Ralph Hoffmann Journeys Through Massachusetts:
From The
Berkshires in the West
Cape Cod in the East

Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
Ballona Institute
322 Culver Boulevard, Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293
Revised 2006

Ralph Hoffmann journeyed widely throughout Massachusetts in his field studies and exploration for birds. His field studies of plants, however, was confined to Berkshire County, in western Massachusetts.

This research is eclectic and kaleidoscopic in the sense that I have taken excerpts of Ralph Hoffmann's published writings on birds and plants, as well as his unpublished herbarium vouchers of plants that are curated at Harvard University. He was an expert on both birds and plants of Berkshire County, so this report focuses on that western county but it also covers eastern Massachusetts, from Cape Cod to Ipswich, including brief forays across the stateline into New Hamphsire and Rhode Island.

It is estimated that the convergence of botany and ornithology as to the journeys of Ralph Hoffmann will shed new light on this unsung botanist and ornithologist. I believe that this project may be of some use in merging these two subdisciplines of natural history together. It will also give feedback to understanding each field separately.

In a very real sense, this eclectic biography and history of Ralph Hoffmann is a testimonial to his geographic exploration of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. In a larger sense, this project is a convergence of several disciplines: Geography, History, Botany, and ornithology. Most of the information to compile this time-line of Ralph Hoffmann's journeys comes from his floristic monograph of Berkshire County. This project is a work in progress and very much in its beginning stages and therefore must be considered preliminary. Every journey of a 1000 miles starts with a first step is the motto of this research project.

The results of the research are presented below in Table 1. A careful perusal of the table shows that Ralph Hoffmann recorded his observations mostly in western and eastern Massachusetts, with virtually no writing or observations of central Massachusetts, although he traveled through the center of Massachusetts often while enroute to either western or eastern Massachusetts, presumably by train, between 1890 and 1909. The first entry of the Chronology is of Ralph Hoffmann attending a professional ornithology club meeting to hear a presentation by Otram W. Bangs' report about two birds found at Cape Cod during winter, which had not been recorded previously. Hoffmann visited Cape Cod in winter two years later, and found those two birds that Bangs found, but also found two additional new birds. Hoffmann recorded this information in an article about winter birds at Cape Cod (Hoffmann 1895).

An interesting discovery from this research is that Ralph Hoffmann would visit Berkshire County, from his residence in Missouri. For example, in 1914, he botanized and collected a plant on August 15 in Great Barrington. However, he had moved to Missouri in 1909-1910. Additional research in the annotated catalogue of plants in the floristic monograph by Pamela Weatherbee (1996) discovered that he went to several places in Berkshire County in 1914. In addition, it appears that he visited Berkshire County nearly every summer between 1909 and 1919, while a resident in Missouri.

Table 1
Spatial-Temporal Explorations Through Massachusetts by Ralph Hoffmann
Winter (Jan./Feb/March?) ... Attends meeting of Nuttall Ornithological Club in Boston/Cambridge... Hoffmann (1895)

April 1 ... Concord ... Birding with William Brewster at his October Farm (Dexter 1937)
April 2 ... Concord ... Birding with William Brewster at his October Farm (Dexter 1937)
April 8 ... Stockbridge ... Great Horned Owl nest
April 12 ... Arlington ... At desk to write Stockbridge owl article for Boston Evening Transcript

month? ... North Adams notch ... Gaura biennis

Sept 24 ... Stockbridge peat bog ... Salix amygdaloides Source is Rhodora 1:229

June 28 ... Stockbridge (swamp) ... Picea mariana ... Index of Bot. Specimens, Gray Herbarium, Harvard University
July 17 ... Pontoosuc Lake, Lanesboro ... "Marsh Wren singing", source: Birds of Berkshire

