Abram Paschal Garber

[Abraham Pascal Garber]
(23 February 1838 – 25 August 1881) 1,2,3,5

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU) has catalogued fourvascular plant specimens collected by A. P. Garber.   As our collection continues to be cataloged, it is likely that more specimens collected by him will be found.

Other herbaria which curate his specimens include Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University (PH), Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CM), Field Museum (F), University of Minnesota (MIN), Louisiana State University (LSU), Michigan State University (MSC), Missouri Botanical Garden (MO), New York Botanical Garden (NY), North Carolina State University (NCSC), Purdue University (PUR; fungi), Putnam Museum & Science Center (BDI), Rutgers University (CHRB), Tulane University (NO), University of Florida (FLAS), University of Michigan (MICH), University of New Mexico (UNM), University of South Carolina (USCH), University of Vermont (VT), and the United States National Fungus Collection (BPI).

Abram Paschal Garber was born to Jacob B. and Susanna Garber in West Hempfield Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.3   He had two older siblings, Henry and John, and four younger siblings, Mary, Hiram, Jacob and Fanny.4   In some sources his name is “Abram Paschal Garber,” in others “Abraham Pascal Garber.” There is also inconsistency in his birth month, variously listed as January3, July6, or February5.   I have opted to list February, as A. P. Garber himself listed that month on his passport application.5

Asa Gray named the genus Garberia in A. P. Garber’s honor. It is a monotypic genus in the Asteraceae. Garberia heterophylla (W. Bartram) Merr. & F. Harper is endemic to Florida (Clay, Putnam, Marion, Citrus, Hernando, Sumter, Lake, Volusia, Seminole, Orange, Brevard, Osceola, Polk, Hillsborough, Manatee, Hardee, and Highlands Counties).

Butterfly on Garberia heterophylla
photograph by Shirley Denton, courtesy of the Florida Native Plant Society

The following is an excerpt from Keidel, George C. (1914) Dr. Abram P. Garber: A biographical sketch. Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society 18(8):199-220.

Religious persecution in Europe during the seventeenth century caused many thousands of families to flee from their homes, and among them were large numbers of a sect called Mennonites, who migrated soon after to the new province of Pennsylvania, and who have since that date formed a large portion of the Pennsylvania Germans. Among these followers of Menno Simons was the Garber family, whose earliest traditional residence seems to have been near Basel, in Switzerland, from which they are said to have fled about the middle of the seventeenth century to a point on the upper Rhine known by the name of “Three Brides.” Their stay here was, however, of comparatively short duration, as we find them making their way a little later to Holland, whence they were transported to the newly-founded Germantown in William Penn’s colonizing venture in the New World. The exact data of their arrival in this country is not known, but it is thought to have been about the year 1695. … Jacob B. Garber [Abram’s father, 1800-1886]… displayed a marked taste for the study of botany. In 1832 he erected a greenhouse, said to be the first established in the State west of Philadelphia. Here he daily spent several hours in his favorite pursuit, and by degrees he was able to gather together many rare exotics. It was in this atmosphere that his son Abram P. Garber grew up, and it was undoubtedly the father’s example and counsel that urged on the son to become the famous botanical explorer that he was.

Abram Paschal Garber was born January 23, 1838, on his father’s farm in Floral Retreat, about 3 miles east of Columbia, and a short distance south of Chestnut Hill, near Mountville, West Hempfield township, Lancaster County, Pa. [Pennsylvania]. There is an oil painting extant which represents his home at about this time, and which shows it to have been a brick house with a formal garden in front of it.

His early years were spent on the farm in a beautiful agricultural region only a few miles from the banks of the Susquehanna River. Lancaster County has been the home of many noted botanists, and with such surroundings it is thus easy to understand why the boy’s naturally studious bent directed him at a very early age to the subject of botany, to which the greater part of his comparatively short life was so successfully devoted.

When A. P. Garber was still in his teens there was founded, in 1854, and Academy for the education of the young people of the State, which was shortly to develop into a normal school. This was located a few miles from his home, at Millersville, and the growing lad was soon attracted to its atmosphere of study. He entered as a student here, apparently, in the autumn of 1856, and a little later signed the Constitution of the Page Literary Society. He continued at Millersville, with various interruptions, until the summer of 1865, when he graduated with a class of 12 young men and women. It was during this period of nine years that he taught for several winters public school in various parts of Lancaster County, and then became principal of Catasauqua Seminary near Allentown, where he had four or five other teachers under him.

