The Forgotten Botanist


The Forgotten Botanist

Sara Plummer Lemmon's Life of Science and Art

Wynne Brown

328 pages
26 photographs, 23 illustrations, 1 map


November 2021


$27.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

November 2021


$27.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

November 2021


$27.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

WILLA Literary Award Winner in Creative Nonfiction
2022 Spur Award Winner
2022 Top Pick in Southwest Books of the Year 
New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards Finalist in Cover Design 
Honorable Mention in the At-Large NFPW Communications Contest

The Forgotten Botanist is the account of an extraordinary woman who, in 1870, was driven by ill health to leave the East Coast for a new life in the West—alone. At thirty-three, Sara Plummer relocated to Santa Barbara, where she taught herself botany and established the town’s first library. Ten years later she married botanist John Gill Lemmon, and together the two discovered hundreds of new plant species, many of them illustrated by Sara, an accomplished artist. Although she became an acknowledged botanical expert and lecturer, Sara’s considerable contributions to scientific knowledge were credited merely as “J.G. Lemmon & wife.”

The Forgotten Botanist chronicles Sara’s remarkable life, in which she and JG found new plant species in Arizona, California, Oregon, and Mexico and traveled throughout the Southwest with such friends as John Muir and Clara Barton. Sara also found time to work as a journalist and as an activist in women’s suffrage and forest conservation.

The Forgotten Botanist is a timeless tale about a woman who discovered who she was by leaving everything behind. Her inspiring story is one of resilience, determination, and courage—and is as relevant to our nation today as it was in her own time.

Author Bio

Wynne Brown is an independent scholar, editor, poet, and graphic designer. She is the author of More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Arizona Women and the coeditor of Cave Creek Canyon: Revealing the Heart of Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains, among other books.


"[The Forgotten Botanist] is a memorable account of an accomplished life."—Publishers Weekly

"In this attentive and richly researched portrait, writer Wynne Brown honors not just Plummer Lemmon's many accomplishments but her verve and courage."—Tess Joosse, Scientific American

"Brown weaves together research in newspaper accounts, personal letters, field notes, photographs, and other personal papers to create a remarkable, intimate biography of a fascinating woman."—R. C. Hedreen, Choice

"The Forgotten Botanist: Sara Plummer Lemmon's Life of Science and Art, by Tucson author Wynne Brown, richly details Plummer Lemmon's life of pluck and inquisitiveness that led to grand, sometimes harrowing, adventures and discoveries."—Beth Surdut, Desert Leaf

"I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to understand the contribution of women to the field of botany, but also to anyone who wants to read a fascinating and memorable tale of life as a botanist in the 19th century. Sara will come alive for you on these pages. Hopefully, her days of being a forgotten botanist may finally be in the past."—Amy Boyd, Plant Science Bulletin

“The history of botany is filled with intrepid, brilliant women, but few have gotten their due. Wynne Brown has written a lively life of Sara Plummer Lemmon, a brave nineteenth-century botanist who explored the West. She earned the admiration of the great botanists of her day, and she deserves ours as well.”—Victoria Johnson, author of American Eden

“In this long overdue biography of Sara Lemmon, Wynne Brown restores an overlooked luminary of the Southwest to her proper place in history. Brimming with narrative verve and a naturalist’s eye for detail, The Forgotten Botanist is a vivid account of how one woman overcame great odds to help shape western botany.”—Francisco Cantú, author of The Line Becomes the River

“A stirring and intimate portrait of an unconventional, resourceful, and adventurous transplant to the American West.”—Susan Cummins Miller, editor of A Sweet, Separate Intimacy

“Using botanist Sara Plummer Lemmon’s copious letters to family and friends, author Wynne Brown delves into Lemmon’s hopes and successes as well as her challenges and disappointments as she and her botanist husband pursued undescribed plants throughout the West.”—Carolyn Niethammer, author of A Desert Feast

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Prologue: New York Harbor, December 1869
1. “Now I Am at the Jumping Off Place”: San Francisco, 1870
2. “Perhaps You’ve Heard Our Sadie Was Killed”: Santa Barbara, 1870
3. “It Is Like Death to Me to Be Idle”: Santa Barbara, 1871–76
4. “A Great Botanist from the Sierras”: Michigan, the Civil War, and Northern California, 1832–76
5. “My Dear, Soul-Knit Brother”: Santa Barbara and Sierra Valley, 1876–77
6. “Into the Matrimonial Vortex!”: Santa Barbara and Oakland, 1877–80
7. “Try to Touch the Heart of Santa Catalina”: Southern Arizona, Spring 1881
8. “An Extreme Outpost of Civilized Life”: Southern Arizona, Fall 1881
9. “Eleven Days of Dungeon Life”: Southern Arizona, Fall 1881
10. “Happy in Our Work & in Each Other”: Oakland, 1881–82
11. “Rushing, Reckless Life of a True Mining Town”: Southern Arizona, Summer 1882
12. “A Botanical Paradise”: Southern Arizona, Summer–Fall 1882
13. “Considered by Less Ambitious a Fine Season’s Work”: Oakland and Southern Arizona, 1882–83
14. “Lives Cast in Pleasant Places”: Northern Arizona and New Mexico, 1884
15. “Grandest Display the World Has Ever Known”: New Orleans and New England, 1884–85
16. “Our Hillock in Cholame”: Near San Luis Obispo, California, 1885–87
17. “Life, to Me, Seems Sweeter Each Year”: Oakland and Mexico, 1887–88
18. “The Narrowest Escape from Instant Death”: Oakland, 1888–91
19. “Sell Everything and Move to California!”: Oakland and Chicago, 1891–93
20. “A Sweet, Sacred Togetherness”: Oakland and Mexico, 1894–98
21. “Wish We Were Out in the Wild Woods”: Oakland and Arizona, 1899–1903
22. “Safe—Tho’ Tremendously Shaken”: Arizona and Oakland, 1903–6
23. “I Feel So Helpless and Alone”: Oakland, 1906–12
24. “Partners in Botany”: Oakland, 1908–23
Selected Bibliography


2022 Arizona Authors Association Best Published Nonfiction Book
WILLA Literary Award Winner in Creative Nonfiction
2022 Spur Award Winner
2022 Top Pick in Southwest Books of the Year 
New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards Finalist in Cover Design 
Honorable Mention in the At-Large NFPW Communications Contest

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