Allen Hierome Curtiss

(2 September 1845 – 1 September 1907)4,5

Though several sources list A. H. Curtiss’ middle name as “Hiram”, Curtiss’ gravestone spells it as “Heirome” and his Will spells it as “Hierome”.1, 2, 3, 4, 5   “I suspect that the tombstone is misspelled and the Will is correct, since Hierome would stem from Hieronymus (both are related to “Jerome”), but I find no references for “Heirome” at all.  Of course, different spellings occur everywhere…. Would that his birth certificate of christening records were available,” says Nancy Janda, Assistant Archivist at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation.12  Perhaps because of the unusual spelling of both his given name, “Allen”,  and middle name, he consistently used “A. H. Curtiss” on herbarium labels.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU) curates over 600 specimens collected by A. H. Curtiss.  Many were received as specimens distributed for “North American Plants [Curtiss, N. Am. Pl.]” and “Second distribution of plants of the southern United States [Curtiss, 2nd Distr. Pl. S. US]”.    NCU also curates 3 fungi (plant pathogens) and one algae collected by A. H. Curtiss.  As we continue to catalog our collections without doubt more specimens collected by Curtiss will be found.


Asclepias curtissii Gray, a Florida endemic named in honor of A. H. Curtiss by Asa Gray. Photograph by Bruce Vanderveen, June 11, 2005

Allen Hierome Curtiss was born in Oswego County, New York on 2 September 1845.4,11  Gaston G. Curtiss, Allen’s father, moved the family to Virginia ca. 1861.  On December 29, 1865 he purchased 344 acres of land near Liberty, which later became known as Bedford.  Gaston Curtiss was active in politics and was elected as a delegate to the convention to write a new state constitution in 1867.  Gaston Curtiss and his fellow delegate from Bedford County, David Staley, were Radical Republicans, the faction that dominated the convention.  Gaston Curtiss ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1869, but was viewed by Whites as a carpet-bagger and was defeated.  “[Gaston] Curtiss returned to farming and died of consumption [tuberculosis] at his Liberty home on November 15, 1872.  In a terse death notice the local press observed, “Probably no man has ever died in any community less regretted than the deceased.””6

Gaston Curtiss tried to insinuate his son, Allen, into local public office.  “On January 20, 1869, [Gaston] Curtiss chaired a Republican mass meeting in Liberty, and his son, Allen H. Curtiss, was installed as secretary.  The two served on a committee charged with recommending to the state’s military commander candidates for county offices.  Allen Curtiss was nominated for county clerk and on January 25 appeared before the Bedford County Court with a letter signed by the military commander, but the next day the court declared him “wholly incompetent” and petitioned for his removal.  Later [Allen] was appointed clerk of the Third District Court of Appeals, but evidently he did not serve.”A. H. Curtiss did serve as an Enumerator for the 1870 Census in Bedford County, Virginia.7

To date, NCU has cataloged approximately 60 specimens collected in Bedford County, Virginia, by A. H. Curtiss.  About a dozen of these specimens were collected at “Peaks of Otter” between 1868 and 1872.  The Peaks of Otter are three mountains — Sharp Top (1,177m; 37˚26’00”N, 79˚36’18”W), Flat Top (1,217m; 27˚27’06”N, 79˚34’57”W) and Harkening Hill (1,028m; 37˚27’28”N, 79˚37’02”W) – within the Blue Ridge Mountains.8 The mountains overlook the town of Bedford (which was known as the “Town of Liberty” from 1782-1890).9

In 1873 A. H. Curtiss published CATALOGUE OF THE PHAENOGAMOUS AND VASCULAR CRYPTOGAMOUS PLANTS OF CANADA AND THE NORTH-EASTERN PORTIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, Including Virginia and Kentucky on the South, and Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota on the West.  The Botany Library of the Harvard University Herbaria curates a copy of this difficult-to-find 8 page document.

Floretta Anna Allen Curtiss (1822-1899). Photograph from Wynne, Michael J. (1996) Phycological Trailblazer No. 9: Floretta Allen Curtiss. Phycological Society of America Newsletter 32(2).

Allen Curtiss acquired his love of botany (and the unusual spelling of his given name) from his mother, Floretta Anna Allen, born 1 December 1822 in New York state.  After her husband’s death, she joined her son in Florida, and it was here that she turned her life-long interest in botany to the study of algae.  “Floretta Curtiss’ contributions to phycology resulted largely from her interactions with two of the foremost phycologist of that period, J. G. Agardh of the University of Lund in Sweden and W. G. Farlow at Harvard University.  Even though J. G. Agardh was arguably the leading authority in phycology… he was certainly never a “field man.”  He relied on the generous largesse of talented phycophiles around the world such as Mrs. Curtiss, or “Domina Curtiss” as he referred to her in his publications (written in Latin)… [Through her own collecting and exchange with others she amassed a sizeable herbarium.]  This significant herbarium, known as “Algae Curtissianae,” was later bound into eight folio volumes by her son and donated to the United States National Herbarium (US), in Washington, D.C.”10  Alas, NCU has no specimens of algae collected by Floretta Curtiss, though we do have one collected in 1875 by her son.

