CONNECTIONS, LEGACIES, AND CONTRIBUTIONS
By WAYNE L. HANDLOS, Ph.D.
LIBERTY HYDE BAILEY, JR.
P. x domesticum Fig. 2845
Liberty Hyde Bailey, Jr.
Liberty Hyde Bailey is connected to the geranium world by his recognition and description of two species of Pelargonium
– namely the cultivated zonal geraniums (P. hortorum) and the regal geraniums (P. domesticum). Today these names are
written as P. x hortorum and P. x domesticum following the rules of the ICBN (International Code of Botanical Nomenclature).
The references indicate that these species were described in 1916 in The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, Volume 5,
on pages 2531, 2532 and 2533 as follows:
“AAAA. Plants with thick succulent branches, and strong fishy odor. Shrubby in the wild and in warm countries:
lvs. obovate, orbicular or reniform, shallowly if at all lobed: infl. umbellike; good stamens 7, the 2 upper ones short;
petals typically all of one color.
13. hortorum class. Common Fish or Bedding Geranium. Fig. 2840. The common geranium in great numbers of forms,
derived from the variation and probably the blending of P. zonale and P. inquinans (and possibly others) in more than
a century of careful selection. The original species are not now in cult. Practically all garden geraniums have the zonal
marks on the lvs., or band, or a central blotch of variegation. Some of them have intermingled colors of green, white, and
red on the same lf. Some are “silver-banded” and some “gold banded.”
“AAAAA. Plants woody, not succulent, much branched, the foliage often scented but not “fishy:” lvs. various, but not
pinnately parted: infl. paniculate or umbel-like; 2 upper petals longer and broader than the others, marked; good
stamens 7 or 6.
B. Lvs. not distinctly lobed, though often angled, mostly oval or ovate and cordate (exceptions in P. domesticum).
21. domesticum class. Common, Show, Fancy and Lady Washington Geraniums (or Pelargoniums). Fig. 2845. This
name distinguishes the garden type of florist’s and fancy pelargonium. The race is said to be derived chiefly from
P. cucullatum, P. angulosum, and P. grandiflorum, but the writer can see little evidence of the blood of P. grandiflorum.
It seems to be nearest toP. cucullatum, having the cucullate or disk-shaped not lobed lvs. and mostly, the soft-hairiness
of that species. In many of them, however, the lvs. are distinctly angle-lobed, suggesting P. angulosum. P. domesticum
is meant to comprise the whole range of garden forms of the Show or Lady Washington pelargoniums. The name will
enable one to talk about these garden plants with precision. To many of these garden forms specific botanical names have
been given, so that P. domesticum is not the first name that has been applied to this group, but the writer is not aware that
any collective or group name has been given. Sweet, in particular, has given Latin names to various forms. These old names,
however, apply to particular historical forms, and it would be violence to enlarge their application to cover the entire group,
and it would be difficult to choose any one of them as more applicable, under botanical rules, than others. It is probably also
inaccurate to call this garden form either P. cucullatum or P. angulosum.”
However, the names P. hortorum and P. domesticum were proposed earlier in the Cyclopedia of American Horticulture
published in 1901on pages 1261, 1262, and 1263.
The story of P. x hortorum is somewhat more extended. If you go to the Cyclopedia of American Horticulture (Vol. 3, N-Q, 1901)
an additional comment on p. 1258 says that “the zonal, horse shoe, fish or bedding types … comprise a mongrel class, lately designated
(Bailey, “Botany,” p. 314) as Pelargonium hortorum.” If you track down this book published in 1900 (new edition 1907),
on p.341, you find the following description in the family Geraniaceae.
Who was this man who merited a long obituary in the New York Times on December 27, 1954? To quote from a tribute to him
written by H.P. Banks in 1994: he was a “botanist; horticulturalist; plant breeder; teacher par excellence; visionary; astute, vigorous,
successful administrator; lobbyist; prolific writer; superb editor; poet; rural sociologist; philosopher; environmentalist; traveler;
and plant explorer.”
