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Ynes Mexia

Ynes Mexia

Mexican-American botanist
Ynes Mexia
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Mexican-American botanist
A.K.A. Mexia, Ynés Enriquetta Julietta Mexía, Ynés Reygados, Ynés Mexía,...
Was Scientist Botanist
From United States of America Mexico
Type Science
Gender female
Birth 24 May 1870, Georgetown, United States of America
Death 12 July 1938, Berkeley, United States of America (aged 68 years)
Star sign Gemini
The details


Ynés Enriquetta Julietta Mexía (May 24, 1870 – July 12, 1938) was a Mexican-American botanist known for her collection of novel plant specimens from areas of Mexico and South America. She discovered a new genus of Compositae and was arguably the most accomplished plant collector of her time.

Life and education

Ynes Mexia was born in Washington, D.C. on May 24, 1870 to her Mexican diplomat father, Enrique Mexia, and Sarah Wilmer. The marriage broke up in 1873, when Ynés was three years old, and her father went back to Mexico City. Her mother took the children, including Ynés and six others from a previous marriage, and moved to Limestone County on an eleven-league grant that became the site of present-day Mexia, Texas.

Mexía spent most of her childhood in Texas and received her secondary education in private schools in Philadelphia and Ontario, Canada. Her early education began at the age of 15, at Saint Joseph's Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland; after she finished there, she moved to Mexico City, where she lived at the family hacienda for 10 years and took care of her father, who died in 1896. She planned to become a nun, but her father's will stipulated that if she did, she would be cut out of the inheritance she shared with a stepsister. She and her stepsister fought over the money with her father's mistress and a stepbrother.

She married Herman de Laue, a Spanish-German merchant, in 1897, but the brief marriage ended upon his death in 1904. Her second marriage, to D. Augustin Reygados, 16 years her junior, was also short-lived. He badly mismanaged her poultry business while she received medical treatment in San Francisco, leading her to divorce him in 1908. After her marriage to Reygados ended, she began a career as a social worker in San Francisco. In 1921, she matriculated at the University of California, Berkeley, motivated by trips with the Sierra Club, where a botany class sparked her interest in the field; she never received a degree. She died in Berkeley on July 12, 1938 from lung cancer after falling ill on a collecting trip to Mexico.

Career and legacy

Mexía began her career at the age of 55 with a 1925 trip to western Mexico under the tutelage of Roxanna Ferris, a botanist at Stanford University. Mexía fell off a cliff and was injured, halting the trip, which yielded 500 specimens, including several new species. The first species to be named after her, Mimosa mexiae, was discovered on this excursion.

Over the next 12 years, she traveled to Argentina, Chile, Mount McKinley (in 1928), Brazil (in 1929), Ecuador (in 1934), Peru and the Straits of Magellan (in 1935), and southwestern Mexico (in 1937) on seven different collecting trips, discovering one new genus, Mexianthus, and many new species among her 150,000 total samples. She frequently traveled alone, which was rare for women in the 20th century. During her trip to Western Mexico, she collected over 33,000 samples, including 50 new species. In Ecuador, Mexía worked with the Bureau of Plant Industry and Exploration, part of Ecuador's Department of Agriculture. There, she looked for the wax palm, cinchona, and herbs that bind to the soil. Mexía once traveled up the Amazon River to its source in the Andes mountains with a guide and three other men in a canoe. She also spent three months living with the Araguarunas, a native group in the Amazon. All of these excursions were funded by the sale of her specimens to collectors and institutions alike. Specimens from these trips were stored in the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

She often lectured in the San Francisco Bay Area, sharing stories and photographs of her travels. Notes on her expeditions appeared regularly in The Gull, the newsletter of the Audubon Society of the Pacific, between 1926 and 1935. The Sierra Club Bulletin published two accounts of her adventures, "Three Thousand Miles up the Amazon" (SCB, 18:1 [1933], 88-96), and "Camping on the Equator" (SCB, 22:1 [1937], 85-91). Several accounts of her expeditions were published in Madrono, the journal of the California Botanical Society. It also published a biographical note after her death in 1938 (Madrono, October, 1938, Vol. IV, No. 8, 274-275). She was a member of the California Botanical Society, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Association of the Pacific, the Sociedad Geografica de Lima, Peru, and had been made a life member of the California Academy of Sciences. She was also an honorary member of the Departamento Forestal y de Casa y Pesca de Mexico.

Mexía was remembered by her colleagues for her expertise on life in the field and her resilience in the tough conditions, as well as her impulsiveness and fractious but generous personality. They lauded her meticulous, careful work and her skills as a collector.

There is substantial agreement that Mexía collected some 150,000 specimens in her lifetime. Estimates of new species range from two to 500. The Sierra Club Bulletin credits her with two new genera. Mexianthus, named for Mexía, is a genus of Asteraceae.

Her specimen collections can be viewed at the California Academy of Sciences. Portions are duplicated at the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia; Catholic University, Washington, D.C.; the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago; Gray Herbarium, Harvard University; the University of California, Berkeley; and important museums and botanical gardens in London, Copenhagen, Geneva, Paris, Stockholm, and Zurich. Her personal papers are at the California Academy of Sciences and at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 13 Sep 2019. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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