Ralph Hoffmann on Massachusetts Plants, II:
Berkshire County's Wild Flora in 1904

Compiled and Edited by
Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
Ballona Institute & Wetlands Action Network
322 Culver Boulevard, Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293

Volume 6: 202-206
October 1904

Ralph Hoffmann
The following records from Berkshire County, Massachusetts, may be of interest. They refer to plants which either have not hitherto been recorded from Massachusetts, or are known from very few stations in the state. These plants fall into more or less well-defined groups. In the cold sphagnum bogs and on the higher mountains occur northern plants which either reach or approach their southern limit for New England in Berkshire County. The western and southern river valleys, on the other hand, extend into New York or Connecticut, and on their well-drained slopes occur plants which for the most part have been prevented by the unbroken Hoosac Plateau form extending their range into central Massachusetts. Two or three plants are adventive but at least one is well-established.

Specimens of all the plants here recorded have been placed in the Herbarium of the New England Botanical Club. They have all been collected by me except in three instances where the plants were gathered by Mr. M. L. Fernald. I have to thank Mr. Fernald for his usual generous assistance in identifying or verifying the specimens, and in the preparation of this araticle.

1. Aspidium aculeatum, Swartz, var. braunii, Koch. In August, 1904, on revisiting the mountain brook which comes down the north side of Greylock, where I had previously found Hydrophyllum canadense, I came across several plants of this fine fern. As far as I can discover, it has not hitherto been reported from Massachusetts.

2. Aspidium simulatum, Davenport. In September, 1904, I found this interesting fern not uncommon in the swampy woods bordering ponds in Becket and Otis. I have little doubt that on further search it will be found in similar situations in other parts of the county. Most of the New England records hitherto published have been from near the coast.

3. Potamogeton confervoides ... Grows in Lake Undine on the Dome at an altitude of 2000 feet. The only other known station for Massachusetts is in Uxbrdige, where it was collected by Robbins. It is found at high altitudes in New Hampshire and Vermont, and in several stations in New Jersey. It is recorded in Bennett's Plants of Rhode Island (p.42) but no locality is given.

4. Eleocharis intermedia, Schultes. This species has been collected in northern Maine, in Vermont and in Salisbury, Connecticut but has not, so far as known, been reported in Massachusetts. I collected it in Pittsfield in 1902.

5. Scirpus lineatus, Michx. Collected in Stockbridge, in 1902. It has been recorded from Middlebury and Bristol, Vermont (RHODORA, vi, 139), but not so far as I know from the other New England states.

10. Carex pauciflora, Lightf. I collected this sedge in September, 1904, in deep sphagnum at the head of Ward Pond in Otis. A sheet in the Dewey collection in the Gray Herbarium is marked Ashfield, and Dewey reported that it was collected in Ashfield and Hawley by Dr. J. Porter, Sill. Journ. x (1826), 42.

14. Arceuthobium pusillum, Peck. Grows on black spruce (Picea nigra) in peat bogs at the edge of a small pond in Becket, south of Yokum Pond, and the head of Ward Pond in Otis. As I gathered it from a low spruce in September, I was struck in the face by a volley of seeds.

19. Gaura biennis, L. In 1895 I collected a plant of Gaura in a mowing field in the Notch, North Adams, and in 1904 I found another plant in a dry field near the Housatonic River in Lee. In Bishop's Connecticut list (p.39) it is reported as "becoming frequent."

20. Angelica hirsuta, Muhl. Grows in rocky woodland on the south slope of Monument Mountain in the town of Great Barrington. It is reported frequent in Connecticut but has not been recorded for Massachusetts.

21. Pyrola secunda, L., var. pumila, Gray. Occurs in Stockbridge in sphagnum near thickets of Salix serissima, Fernald. It has been previously reported from northern Maine, Vermont, New York and westward, but not, so far as I know, from Massachusetts.

22. Hydrophyllum candadense, L. In Eaton's Manual of Botany (ed.3, p. 311) this plant is recorded from Williamstown, but it was apparently not discovered by later collectors in that region. In 1899 I found it along a brook that flows down the northern side of Greylock, crosses the road from the Notch to Williamstown and flows into the Hoosac near Blackinton (vid. Deane, RHODORA, vi, 155). On a second visit this summer, I found the plant common in the rich soil bordering the brook. The plant should be looked for on other portions of the mountain.