Liberty Hyde Bailey, Jr. was born in 1858 in South Haven, Michigan. His father was Liberty Hyde Bailey, Sr. who had come
from Vermont in 1842. He was a farmer and orchardist and was purported to have more than 300 varieties of apples in his orchard.
The younger Bailey’s parents were married in 1845 and moved to South Haven in 1854 to an 80 acre plot. At three years
old, Liberty Hyde Bailey, Jr., his two brothers and his mother contracted scarlet fever. Ultimately his mother and eldest brother
died of the disease. The father remarried in 1862. LHB, Jr. was interested in nature and assisted his family in the garden and the
In 1877, he entered Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University), graduating with a B.Sc. in 1882 (he missed
part of 1880 and 1881 due to illness). He was awarded an M.Sc. from Michigan Agricultural College in 1885. (He was awarded
[honorary?] doctoral degrees from the Universities of Wisconsin, Alfred, Vermont and Puerto Rico.)
After graduating in 1882, Liberty, Jr. worked as a newspaper reporter. By 1883 he was at Harvard University working with Prof.
Asa Gray (America’s pre-eminent botanist of the day). In 1885, he returned to Michigan and established the first Horticulture
Department at a college in the United States. He published a paper then stressing the importance of bridging the gap between
botany and horticulture (the theoretical and the practical). In 1888, he designed and built the first laboratory for “scientific horticulture”
in the U.S.
In 1886 he became interested in photography and took pictures for many of his subsequent publications.
In the winter of 1887 he gave a series of guest lectures at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. Later in 1888 he was appointed a
professor of General and Experimental Horticulture at Cornell University. However, prior to taking up his post, Cornell sponsored
a trip to Europe from August 1888 to early 1889 with his wife and baby daughter to visit “every important herbarium west of Russia
including those of Prague, Vienna and Uppsala.”
He was a very active faculty member at Cornell and was deeply involved in promoting agricultural education. He developed Cornell’s
first extension program and established an experiment station there. He won over farmers by the publication of bulletins for
them, giving lectures and demonstrations and creating farming institutes to meet their needs. He and others made home visits and
helped farmers solve problems. Also in 1893 he was a founding member of the Botanical Society of America (still in existence)
and served as its president in 1926.
In 1899 he appointed Cornell’s first female professor, Anna Botsford Comstock. In 1903 he was a founder and first president of
the American Society of Horticultural Science (also still in existence). In 1904 he got the New York Legislature to establish the
New York State College of Agriculture at Cornell University and he became its second dean. Between 1904 and 1913 he established
the departments of plant pathology, agronomy, poultry husbandry, agricultural economics, farm management, experimental
plant biology (later called plant breeding), agricultural engineering and home economics!
In 1907 Michigan Agricultural College was celebrating its 50 year anniversary with President Theodore Roosevelt in attendance.
Bailey was the main speaker and talked about agricultural and country life and ways to alleviate the current economic crisis. As a
result in 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt selected Bailey as chairman of the Commission on Country Life. The Final Report
was written in 1909-10. This report culminated in the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 which established the cooperative extension service,
4-H youth programs, the U.S. Parcel Post system and the beginnings of rural electrification and rural communications systems.
In 1912 the large auditorium on the Cornell University campus was built and named Bailey Hall.
At the age of 55 in 1913, Bailey retired from Cornell University. By this time, he had completed his first two 25-year life plans
(which he had proposed as a teenager). The first 25 years were for study, the second 25 years were for practicing a vocation. He
then embarked on the last 25 year plan doing what he enjoyed most. (He exceeded this third of life by 20 years, dying in 1954 at
the age of 96.)
In 1925 he was president of the International Botanical Congress which met at Cornell University. In 1926 he was president of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science. The honors were many and continued throughout his life.
In 1935 he donated his herbarium (a collection of over 125,000 plant specimens) and his library (3,000 books) to Cornell University.