Of his life at Millersville we have various information in the way of official and semi-official records, as well as in the personal reminiscences of several people still living who knew him at that time. While here he boarded with Mrs. Elizabeth Warfel opposite the school, going home to Mountville at the end of each week. His landlady still (May, 1941) remembers his as a “good boy,” who did not give her the trouble that some of her other school borders did. He took good care of himself, as his health even then was not of the best, and often times when the boys went out on some expedition he would refrain from joining named them on that account.

One of his classmates, Mr. John Mauro, late Assistant District Superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, wrote under the date of 1914-06-18, as follows: “I roomed with Garber for many months…We were very intimate and always took walks together along the banks and silent waters of the Conestoga. Garber was a great botanist and seemed to be quite familiar with the floor of Lancaster County, as well as that of other sections of the state… A. P. Garber inherited his botanical tendencies from his parents. I had a pleasing visit of several days with him at his home. His father had a greenhouse filled with a great variety of plants. This was the favorite resort of the senior Garber, and no doubt young Garber, in his early childhood, acquired a taste for the plants and flowers of his youthful environment and paternal associations…”

It was during the Millersville. Also that he became a member of the newly-founded Linnaean Society of Lancaster and until the time of his death he took great interest in its proceedings and was frequently an enthusiastic participant in its field meetings. In this period, too, falls A. P. Garber’s brief military experience as a private in Company C of the 195th Pennsylvania Volunteers. During the late summer and early fall of 1864 he saw service in West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. There is still in the possession of his family a little pocket Testament which was given to him in Baltimore soon after he enlisted, and which he carried with him in his campaign.

A. P. Garber had early been attracted to the well-known botanist Dr. Thomas C. Porter, then a professor at Franklin and Marshall College at Lancaster. So when the time came to select a college in which to pursue his further studies it is not strange that his choice fell upon Lafayette College at Easton, Pa. [Pennsylvania]. For by that time his much admired professor had left Franklin and Marshall for Lafayette. That he was a close student and proficient in his scientific work is evidenced by the fact that he was able to enter the junior class in the fall of 1865, and to graduate in the scientific department in 1868, with an essay entitled “The Lesser Virtues.”

At Lafayette College he became a member of the Washington literary society, and immediately upon graduation he was appointed and Assistant in Natural History. This position he held from 1868 to 1870, and during this time began the extensive botanical explorations which were later to bring his name prominently before the scientific world.   In September 1868, he visited Erie and explored the Lake Shore and Presque Isle; while during the months of August and September in the year following he traveled along the whole tier of northern counties from Wayne to Erie, and then southward through the counties west of the Alleghenies as far as the Virginia line. Later in the same service he made an excursion with the late Thomas P. James into the Pocono region of Monroe and Pike counties, and brought back a fine collection of mosses and liverworts. These labors, in the interest of the herbarium of Lafayette College, were made under the direction of Dr. Thomas C. Porter, professor of botany, and secured many valuable additions to the floor of the State; and although nothing holy new to science was at this time discovered by him, at least 27 species were added as found only by him.

Dr. Garber’s medical career extended, in all, over a period of about seven years; about half of this time he was a student of medicine, and about half a physician for the insane. While still at Lafayette College he began the study of medicine under the direction of Dr. Traill Green, the professor of chemistry, and when he matriculated on October 14, 1869, in the School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, his residence was given as Easton, Pa. [Pennsylvania].   Of his life here until he graduated in 1872 we know but little except that his essay was entitled “The Medical Plants of Pennsylvania,” in which title we can readily discern the botanist combined with the physician.

In April, 1872, Dr. Garber became Assistant Resident Physician in the Harrisburg State Lunatic Hospital, living in the building itself and having charge of some two hundred patients.   He remained in this position until May, 1875, when ill-health caused him to resign. After leaving Harrisburg Dr. Garber opened an office as a practicing physician in Pittsburgh, but the trying climate of this great manufacturing city told further upon his health, and after a few months he was obliged to leave Pennsylvania and to seek a more friendly Southern clime.   The inroads of consumption had by this time seriously impaired Dr. Garber’s health, and from now on it appeared to him to be imperative that he spent his winters in a warmer climate than that of Pennsylvania. Accordingly we find him from this time on making yearly trips to Florida and the west Indies, returning during the summer to his home in Lancaster County.