27. Galium labradoricum, Wiegand. In cold bogs throughout the county. This northern species has not hitherto been reported from western Massachusetts, but it has been recorded from northwestern Connecticut (Bissell, RHODORA, v, 33).

31. Antennaria petaloidea, Fernald. This species is not uncommon in the county. It has already been recorded from Worcester County, Massachusetts (Harper, Rhodora, iii, 186).

Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek

Ralph Hoffmann was born and raised in Berkshire County in 1870. By the age of 13 years, he was considered an expert bird watcher. A few years later he moved east to Boston in order to attend Harvard University. Soon after graduation, he began to write his first articles on birds. However, an interest in the flora of wild plants also emerged in the young Ralph Hoffmann. In 1899, he wrote his first article on wild plants Berkshire County. Just five years later, in 1904, he wrote his second article on wild plants of Berkshire County. After 18 more years of collecting and observing wild plants, and after moving to California, he wrote his third and final time about the wild plants of Berkshire County. After 1922, his focus was on the wild plants of California. During all this time, he kept a keen interest in birds and wrote about them regularly. All in all, it appears that he collected and observed plants in Berkshire County for about 30 years. It is by this long interest in the wild flora of Berkshire County that he was able to write a comprehensive monograph entitled: Flora of Berkshire County.

In the 1980s, Pamela Weatherbee, as a student of the flora of Berkshire County, emerged on the "landscape." She did graduate work on the floristics and vegetation, and published a comprehensive book entitled: Flora of Berkshire County Massachusetts. It is the exact same title that Ralph Hoffmann used 74 years earlier. Her book is 123 pages in length, while Ralph Hoffmann's book is 211 pages in length. Pamela Weatherbee quotes Hoffmann profusely throughout her book because Hoffmann's book is a good baseline of information upon which she could draw many observations. A few excerpts from Pamela Weatherbee's book regarding Ralph Hoffmann are worthy of quotation:

"Ralph Hoffmann, compiler of the most recent Berkshire county Flora (1922), was born in 1870 in Stockbridge, where his father was headmaster of a private school. He was known first as an accomplished ornithologist, publishing a paper on Berkshire birds in 1900, and subsequently, field guides and books on birds of a wider area. His interest in botany surfaced in 1899, and ... he documented the discovery of autumn willow (Salix serissima) and Frank's lovegrass (Eragrostis frankii) in the county. Thirty years of collecting laid the foundation for his flora, which is a thorough, accurate work, providing much information on habitat and distribution. His professional career was in teaching, although later in life he became Director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. It was in 1932, while collecting plants on a coastal cliff in California, that he fell to his death."

All in all, more than 100 plants that were collected by Ralph Hoffmann are compiled in Pam Weatherbee's flora with Hoffmann's year of collection and location in Berkshire County.

Preliminary Itinerary of Geographial Exploration of Ralph Hoffmann in Berkshire County
1895 ... summer? ... North Adams notch ... Gaura biennis
1899 ... summer? ... Greylock north side ... Hydrophyllum canadense
1902 ... summer? ... Stockbridge ... Scripus lineatus
1904 ... August ... Greylock ... Aspidium aculeatum
1904 ... September ... Otis at Ward Pond ... Carex pauciflora
1904 ... summer ... Lee at Housatonic River ... Gaura biennis

In summary, this early article, written 101 years ago in 1904 by Ralph Hoffmann, albeit brief, establishes Ralph Hoffmann as a botanist and genuine naturalist. Therefore, he is a genuine biologist and can be termed an early ecologist, conservation biologist, and environmental biologist as well. Of course, as Director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and with a biologist bent, we can also refer to him as a "genuine" natural historian. Finally, there is humor in the writings of Ralph Hoffmann as a naturalist as well. Read the passage of species #14 above, which I quote here again:

"As I gathered it [Mistletoe] from a low spruce in September, I was struck in the face by a volley of seeds."

Is there a little bit of Thoreau in mistletoe writing of Ralph Hoffmann? You decide if it is Thoreauvian! In any regard, I hope someday, as I hope you do too, to be struck in the face by a volley of seeds of a mistletoe, that falls from a low spruce, at Ward Pond in Otis, or at a pond in Becket, or at Yokum Pond.