Allen H. Curtiss moved to Florida in 1875.  He settled in Jacksonville, and botanized (though he would prefer the term “herborized”) throughout the state.  “For many years he was a professional collector, always gathering if possible a considerable supply of each plant, and his specimens, with printed labels, are to be found in nearly all the large herbaria of the world. “2 NCU has over 440 specimens that he collected in Florida and other southeastern states.  “Allen’s work for the State and federal governments involved his traveling thousands of miles along the coast of Florida, and this enabled him to provide his mother with large quantities of “rough-dried” algae, especially from the Keys, which turned out to be quite different from those of the Atlantic coast.  Floretta liked receiving these packages because she could work on them at her leisure, and it seemed like magic when she would throw what appeared to be “unsightly rubbish” into a pan of water and they would swell out quickly and resume the natural forms and colors of living seaweeds, like “a resurrection from death to life.  Floretta had also interested several ladies into sending their collections.  This allowed her to carry out extensive exchanges with phycologists in other parts of the United States and in foreign countries.”10

In 1878 Allen H. Curtiss traveled to “The Sisters,” islands composed of oyster shells, and wrote of his findings in a series of three articles in the Botanical Gazette.

“On the eastern coast of Florida there are extensive grassy marshes stretching from the Everglades northward, with more or less interruption, to Georgia.  These are separated from the ocean by islands and by long sand bars connecting with the mainland.  The St. John’s river is bordered with these marshes for several miles from its mouth.  Through them and between the sea-islands and main land of Georgia travelers reach Florida by the “inland passage.”  This passage enters the river within sight of its mouth and between a group of islands called “The Sisters.”  These islands, like many others of smaller size which are scattered through the marshes, are composed entirely of oyster shells.  Though the same species of mollusk now abounds in these waters, it is difficult to imagine what agency led to their accumulation into such vast mounds, rising abruptly from the marshes to a height of from five to twenty feet and sometimes covering a square mile in area…  The appearance of these islands, their large size and apparent inaccessibility, the luxuriant vegetation covering a seemingly impenetrable soil, naturally excite the curiosity of passing tourists but it is evident that their botanical features were unknown previous to 1878, during which year the writer made frequent visits to them, and found them to be as marked in botanical as in geological features and as regards entomology, incomparable.  It is a unique region, a land flowing with honey and gall, in which one may enjoy much and suffer much.  With this, a foretaste, we invite the reader to accompany us mentally (the more comfortable way) on a tour of inspection.”
Curtiss, A.H. (1879)  A visit to the Shell Islands of Florida.  Botanical Gazette 4(2):  117-120.

In 1880, Curtiss wrote,
“During a recent visit to Apalachicola, I had the pleasure of rambling for several miles in the vicinity of that ancient town in company with Dr. Chapman [Alvan Wentworth Chapman, 1809-1899], and of being introduced by him to many plants peculiar to this region, first discovered and named by him…No botanist who travels southward should fail to visit the Apalachicola River.  Coming here about the first of April he will find the noble Torreya in bloom and beneath it the Croomia, which at first I confounded with the young plants of Dioscorea and Smilax herbacea growing with it.  Of the shrubs he will hardly know which to admire most, the yellow variety of Azalea nudiflora, the red AEsculus Pavia, or the white Chionanthus.  He will be charmed with the Silene Drummondii, and stand in awe before the giant cypresses, gums and cotton woods of the river bottoms.  He will be tempted to recline on deep cushions of feathery Selaginella, and learn to shrink from that vegetable porcupine, the Chamaerops Hystrix.  He will marvel at the parrot-beaked Sarracenia, and feel repaid for his journey if he sees nothing but the wonderful Sarracenia Drummondii.”
Curtiss, A.H. (1880)  Notes from Florida.  Botanical Gazette 5(6):  65.

In 1880 – 1881 he traveled in the Florida Keys, and eventually expanded his travels to the West Indies.
“During my recent cruise among the Florida Keys noting interested me so much as the Sea-weeds… Knowing the Reef Algae to be much sought for and almost unobtainable, I collected a large quantity of specimens aud [sic] had most excellent success in preserving them.  They have been identified by Prof. Farlow, our best authority of Marine Algae, and in December I shall have them ready for distribution… issued in three sets, each comprising two dozen species, at three dollars per set.”
Curtiss, A. H. (1880)  Floridian algae.  Botanical Gazette 5(11):  138.