Strange to say, an indirect result of his ill health was to make his name famous in the scientific world, and to attach his name permanently to quite a number of Florida plants.   The [illegible] famous in the scientific world, and to botanical explorations in many parts of the peninsula and the adjoining islands are not known to us. Our scanty information concerning them comes chiefly from Dr. Garber himself, in the form of published articles and in correspondence with scientific friends. In the archives of the Smithsonian institution at Washington there is preserved a series of 11 letters which he addressed from time to time to Dr. George Vasey, who was at that time in charge of the botanical work of the Department of Agriculture at Washington. These letters all refer to his trips to Florida, and they throw an interesting light upon his views concerning the flora of the peninsula then so little known.

At the time when Dr. Garber visited Florida its flora was still awaiting investigation to a considerable extent, and it was his good fortune to be able to avail himself fully of the situation, and, hence, we find him making great additions to the world’s knowledge of the flora of this part of the United States. By distributing many thousands of specimens to herbaria, in his own country and in Europe, his discoveries have become widely known among botanists, and his name occurs in almost all books dealing with this field. A more personal note may well be added at this point by quoting from a letter written by Dr. Garber from Miami, Florida, 1877-05-16 to Dr. George Vasey:

“I shall keep a sharp lookout for the Ulmus and Taxus you mention, but think they do not grow so far south. The vegetation is markedly different here from that of Middle North and West Florida, especially so in the woody growths.   Then, too, a greater variation in size – Erythrina, which I have met in the latitude of Cedar Keys and Mellonville, was always a shrub 4 to 5 feet high — here it is common and generally of the same size, but also not uncommonly assumes the tree form and attains a height of 20 to 30 feet. I measured the trunk of one and founded 17 inches in circumference, and guess the height to be about 30 feet. The Mangrove I met here is a shrub and … Sometimes a tree fully 100 feet high –taller than any other tree. Black mangrove (Avicennia tomentosa), which at Cedar Keys is a shrub 6 to 8 feet high, appears here always as a tree from 30 – fully 60 feet in height.   Hummocks here are dense jungles of woody growth, very difficult to penetrate. The live oak is less plenty then further north, but always occurs on the edges along the Pines and is in many places literally covered with Tillandsia and Epidendron… I encounter a good many disadvantages exploring and drying [plants] here, but altogether my success was good and I am well satisfied with the progress. I think I will have some new to our flora and possibly to science. I should like to delay longer in order to collect some plants in better stages, but it is not unlikely that I will meet many of the same plants at Ft. Myers and Peas Creek where I now propose to go. The Mall facilities there are not good and probably a month will enable me to collect all they are, and thence to Manitee and Tampa. To the last named place I will have my mail sent. Very truly, A. P. Garber”

A Danish botanist, Barron Eggers, was at this time exploring the West Indies, and at his suggestion Dr. Garber made a trip to the island of St. Thomas, one of the British West Indies. What the results of this trip may have been have not been ascertained, but it seems likely that many of plants then obtained were incorporated in the collection which Barron Eggers himself was making at that time. At the same botanist’s suggestion Dr. Garber also made a trip to Porto Rico [sic; Puerto Rico], in the early part of the year 1881, and succeeded in making a small collection of plants. Among the published letters of Prof. Asa Gray, of Harvard University, there is one which refers to the proposed sale of Dr. Garber’s small Puerto Rican collection. Yauco was his headquarters here; but the expected benefit to his health from his stay on the island did not materialize.

Returning to his home in Lancaster County in the month of June, 1881, Dr. Garber settled down for the summer as usual on his father’s farm, but the extremely hot weather soon affected him in his depleted condition so greatly that he was fain to seek relief in the mountains of north-central Pennsylvania. Here towards the end of August his condition became so alarming that he determined to return to his home. But he was only able to reach the summer resort of Renova, and Clinton County, before his strength gave out. He, therefore, sent word to his younger brother, Hiram L. Garber, to come to his assistance; but before his brother was able to reach him Dr. Garber passed away on August 25, 1881. His remains were brought back to his home by his brother, and there they were buried in the family graveyard on the adjacent farm by the side of his ancestors and relatives of many generations. This old burying ground has now been neglected for many years, and at the present time no trace of Dr. Garber’s grave can be found. The spot is so thickly covered with high weeds, locust and blackberry bushes that it can only be penetrated with difficulty. Many of the graves and tombstones have sunken so far into the ground that it is impossible to read the inscriptions.   The immediate family have all either died or removed to other parts the country, and, hence, his grave is thus neglected.

