Per Axel Rydberg Records (RG4)

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Collectors: Rydberg, Per Axel, 1860-1931.
Title: Per Axel Rydberg Records (RG4)
Dates: 1896-1929
Quantity: .8 linear feet; 2 boxes
Call Phrase: Rydberg (RG4)

Biography of Per Axel Rydberg

P. A. (Per Axel) Rydberg (1860-1931) was the first curator of the NYBG Herbarium. A plant taxonomist whose specialty was the flora of the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains areas. He began working for the NYBG in the summer of 1897 as a member of the first NYBG field expedition and joined the permanent staff in 1899 when they were first organized. In the course of his career, he was to publish over 7000 pages of research making him one of the most productive scientists at the NYBG.

Per Axel Rydberg was born in Sweden and emigrated to America in 1882. He first worked in the iron mines of Michigan where he hoped to become a mining engineer but he suffered a serious accident which left him with a lifelong limp and forced him to turn to intellectual pursuits.

From 1884-90, he taught mathematics at the Luther Academy in Wahoo, Nebraska while he studied at the University of Nebraska. He received his BS in 1891 and the strong influence of his botany professor, Charles Edwin Bessey, helped to determine his lifelong devotion to plant studies.

Soon after he graduated, he received a commission from the USDA to undertake a botanical exploration of western Nebraska. He received another in 1892 to explore the Black Hills of South Dakota and in 1893 he was in the Sand Hills of western Nebraska. During this time he continued to teach at the Luther Academy.

In 1895, he received his MA from the University of Nebraska and the university published his monograph on Rosales, one of only three parts published of a projected 25 part series on the flora of Nebraska. That summer, he was collecting once again for the USDA in Montana with Cornelius Lott Shear. When autumn arrived, he moved to New York to pursue a PhD degree at Columbia University under the guidance of Nathaniel Lord Britton. During this time he was also teaching natural sciences and mathematics at the Upsala Institute (later Upsala College) in Brooklyn and Kenilworth, New Jersey. During the summer of 1897, he was sent to collect in Montana and the Yellowstone Park region with Ernst Athearn Bessey, son of his mentor Charles Edwin Bessey. The two were part of the first field program expedition of the NYBG.

Dr. Rydberg received his PhD in 1898 and during that summer was employed once again by the NYBG to process the collections obtained from the Montana and Yellowstone park expedition. Early in 1899, the NYBG organized its first permanent staff and he became one of the nine original members. His title was initially Assistant Curator and this was changed in 1908 to Curator of the Herbarium. He would hold that title until his death in 1931.

In 1900 Dr. Rydberg conducted field work in southeast Colorado with King Vreeland. In 1901 he visited Kew Gardens in England and made a return trip to Sweden as well. 1905 saw him collecting in Utah with visits to the University of Wyoming, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In 1911 he undertook an exploration of southeast Utah with Albert Osbun Garrett and in 1925, the Allegheny Mountains with John Tuttle Perry. A trip in 1926 took him to Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and the Dakotas. His final field expedition was in 1929 to Kansas and Minnesota but was cut short due to illness and only included work in Kansas.

Dr. Rydberg was elected to membership in the Torrey Botanical Club in 1896. In 1900 he joined the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was elected a fellow the following year. Also that year, he was chosen as an Associate of the Botanical Society of America. In 1907 he became a member of the American Geographical Society and the Ecological Society of America.

Scope and Content

The family of Dr. Rydberg destroyed most of his personal papers at the time of his death. The little that remain consists of miscellaneous correspondance and research notes along with the manuscript proofs for several papers and publications including his dissertation, a Monograph of the North American Potentilleae, and the first edition of one of his most well-known works, Flora of the Rocky Mountains.

Also included in this collection are a group of research materials related to the publication of a bio-bibliography of Dr. Rydberg written by Arnold Tiehm. This appeared under the name Per Axel Rydberg: a biography, bibliography and list of his taxa. It was published in 1990 as volume 58 of the series Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden. Dr. Rydberg’s field notebooks have been removed to the Collectors’ Field Notebooks Series.


The collection is organized into seven series:
Series 1: Correspondence. 1896-1929. Arranged by date.
Series 2: Research and field notes. n.d.
Series 3: Publication proofs and illustrations. Arranged chronologically
Series 4: Bio-bibliography materials. Unsorted.


Access restrictions

This collection is open for research with permission from Mertz Library staff.


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be submitted in writing to the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden.