Floretta Curtiss went on what was to be her last collecting trip with her son in July, 1896.  They visited Oceanus, just south of Cape Canaveral.  “She went beach-combing here and found large and showy specimens of an alga, Gracilaria curtissiae, which J. Agardh (1885) had previously named in her honor.  So she was very happy and felt successful on this final collecting trip.  A few years later after a series of debilitating strokes she passed away on March 3, 1899.”10

Allen H. Curtis died on 1 September 1907.  He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida.  The inscription on his grave reads “Widely known for his botanical discoveries, an authority on the flora of the tropics.”4 His name is also inscribed on a marker in the family cemetery plot in Hillside Cemetery in Central Square, Oswego County, New York.12


Many vascular plants have been named in A. H. Curtiss’ honor, including:
Aristida dichotoma var. curtissii A. Gray
Asclepias curtissii Gray
Asplenium X curtissii Underwood (pro. sp.)
Calamovilfa curtissii (VaseyScribn.
Hypoxis curtissii Rose
Jacquemontia curtissii Peter ex Small
Lespedeza hirta ssp. curtissii Clewell
Ludwigia curtissii Chapman
Lythrum curtissii Fern.
Oenothera curtissii Small
Polygala curtissii Gray
Rhynchospora curtissii Britton
Scleria curtissii Britton
Sporobolus curtissii Small ex Kearney
Tephrosia angustissima var. curtissii (Small ex Rydb.) Isely
Xyris difformis var. curtissii (MalmeKral

Curtiss, A. H. (1881)  Chapmannia and Garberia.  Botanical Gazette 6(9):  257-259.
—– (1880)  Floridian algae.  Botanical Gazette 5(11):  138.
—– (1880)  Floridian ferns.  Botanical Gazette 5(11):  137.
—– (1880)  Notes from Florida.  Botanical Gazette 5(6):  65.
—– (1879)  The floating fern.  Botanical Gazette 4(11):  232-233.
—– (1879)  A visit to the Shell Islands of Florida.  Botanical Gazette 4(5):  154-158.
—– (1879 ) A visit to the Shell Islands of Florida.  Botanical Gazette 4(3):  132-137.
—– (1879)  A visit to the Shell Islands of Florida.  Botanical Gazette 4(2):  117-120.
—– (1878)  Mistletoe parasitic on itself.  Botanical Gazette 3(4):  36-37.
—– (1875)  A March Ramble.  Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 6(3):  22-24.  [a poem about botanizing]
—– (1873)  Catalogue of the phaenogamous and vascular cryptogamous plants of Canada and the Northeastern portion of the U.S., including Virginia and Kentucky on the south and Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota on the west.  Liberty, Virginia.  8 pages.
—– (1872)  Hints on herborizing.  The American Naturalist 6(5):  257-260.
—– (1870)  Variations of species.  The American Naturalist 4(6):  352-355.

1.  “Curtis, Allen Hiram”  Index of Botanists.  Harvard University Herbaria & Libraries.  accessed on 11 November 2021.
2.  Small, John K. 1920.  Of grottoes and ancient dunes:  A record of exploration in Florida in December 1918.  Journal of the New York Botanical Garden.  21(242): 25- 38  [page 36 of this work].
3.  Wikipedia contributors. “Allen Hiram Curtiss.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 Apr. 2021. Web. 11 Nov. 2021
4.  Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed 11 November 2021), memorial page for Allen Heirome Curtiss (2 Sep 1845–1 Sep 1907), Find a Grave Memorial ID 76765400, citing Evergreen Cemetery, Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida, USA ; Maintained by Chantel (contributor 46634073) .
5.  Last Wills and Testaments, 1856-1922; Author: Florida. County Judge’s Court (Duval County); Probate Place: Duval, Florida. Florida, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1827-1950 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015.  Original data:Florida County, District and Probate Courts.
6.  Donald Gunter and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. “Gaston G. Curtiss (1819–1872).” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 23 Sep. 2013. Web. 16 Mar. 2015. 
7.  Year: 1870; Census Place: Liberty, Bedford, Virginia; Roll: M593_1635; Page: 226A. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
Original data:1870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593, 1,761 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.Minnesota census schedules for 1870. NARA microfilm publication T132, 13 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.
8.  Wikipedia contributors. “Peaks of Otter.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 7 Jul. 2021. Web. 11 Nov. 2021.
9.  “About Bedford.”  Bedford Tourism and Welcome Center, 2007.  Web.  7 May 2012.
10.  Wynne, Michael J. (1996)  Phycological Trailblazer No. 9:  Floretta Allen Curtiss.  Phycological Society of America Newsletter 32(2).
11. New York, U.S., State Census, 1855 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013.
Original data:Census of the state of New York, for 1855. Microfilm. Various County Clerk Offices, New York.
12.   Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed 11 November 2021), memorial page for Allen Hiram Curtiss (1845–1907), Find a Grave Memorial ID 115999904, citing Hillside Memorial Cemetery and Park, Central Square, Oswego County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Diane LM (contributor 47306054) .
13.  Personal communication, Nancy Janda to McCormick, November 2021.