It is not definitely known whether Dr. Garber began the formation of an herbarium on his own, but this probably occurred sometime during his Millersville period. From remarks here and there in his correspondence with Dr. Vasey, and from other sources of information, we became aware of his interest in collecting plants of all sorts. His own personal efforts in this direction were largely supplemented by exchange with various correspondents, until at length his private collections came to assume considerable proportions. In February, 1885, his brother Hiram L. Garber sold the herbarium for a nominal sum to Franklin and Marshall College at Lancaster, with the stipulation that should be known by the name of The A. P. Garber Herbarium, and this has been its name down to the present time. In the College Student for February, 1886, Professor John S. Stahr published a general account of the herbarium, which still remains the best and fullest descriptions of its varied contents. Since that time collection has been twice rearranged, and portions of it have been transferred to the herbaria of Columbia University and the Botanical Garden in New York in exchange for other specimens.

At the present time it is quite impossible to enumerate all the herbaria, both large and small, which contain dried plants collected by Dr. Garber. The best list so far published seems to be that given by Professor Urban, but even this is extremely incomplete. Besides those already mentioned we may note that the United States National Herbarium in the Smithsonian Institution at Washington [US], the herbarium at Kew Gardens in London [K], where there are 142 Porto Rican [sic; Puerto Rican] plants, the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University [GH], the Canby Herbarium now in the College of Pharmacy of New York [transferred to NY in 1945], the Herbarium of Lafayette College at Easton, Pa. [Pennsylvania], and the Academy of Natural Sciences Herbarium in Philadelphia. Specimens preserved in these form the basis of much of the advanced work of botanists to devote their attention to the Peninsula Florida with its many interesting vegetable forms.

Even before his death his fellow botanists began naming Florida plants after Dr. Garber, and this process is still going on. Every year or two another plant is added to the list until it has become quite a long one. These plants have been described in a great variety of books and periodicals which cannot, of course, be enumerated here. Suffice it to name the following:
Coccothrinax garberi, a species of palm
Convolvulus garberi, a species of morning glory
Eugenia garberia, a species of myrtle (called also Garber’s Stopper)
Euphorbia garberi, a species of spurge
Fissidens garberi, a species of moss
Habenella garberi, a species of orchid (called also Habenaria garberi)
Laciniaria garberi, a species of snakeroot
Salvia occidentalis garberi, a species of sage
Sphagnum garberi, a species of moss
Thrinax garberi, a species of palm
Professor Asa Gray also named the Garberia, a genus of the thistles, after him, and this distinction gave the discoverer a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction during the last years of his life.


According to John Harshberger, Garber discovered Xanthoxylum emarginatum (now Zanthoxylum spinosum ssp. spinosum) on an island in Biscayne Bay, Florida in 1877, and it has never been collected since.7

Abram Paschal Garber is buried in Forrey Graveyard, West Hempfield Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.3

Garber, A. P. 1877. Notes on Tillandsia. Botanical Gazette 2: 59.
— 1877. Botanical rambles in East Florida. Botanical Gazette 2: 70, 82.
— 1877. Botanical rambles in Middle Florida. Botanical Gazette 2: 102.
— 1878. Ferns in South Florida. Botanical Gazette 3: 82-85.


1.http://www.lancasterhistory.org/images/stories/JournalArticles/vol18no8pp199_219_514451.pdf accessed on 22 June 2017.
2. “Abram P. Garber.” Ancestry.com. Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Mennonite Vital Records, 1750-2014 [database on-lin]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Genealogical Card File. Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Accessed on 22 June 2017.

  1. “Dr Abraham Paschal Garber.” https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=142340236 accessed on 22 June 2017.
    4. Year: 1850; Census Place: East Hempfield, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_788; Page: 161A; Image: 324.   Ancestry.com.   1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Imaged reproduced by FamilySearch. Original data: Seventh Census of the United States, 1850; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M432, 1009 rolls); Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
    5. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, 1795-1905; Roll#: 232; Volume # Roll 232-01 Nov 1879-28 Feb 1880. Ancestry.com U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007. Original data: Selected Passports. National Archives, Washington, D.C.
    6. Ancestry.com. Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Mennonite Vital Records, 1750-2014 [databaseon-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Genealogical Card File. Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Accessed 22 June 2017.
    7. Harshberger, John W. 1899. The botanists of Philadelphia and their work. Philadelphia: T. C. Davis & Sons. Pp. 302-303.