Eastwood, Alice (Biologists)

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Alice Eastwood in later years. Courtesy: Harvard University archives
Alice Eastwood, 1910.
Courtesy: California State University

Alice Eastwood is considered an American botanist, although she was actually born in Canada. Eastwood was self educated and spent her entire professional life in the western USA. She was born in Toronto, Canada, in the year 1859. Moving to Colorado at the age of 14, she taught herself botany while working as a teacher. By 1890, Eastwood had moved to California, where she worked extensively in Monterey County and later accepted a post at the herbarium of the California Academy of Sciences.

Besides prolific discoveries of new species, Eastwood can be counted as a heroine, from her climbing up in the burning building of the California Academy of Sciences to save the flora type specimen collection.

Role with the California Academy of Sciences

Eastwood had a productive career in describing new flora, stewarding the Academy's herbarium and in promoting the role of native flora in teaching youth. In 1892 she was appointed joint curator of the herbarium along with botanist Mary Katharine Brandegee; by 1894, Brandegee retired and Eastwood held the title of curator and head of the botany department until her retirement at the age of ninety in 1949.

Eastwood is credited with saving the Academy's plant type collection after the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. In contrast to the curatorial practices of the time, she elected to segregate the type specimens from the main part of the collection. This practice allowed her, upon entering the burning and damaged building, to readily find the type specimens and remove them to safety. The balance of the collection was lost in the fire that consumed the facility subsequent to the earthquake.

In addition to her work at the herbarium, Eastwood was a perpetual traveller to California destinations of flora diversity. One area of great interest to Eastwood was the coastal zone of Monterey County, much of which was a true frontier of scientific exploration around the turn from the nineteenth to twentieth century; in fact, the roads were quite primitive south of Carmel in the early 1900s and there was no coastal road whatsoever south of Bixby Creek until 1933. Along these areas she discovered and described many new species such as Hickman's potentilla, which she named for her driver.

European and Domestic Travel

While the California Academy of Sciences was reconstructing facilities lost to the earthquake, Alice Eastwood studied in herbaria in Europe and other parts of the USA, including the Gray Herbarium, the New York Botanical Garden, the British Museum and the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in London. Also, she undertook numerous collecting trips in the Western United States, including Alaska, Arizona, Utah and Idaho. By retaining the first set of each collection for the Academy and exchanging the duplicates with other institutions, Eastwood was able to augment the Academy's collection, adding thousands of sheets to the Academy's herbarium, personally accounting for its steady growth in size and increase in representation of the western flora. Upon completion of the new Academy facilities at Golden Gate Park in 1912, Eastwood re-assumed the curator post for the Academy's herbarium and continued building the specimen collection.

Publications and Later Life Activities

Eastwood published over 300 articles throughout her professional career. She was editor of Zoe and assistant editor for Erythea before the 1906 earthquake; moreover, she initiated a new journal, Leaflets of Western Botany (1932-1966) in collaboration with botanist John Thomas Howell. She was the leader of the San Francisco, California Botanical Club for an extending period in 1892 and participated in numerous other botanical and horticultural societies.

As artist

Eastwood produced prolific artistic renderings of plants which she discovered and was the first to describe, particularly for native plants along coastal areas of Monterey County. Most of her artwork is unheralded and remains in archived boxes at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. It is logical to assume that her art was influenced by the cotemporaneous Plein Air School of early California Art, one of whose major hubs was Carmel and the Monterey Peninsula, California.


Alice Eastwood was elected an honorary member of the Academy in 1942. Her chief botanical interests throughout her career were western USA Liliaceae and the genera Lupinus, Arctostaphylos and Castilleja. Eastwood encouraged a generation of western biologists with a passion for native plants, and left the western USA with a rich collection of specimens as well as species, for whom she was the original author. Eastwood died in San Francisco on Oct. 30, 1953.


  • Leroy Abrams. 1949. Alice Eastwood: Western Botanist, Pacific Discovery. 2(1):14-17 (1949)
  • Alice Eastwood. 1905. A handbook of the trees of California. California Academy of Sciences. 86 pages
  • Alice Eastood and Joseph Young Bergen. 1901. Bergen's Botany: A Pacific States Flora. Aethenaeum Press
  • California Academy of Sciences. 1939. Alice Eastwood
  • California Academy of Sciences. 1906-1939. Inventory to the papers and drawings of Alice Eastwood at the California Academy of Sciences Library MSS.142
  • F.M.MacFarland, R.C.Miller and John Thomas Howell. Biographical Sketch of Alice Eastwood, Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences. Fourth series, 25: ix-xiv.
  • John Thomas Howell and Alice Eastwood: 1859-1953, Taxon. 3(4):98-100 (1953)


C.Michael Hogan (2011). Eastwood, Alice. Encyclopedia of Earth Retrieved from http://editors.eol.org/eoearth/wiki/Eastwood,_Alice_(Biologists)