Cyrus Pringle - A Great American Plant Hunter

Nicholas Pringle

Whilst browsing the Twitter timeline, I noticed a plant with a Latin name, Cobaea pringlei. I know plants are often named after the plant hunter that first recorded them, or sometimes after a person the plant hunter is honouring, so I was interested to find out who this Pringle was. The family name was first recorded by King Edward 1, on the Ragman Tax Rolls of 1264 (originally - de Hoppryngil ), and is thought to have some Norse origin. In the following centuries, they along with the likes of the Armstrongs, Kerrs, Scotts, Douglases etc lived in the constantly turbulent and violent English / Scottish border and were involved in all the Border Wars, such as the Battle of Flodden. As time passed the border became peaceful, the fortified family tower was sold to Sir Walter Scott's family, and the heads of the family built large country homes, without the need for fortifications. After the union of the crowns, some Pringles, like others from the area, began to move to cities and the New World. The first Pringle recorded in America, was William Pringle, living in New Haven, Connecticut in 1653, who was born in Stow, Scottish borders in 1631. Born in nearby Vermont, some generations later, it's very likely Cyrus was a direct descendant of him.

Cyrus Pringle at work.


* The son of a farmer, he attended Vermont University, in 1859, but had to leave in the first year, after his elder brother died, and he had to help his widowed mother run the family farm.He planted new orchards etc and became interested in cross breeding potatoes. His first success was, known as 'Snowflake', and another 'Ruby', in 1870, won an award from the Royal Horticultural Society, in the UK.

* Cyrus Pringle was from a Scottish Presbyterian background, but had became a Quaker. In 1863, during the American Civil War he refused to fight, or for anyone in his family to pay the $300 to get him out of having to serve, as he believed that the money would be used to train other conscripts. He, along with two other Vermont Quakers were imprisoned, they even refused to serve in hospitals. They were then sent to the front and made to carry guns, but still refused. At one point he was tightly bound, stretched & staked to the ground in a x shape for hours as a punishment. Eventually, when they were in poor health, President Lincoln, (who had a respect and sympathy for Quakers) personally ordered they be allowed to return home.

* Throughout the 1870's he embarked on a number of plant hunting trips throughout the states of New England, which culminated in a display of new plants he had discovered, at the World Fair, in Paris, in 1878.

* In the 1880's, working for the Smithsonian Institution, he carried out a botanical survey in Arizona and then Mexico.

* In total Cyrus Pringle discovered about 1,200 new plant species during his plant hunting career, and has six plants named after him. This puts him in the top 5 most prolific plant discoverers in the World.

* Cobaea Pringlei, is the plant on Twitter that introduced me to Cyrus Pringle.It is native to Mexico, but can be grown in the UK, as a perennial climbing plant. It has white, trumpet flowers that bloom in September, until frosts, and grow 5 to 7 metres in height.

* He discovered a pine native to South Mexico, Pinus Pringlei, more commonly known as Pringle's Pine. It grows in the Sierra Madre del Sur and parts of the 'Eje Volcánico Transversal' at an elevation of between 1,500 and 2,600 metres.

* He died in 1911, aged 73.

* Cypringlea is a new Genus of Sedges from Mexico, that were named in his honour, in 2003.

* The Plant Biology Department at the University of Vermont, is named after him and is known as The Pringle Herbarium

* Pachycereus pringlei is a huge cactus he discovered in North West Mexico.

Cobaea pringlei / Credit: peganum

Cyrus in remote Arizona, 1888, during a plant hunting exploration. The photo is a self portrait. Notice the blur in the right, from his hand which is a chord attached to the camera.

Pachycereus pringlei, Credit: Stephen Marlett