April 27 ... Stockbridge ... Larix laricina collected ... Index of Botanical Specimens, Gray Herbarium, Harvard
August 3 ... Stockbridge ... Rhamnus cathartica vegetative growth phase, (Invasive Plant Atlas New England, IPANE)
August 20 ... Stockbridge? ... Epipactis helleborine (Orchidaceae) ... Index of Bot. Spec., Gray Herbarium, Harvard
August 23 ... Stockbridge ... Sarracenia purpurea ... Index of Botanical Specimens, Gray Herbarium, Harvard University
August ? ... Stockbridge ... Scirpus lineatus ... (Hoffmann, 1904)
August ? ... Pittsfield ... Eleocharis intermedia ... (Hoffmann, 1904)
August 24 ... Pittsfield (bog) ...Carex comosa ... Index Bot. Spec., Gray Herbarium, Harvard University
August 27 ... Sheffield ... Diphasiastrum digitatum ... Index of Botanical Specimens, Gray Herb., Harvard
August 27 ... Sheffield (border of Lake Undine, [The Dome] ... Carex cumulata ... Index Bot. Spec., Gray Herb., Harvard
August 27 ... Mount Washington (The Dome [Mount Everett], Wood Road) ... Carex foenea ... Index Bot. Spec., Gray Herb., Harvard
August ? ... Pittsfield (roadsides, railroads) ... Secale cereale ... (Weatherbee, 1996)
August ? ... Pittsfield (fields) ... Sinapsis arvensis ... (Weatherbee, 1996)
August ? ... West Stockbridge (dry woods) ... Potentilla arguta (Weatherbee, 1996)
August ? ... Stockbridge (open disturbed areas, now a rare garden escape) ... Linum usitatissimum ... (Weatherbee, 1996)
August ? ... Stockbridge (dry fields/waste ground, native farther west) ... Plantago aristata (Weatherbee, 1996)
August ? ... Stockbridge (waste areas, native further south) ... Physales subglabrata ... (Weatherbee, 1996)
August ? ... Sheffield (dry calcareous hill, rare-historical) ... Symphoricarpos albus ... (Weatherbee, 1996)

August 9 ... Ipswich ... Hoffmann notes 2 adult Prairie Horned Lark with a fully grown young ... Townsend (1904)

August 14 ... Great Barrington ... Liriodendron tulipifera (Tulip Tree) ... Index of Botanical Specimens, Gray Herbarium
August ... Greylock ... Aspidium aculeatum
September xx ... Otis (Ward Pond) ... Carex pauciflora
September 23 ... Becket (Ward Pond) ... Picea mariana ... Index of Bot. Spec., Gray Herbarium at Harvard University
month? ... Lee at Housatonic River ... Gaura biennis

July 12 ... Sandisfield (Hanging Mountain, New Boston) ... Carex aestivalis ... Index of Bot. Spec., Gray Herbarium, Harard

Mar xx ... Milk Island, 0.5 mile off Cape Ann ... observed Snowy Owl with Charles Townsend and Glover Allen
May xx? ... Ipswich ... Hoffmann and Townsend observe lots of warblers is a single tree in dunes

August 11 ... Stockbridge ... Larix laicina ... Index of Botanical Specimens, Gray Herbarium, Harvard University

July 15 ... Sandisfield ... Diphasiastrum digitatum (Lycopodiaceae) ... Index of Bot. Spec., Gray Herbarium, Harvard University

August 12 ... Stockbridge? ... Epipactis helleborine (Habenaria psychodes forma albiflora) Ralph Hoffmann ... Gray Herbarium
Aug 15 ... Great Barrington ... Berberis thunbergii (Atlas of New England Invasive Plants)

June ... Stockbridge ... Liriodendron tulipifera (Tulip Tree) ... Index of Botanical Specimens, Gray Herbarium, Harvard University

July 16 ... Stockbridge (edge of woodland/border of woods) ... Rubus allegheniensis (3 vouchers) ... Index, Gray Herbarium, Harvard
July 29 ... Ashley Falls ... Diphasiastrum trisachyum (Lycopodiaceae) ... Index of Bot. Spec., Gray Herbarium, Harvard Univ.

Jul 16 ... Stockbridge ... Rhamnus cathartica, with immature fruit, escaped in hedgerow (Invasive Plant Atlas New England)
Jul 16 ... Stockbridge ... Lobelia spicata forma alba Ralph Hoffmann ... Index of Bot. Spec., (Gray Herbarium), Harvard Univ.
Jul 21 ... Hancock ... Tennessee Warbler at Berry Pond, 2000'. (Hoffmann 1922)
Aug 08 ... Lenox Railway station ... 3 egret in pond by river (Hoffmann 1922).
Aug 09 ... Lenox ... Upland Plover nest (Hoffmann 1922).