Indexing Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
Eaton, Mary E.
Emil, F.
Grimes, Earl J. (Earl Jerome), b. 1893--Herbarium.
Nelson, Aven, 1859-1952.
Rydberg, Per Axel, 1860-1931--Archives.
Rydberg, Per Axel, 1860-1931. Flora of the Rocky Mountains and adjacent plains Manuscripts.
Plants--Rocky Mountains.
Potentilla--North America.

Related Material

New York Botanical Garden

CFN-- Collectors' Field Notebooks

ART-- Rydberg illustrations by F. Emil

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Per Axel Rydberg Records (RG4), Archives, The New York Botanical Garden.

Acquisition Information

This collection was transferred to the Archives of the New York Botanical Garden.

Processing Information

Oriinally processed by Stephen Sinon, Assistant Archivist, March 1999. Converted to EAD in June 2006 by Kathleene Konkle under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH-PA 50678-04).

Container List


Series 1. Correspondence.

Scope and Content:

One folder in this series deals mostly with plant nomenclature and specimen exchanges. Also included is a copy of Dr. Rydberg’s wedding invitation. The second folder consists of correspondence between Dr. Rydberg and Aven Nelson between the years 1896 and 1923. These are copies of papers which are part of the archives of the University of Wyoming American Heritage Center and are included herein as part of the research materials for Arnold Tiehm’s bio-bibliography of Dr. Rydberg. The third folder, also part of the Tiehm research material, are field reports dated 1891-1892 from the Smithsonian Institution archives.

Folder Title Date
1.1 Official correspondence 1898-1929
1.2 Correspondence with Aven Nelson 1896-1923
1.3 Personal correspondence 1891-1892

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Series 2. Research and Field Notes.

Scope and Content:

Including several abstracts, notes on the Grimes numbers of Rubus, Plants Desired for the Belle Fourche Experiment Farm, illustration lists for Abram’s Illustrated Flora, list of Montana grasses, lists of new plant names.

The field notebooks of Dr. Rydberg have been removed to the Field Collectors Notebook Series. They are five in number. Number 13 (Montana 1896), Number 14 (Utah and New Jersey 1905-1908), Number 15 (Allegheny Mountains 1925), Number 16 (Kansas 1929) and Number 115 (Western states n.p., n.d.)

Folder Title Date
1.4 Research and field notes ca. 1896-1929

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Series 3. Publication proofs and illustrations.

Scope and Content:

Dr. Rydberg’s PhD thesis and its accompanying illustrations which he himself drew along with F. Emil, a professional artist, are included herein. One of Dr. Rydberg’s works, Flora of the Rocky Mountains, went through two editions in his lifetime but was never illustrated. This collection contains the manuscript for the first edition of this work (1918). Also included is an apparently unpublished manuscript called Vicia, concerning this genus and notes and sketches concerning a publication called A Preliminary Revision of the Genus Lathyrus in North and Central America by T. G. White, as well as a copy of this work annotated by Dr. Rydberg.

Materials related to Dr. Rydberg’s publications can also be found in the Botanical Art & Illustration Collection of the NYBG special collections. The illustrations for his dissertation were drawn by himself and a professional artist named F. Emil. It is not possible at this time to distinguish the difference between the two as Dr. Rydberg did not sign his work. Each of the illustrations bears the stamp 'Examined for Flora of North America'. Also in the collection are drawings by Mary Eaton for other Rydberg publications.

Box Title Date
1 Vicia, (unpublished manuscript ?) n.d.
1 The Section Tuberarium of the genus Solanum in Mexico and Central America 1924
1 Preliminary revision of the genus Lathyrus in North and Central America 1894
1 Monograph of the North American Potentilleae, illustration proofs 1898
1 Illustrations of Quercus and Zygadenenus and Rubus 1901/1903
2 Monograph of the North American Potentilleae proofs 1898
2 Illustration proofs for Monograph (second set), 1898
2 Flora of the Rocky Mountains; edition proofs 1917

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Series 4. Bio-bibliography materials

Scope and Content:

This folder consists of research material for the bio-bibliography of Dr. Rydberg written by Arnold Tiehm and published by NYBG in 1990. Included are personal replies to requests for information on Dr. Rydberg, obituaries,xeroxes of correspondence, articles and photographs concerning Dr. Rydberg and a few of the author’s research notes as well. Much of the material concerns Rydberg types.

Box Title Date
1 Correspondence with Aven Nelson 1896-1923
1 Research notes, xeroxes and replies ca. 1990

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