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When one thinks of Beatrix Potter, one is naturally drawn to her children's books, Peter Rabbit and the others, which are familiar to most literate people who have read them as children or to children. However, Ms. Potter did not start out as a writer of children's books, but as a very talented amateur mycologist (a specialist in fungi).

In the 1890s her work on fungal reproductions and her illustrations of these organisms were known to the scientific community.  She seems to have been one of the early champions of the composite organism theory (since confirmed) of the nature of lichens. Although she did not originate the idea, as is sometimes stated.  That was proposed by Simon Schwendener (1829-1919).  

However, she may have developed a different idea about the relationship than Schwendener. Schwendener thought the fungus to be a parasite on the alga with which it was associated. Although it is not certain, some of Potter's notes appear to indicate that she had made the connection that the relationship was symbiotic.  However her one and only paper which may have contained this idea was never published and the male botanists were quite dismissive of her ideas. The manuscript was apparently lost.  She did leave some very beautiful and accurate illustrations of fungi.  

Because of her sex and perhaps because Schwendener's ideas were reviled by the botanical establishment, she really could go no further and in the mean time she found that she could make a living by selling her illustrated stories for children. At this she was quite successful and became quite well off enough to purchase land which also made her a prosperous farmer.  
Although she had planned to marry earlier, her intended died tragically, and she did not finally marry until she was 47.  She died at Near Sawrey at the age of 77 in 1943, leaving her land holdings to the National Trust in Britain.  This became a major part of the Lake District National Park.  It was thus through her efforts that a wonderful part of England was saved for future generations.


Beatrix Potter.

Beatrix Potter: Scientist.

Originally posted to Desert Scientist on Fri Mar 09, 2012 at 07:30 AM PST.

Also republished by SciTech, Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism, J Town, Readers and Book Lovers, and Community Spotlight.

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