Jacob P. Anderson was one of those rare individuals who turned a hobby into his life's work and a lasting legacy.
Anderson, who spent much of his adult life in Juneau, had a passion for plants - collecting, studying, describing and cataloging all things floral. By the time he died in 1953, he had amassed an enormous collection of Alaska flora and played a major role in bringing the botany of Alaska into the realm of scientific study.
To recognize his mountain of work, Anderson's name was given to a mountain all its own - North Douglas' Mount Anderson, where we pick up our ongoing exploration of place names.
Jacob Peter Anderson was born in Utah in 1874 and spent his childhood in Nebraska. He entered the predecessor of Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, in 1911, and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in botany.
Deborah Lewis is curator of Iowa State's Ada Hayden Herbarium, which houses thousands of plant specimens for study. According to an obituary of Anderson in her files, he traveled to Alaska in 1914 to work at the Sitka Agricultural Experimental Research Station. Three years later, he made another move.
"He went to Juneau to work as a florist, and while he did that as a regular job, he collected plants on the side," Lewis said.
Anderson's curiosity about plants, which began in childhood, grew in the uncharted, largely unstudied field of Alaska botany. Anderson's obituary said the collecting and studying of plants "successively became his hobby and then the guiding passion of his life."
A disastrous 1924 fire destroyed much of Anderson's collection, but he started over and rebuilt his collection, traveling all over the state by all means of transportation to find specimens.
David Murray, a botany professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and curator emeritus of the herbarium there, said Anderson inspired others in Juneau to collect plants. He worked with members of the Juneau Botanical Club, and a number of photos at the Alaska State Library show him on outings with the club.
In 1941, Anderson returned to Iowa State - with his thousands of plant specimens, the largest Alaska plant collection in existence at that time, according to his obituary - and set about making sense of what he had collected.
Anderson completed a portion of his master's degree work - what became "Anderson's Flora of Alaska and Adjacent Parts of Canada" - before his death 12 years later. He left all his plant specimens to Iowa State, along with money to fund the completion of the identification manual. That work was completed in 1959 by Stanley Welsh, who became a distinguished botanist at Brigham Young University and revised the work several times.
"That has served as one of the primary references (of plants) for the state of Alaska," said Iowa State's Lewis.
Lewis said Anderson's collection is estimated at 11,000 plants personally collected and 13,000 plants acquired across Alaska, and it is still used for research.
"Once plants are dried and pressed, they last forever," she said. "Anderson's collections look wonderful. They're in great shape and continue to be studied."
In addition to his work with Alaska plants, Anderson also served in the House of Representatives of the Territorial Legislature in the late 1930s and was the territorial supervisor of the 1940 U.S. Census. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Alaska in 1940.
Interestingly, the mountain here is not the only tribute to Anderson. According to Murray, Eric Hulten - a Swedish botanist whose work with Alaska plants largely paralleled that of Anderson - named a sedge after Anderson: Carex jacobi-peteri. That name is now considered a synonym of Carex micropeda, Murray said.
"He was a highly motivated botanist," Murray said of Anderson. "He collected all over the state, amassed a large herbarium, suffered the loss of that herbarium by fire, and went right out and continued collecting. ...
"J.P. Anderson is our own, home-grown, professional botanist - really the first for Alaska."
Andrew Krueger's favorite plant is "Viola pensylvanica," and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send What's Up With That questions and comments to email@example.com.
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