He stipulated that this be called an Hortorium – “a repository for things of the garden – a place for the scientific study of garden
plants, their documentation, their classification and their naming.” This became the Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium, with LHB
as unpaid director, his daughter Ethel Zoe as curator and Dr. R.T. Clausen as the research taxonomist. Bailey continued in this position
until 1951 when the move was made from his home to new facilities in the Agriculture College Library (now Albert R. Mann
Library) under the directorship of G.H.M. Lawrence.
Among his many interests was that of plant breeding. He wrote a paper in 1892 entitled “Cross Breeding and Hybridizing” which
was followed by a book in 1895 titled Plant Breeding. Both of these publications cited Gregor Mendel’s 1865 and 1869 papers on
inheritance in garden peas. The recognition of the importance of these works lay unrecognized until the beginning of the 20th century
when the field of genetics was established. Clearly, Liberty Hyde Bailey was a man ahead of his times.
He was a prolific writer and authored 65 books, collectively selling more than a million copies. He edited over 100 books by other
authors and published more than 1300 articles. Among his major publications are Cyclopedia of American Horticulture (4 volumes,
1900-1902), The Cyclopedia of American Agriculture (1907-1909), The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture (6 vol., 1914-
1917), Hortus (1930), Manual of Cultivated Plants (1924, 1949), and Hortus 2 (1941).
His taxonomic fields of interest included the genera Carex (sedges including 20 papers and one 100 page article), Brassica
(cabbages), Vitis (grapes), Cucurbita (squashes, gourds and pumpkins), Rubus (raspberries, blackberries including one 1000 page
monograph) and the palm family (45 papers). His physiological research included the growth of plants under electric lights (1889,
1901) and the effect of enhanced levels of carbon dioxide on the growth of plants (1893).
He coined the words “cultigen” and “cultivar.”
Central to his life’s philosophy was the importance of the family and farm life which formed a “natural cooperative unit where
everybody had real duties and responsibilities.” He believed that the importance of education could not be underestimated in freeing
farmers from “old restraints.”
His concerns for the environment are contained in the following quotation. "If the earth is holy, then the things that grow out of the
earth are also holy. They do not belong to man to do with them as he will. Dominion does not carry personal ownership. There
are many generations of folk yet to come after us, who will have equal right with us to the products of the globe. It would seem that
a divine obligation rests on every soul. Are we to make righteous use of the vast accumulation of knowledge of the planet? If so,
we must have a new formulation. The partition of the earth among the millions who live on it is necessarily a question of morals;
and a society that is founded on an unmoral partition and use cannot itself be righteous and whole."
During his life he traveled more than 250,000 miles visiting Europe (1888-9, 1909, 1919), New Zealand (1914), South America
(1914-1917), China, Japan, Korea (1917-1919), Trinidad and Venezuela (1920-21), Barbados (1922), Jamaica and the Panama
Canal Zone (1931), Mexico (1934), Haiti and Santo Domingo (1937), Guadaloupe and Martinique (1938), Oaxaca, Mexico (1940),
the Caribbean and South America (1946-47). In 1948 he missed his 90th birthday party because he was collecting plants in the
He married Annette Smith in Michigan in 1883. They had two daughters, Sara May born in 1887 and Ethel Zoe born 1889.
Ethel Zoe accompanied her father on many collecting trips. His wife died in 1938. His daughter Sara and son-in-law died leaving
two children who were then raised by their aunt Ethel Zoe.
(N.B. This is the first of three articles commemorating people who were important to horticultural and botanical knowledge generally
and to Pelargonium and Geranium specifically. The three people were closely allied (father, daughter, employee/protégé)
for many years. Two of them I knew personally. Hal Moore was advisor for my Ph.D. program and I saw Ethel Zoe Bailey almost
daily tabulating the offerings of commercial plant suppliers in a vast card catalog beneath the life sized oil portrait of her
father, Liberty Hyde Bailey, Jr. These three people were a constant presence and influence for the six years I was at Cornell University.
Their contributions continue to this day. Words can only feebly express my gratitude for their influence.)