in the last ten years of his life. Shortly after her father's death in 1896, she married a Spanish-German merchant and also began a long legal battle to claim the family's inheritance (a hacienda and poultry business) from her father's mistress. In the end, she won in 1904 but then her first husband died.

Ynes married a second time, but to a real schmuck. He ran her family poultry business into the ground and she divorced him after a year and went to San Francisco, where she became a social worker. In 1921 she started attending classes at UC Berkeley and became active in the Sierra Club. A class in botany sparked a keen interest and in 1925, at the age of 55, she accompanied a woman botanist on a field collection trip to western Mexico. On that trip, she fell off a cliff and about died, but it didn't stop this BBB of Botany. She went collecting to Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Chile. She traveled the length of the Amazon from its mouth to its source in a canoe with 3 guys and guide, which I'm guessing was also a guy. She also spent 3 months with a remote indigenous Amazonian tribe, then she climbed Mt. McKinley, probably to cool off.

For 12 years she was on the move, collecting plant specimens which she sold to private collectors and institutions to fund the next collecting expedition. Colleagues described her as tough, resilient, sometimes remarkably charming, sometimes impetuous and difficult, always generous. She is credited to having discovered as many as 50 new plant species and two new genera of plants.

Ynes died in 1938 of lung cancer. She left much of her money to further scientific pursuit, including money to the mammologist, Vernon Bailey, who developed one of the first humane live traps, a precursor to the Havahart trap.

She was one bold, bodacious, botany babe.

F & P