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Amelia Smith Calvert photographs of Costa Rican plants


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Amelia Smith was born in Philadelphia in 1876. She studied at the University of Pennsylvania and earned her B.S. in biology in 1899, before taking a fellowship at Bryn Mawr College where she conducted research on earthworm physiology. In 1901, she married her former classmate Philip Powell Calvert, who by that time was a professor of zoology at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert in Odonata (dragonflies). In 1909, the couple moved from Philadelphia to Costa Rica where they remained for two years so that Philip Calvert could carry out entomological research. During this time, Amelia Calvert set about documenting some of the flora of Costa Rica; the product of this work can be found in "Photographs of Costa Rican plants."

In 1917, several years after their return to the United States, A Year of Costa Rican Natural History, co-written by Amelia and Philip Calvert, was published. As the introduction to the book explains, the Calverts "have little to say" on the "technical subject" of entomology, but instead "set forth… our more incidental observations recorded in our diary." Accordingly, A Year of Costa Rican Natural History reads more like a travel journal than a scientific text. Amelia and Philip Calvert also traveled extensively in Europe, and their voyages to Britain in 1912 and to Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy in 1929 are recorded in Amelia Calvert's diaries, held at the American Philosophical Society. Amelia Calvert passed away in 1965.

"Photographs of Costa Rican plants" is a two-volume album composed by Amelia Smith Calvert from material collected on a 1909 to 1910 expedition to Costa Rica. Each page of the album features a black and white photograph of a plant native to the region, with up to a paragraph of type-written text that provides the Latin and common names of the plant, its appearance and characteristics, the specific location of the specimen and the date on which the photograph was taken. Most of the photographs show specimens in situ, but some (especially those with delicate or unusual foliage and flowers) have been photographed in front of a plain backdrop and often alongside a twenty-centimeter scale.

Of the nearly 100 species photographed here, most were collected in relatively untouched natural places like forests and streambanks, though Calvert also features plants that thrive in pastoral settings including shade trees (p. 39), weeds (p. 54), hedgerows (p. 44) and trees used as "living fences" (p. 29), as well as some common fruits and vegetables (p. 37 and elsewhere). Additionally, there are a few photographs of plants growing in Cartago Park (p. 31, 33, and 35) and pages 85 and 86 show a Furcraea growing in the garden of the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica in San Jose (one of these images also includes the only person photographed in the album, Senor Adolfo Tonduz, the botanist of the Museo).

Several pages in volume I are dedicated to photographs of epiphytes (plants that grow on another plant for support, but glean their nutrients from rainwater, air and sometimes debris) including ferns, aroids and bromeliads. Most of the plants photographed in this work were collected from the Cartago province in central Costa Rica (including quite a few from the Irazu Volcano in this region, featured on pages 61-84), although plants from several sites in the Alajuela province and the municipal areas of Surubres, San Jose and Liberia are also represented.

The first four pages of the album contain an alphabetized index of the species included in both volumes along with an indication of which photographs were reproduced in A Year of Costa Rican Natural History by Amelia and Philip Calvert. A note at the end of the index credits Senor Adolfo Tonduz and Professor Henry Pittier with identification of the plants.

Gift of Amelia Smith Calvert.

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Rive Cadwallader
Finding Aid Date
2016 March 30
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Volume 1, circa 1909-1910.
Box 1 Folder 1
Volume 2, circa 1909-1910.
Box 1 Folder 2
Original binder for volumes 1 and 2 (empty), circa 1909-1910.
Box 1 Folder 3

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