May 17 ... Williamstown (rich woods) ... Hepatica acutiloba forma albiflora R. Hoffmann ... Index, Gray Herbarium, Harvard
May 19 ... Williamstown (rich woods) ... Hepatica acutiloba forma rosea R. Hoffmann ... Index, Gray Herbarium, Harvard
May 23 ... Stockbridge (rich woods) ... Trillium cemuum ... Index of Botanical Specimens, Gray Herbarium, Harvard
June 04 ... Stockbridge (at desk) ... writes California owl article, (Hoffmann 1920).

Conclusion and Discussion
Ralph Hoffmann was born in Berkshire County in 1870. He also grew up in Berkshire County. At the age of 13 years, he was considered an expert bird watcher. After graduation from high school, presumably in 1888, he moved east to attend Harvard University. Soon after graduation, he began to write his first articles on birds, in 1892 and 1893. The article about the nesting of the Great Horned Owl in Stockbridge is one of his earliest essays and a good attempt at writing for the public..

Ralph Hoffmann's first article on plants is written and published in 1899. It would be 23 years later, when he would write a comprehensive monograph entitled: Flora of Berkshire County. Although he had been writing articles on birds for several years, this article marked his professional and avocational interest in botany. He was a 29-year old school teacher when his writings on plants first appears in the literature. We can discern that Ralph Hoffmann, even as a scientific naturalist, was able to wax poetic about beauty, albeit ever so subtle, with the use of the words "handsome" and "pretty." The publication of this article is the first clear indication that Ralph Hoffmann was not only interested in birds but also in botany, so we may actually call him a naturalist. Later in his life, as a mature middle-aged man, he moved from Massachusetts to California, and took up, once again, a dual interest in birds and plants. He pursued both ornithology and floristics simultaneously, with a passion. He observed birds and collected plants from the California Channel Islands, desert, California coast, and wetlands of southern California. For example, at Carpinteria, where Ralph Hoffmann resided, he collected at least 15 plants from the dune and marsh at Carpinteria. Wayne Ferren, a UCSB botanist, carefully edited a monograph on the biology and ecology of Carpinteria Salt Marsh. In this monograph, Ferren listed Ralph Hoffmann's name at least 15 times, in regard to varioius plants that he had collected at Carpinteria Marsh. He also wrote a brief biographical note about Ralph Hoffmann as follows:

"The second quarter of the 20th Century included visits to Carpinteria Salt Marsh by many notable collectors. Ralph Hoffmann, Director of SBM (1925-1932), collected numerous specimens from the estuary and dunes between 1925-1932. These specimens are housed at SBM, CAS, and POM."

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."

A persual of Pamela Weatherbee's modern Berkshire flora indicates that Ralph Hoffmann collected more than 100 species of plants between the late 1890s and 1920, a period spanning approximately 25 years. These dates which can be obtained from inspecting the herbarium vouchers of Ralph Hoffmann at Harvard University are quite useful at reconstruction and restsoration of the journeys. These dates were a tremendous help in constructing the geography of exploration by Ralph Hoffmann.

In summary, this article hopes to establish further that Ralph Hoffmann was both a zoologist and botanist. Therefore, he can be considered a genuine biologist and naturalist, and can be termed an early ecologist, conservation biologist, and environmental biologist. 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 "true" natural historian.

Dexter, Smith. 1937. Concord River: Selections from the Journals of William Brewster. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1895. Winter Birds of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Auk 12: 188-189.
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1904. Notes on the Flora of Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Rhodora 6: 202-206.
Index of Botanical Specimens. 2006. New England Botanical Herbarium and Gray Herbarium, Harvard University Herbaria. IPANE. 2006. Invasive Plant Atlas New England.
Townsend, Charles W. 1904. Extension of Breeding Range of the Prairie Horned Lark. Auk 21: 81.
Weatherbee, Pamela. 1996. Flora of Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Berkshire Museum Publication.