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Solanum baretiae

Solanum baretiae
Solanum baretiae
Solanum baretiae

Taisha is again the author, and she writes:

Today's photographs are of Solanum baretiae, a species named in 2012. These photographs are courtesy of Eric Tepe, one of the researchers who first described Solanum baretiae, along with Glynis Ridley, and Lynn Bohs. The first two images were made by Eric, while the photo of the mature fruit was made by Lynn. Thank you Eric for sending these along!

Solanum baretiae is endemic to the Amotape-Huancabamba zone of southern Ecuador and northern Peru. The species is found growing in the understorey of montane forests, as well as disturbed roadsides and pastures. Leaves of this trailing vine can range from simple to 7-pinnate. Corolla colour ranges from white to violet, with hints of yellow on occasion.

As today is International Women's Day, a day that "celebrates social, political and economic achievements of women while focusing world attention on areas requiring further action", I wanted to dedicate today's entry to a female botanist. I chose Jeanne Baret, who is the namesake for Solanum baretiae.

Jeanne Baret (1740-1807) was an accomplished botanist and unwitting French explorer who took considerable risks in order to do what she loved: botanize. While pursuing this passion, she became the first woman to circumnavigate the world. This would have been quite the feat, as women were prohibited from being on board a ship according to French naval regulations of the day. Disguising herself as a man, Jeanne joined the expedition on the ship, L'Étoile, under the command of Louis Antoine de Bougainville. Jeanne was hired as an assistant to the botanist Philibert Commerson, who also happened to be her lover. Commerson and Baret (although she was left uncredited) made over 6000 collections now incorporated into the French National Herbarium at the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle.

Over seventy species were named in honour of Commerson using the epithet commersonii. It is known that Commerson was frequently unwell, leaving Baret to collect specimens. However, it wasn't until Solanum baretiae was named that Baret was honoured in a similar way to Commerson. Given the importance of her work and achievements, Tepe, Ridley, and Bohs (and I'm sure many others would agree) felt she had made sufficient contribution to the field of botany to deserve having a species named after her (see: Tepe, Ridley, Bohs. 2012. A new species of Solanum named for Jeanne Baret, an overlooked contributor to the history of botany. PhytoKeys. 8:37-47).

Although this example of an inequality toward women is from the 18th century, discrimination in science still exists today. Despite ongoing improvements, female scientists continue to be confronted by career challenges such as unequal pay and funding disparities, fewer occupational opportunities, and persisting societal beliefs about science being a "male domain". Schools, universities, government, associations and other bodies are making efforts to encourage women in science and retain them once in the field, however it is an arduous task requiring not only time, but awareness, cooperation, and understanding from all individuals.


A very well composed tribute to Jeanne Baret and awareness piece on the role of women in science.

Is the fruit of S. baretiae edible?

Lovely pictures and write-up!

If I'm not much mistaken though, this is not the first plant to be named after her. Commerson himself dedicated a genus to Baret, Baretia. However, it was later renamed by botanists as Turraea (Meliaceae).

(and I've read doubts expressed over whether they were truly lovers or not. Makes sense, but I wouldn't state it as an incontrovertible fact...)

Thank you for your continued efforts. I do enjoy all the beautiful plants you share. I actually have a few that you have shared. This particular plant appeals to me, the fruit is similar to a Jerusalem cherry, although the foliage is different. Happy Spring to all plant lovers.

Well said, Taisha! Thank you for speaking up.

Thank you for this entry.

I did not know about Ms. Baret, so I doubly thank you for writing about her work. What a remarkable life!

poisonous or edible?

I have not had the opportunity to taste the fruits of this species since the ones I collected were still green. But, the orange fruits of other closely related species do not smell terribly palatable. I try fruits when they smell edible -and many wild Solanum species are delicious- but so far the somewhat 'chemical' aroma of these orange fruits has been enough of a turn-off to suppress my curiosity.

Thank you again, Taisha for this excelent write-up about a vine many of us will never see in nature. Nice touch honoring Ms. Baret, too!

Jeanne Baret (or Jean, as she was known on her most famous expedition) must have been the founder of the tradition of vigorous and intrepid female field biologists. They were not only fearless and inventive in the field, when they returned to Academia they often had to fight the men who dealt only with dried and bottled specimens and only reluctantly acknowledged the validity of their (or any) fieldwork. Alice Eastwood, Libbie Henrietta Hyman, Blanche Trask, Annie Alexander (the founder of U.C. Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology), Louise Kellogg... the list goes on and on.

Beverley Nichols has a vastly entertaining account of Baret's shipboard adventure with Admiral Bougainville and the chaste and saintly botanist Phillip Commerson, in "Merry Hall." Timber Press has re-published many, perhaps all, of Nichols' books that have to do with plants and gardening, and I find them well worth rereading though I've been doing so for many decades.

I'd never have thought of Baret -- what a great choice. I tend to forget that the 18th century woman wasn't all stays and stomachers! "Woman botanist" triggered thoughts of one of the most intrepid and interesting of the botanists of the 19th and 20th century --Alice Eastwood, a Canadian by birth. Many of the 17 (according to Wikipedia) species named for her are today rare and endangered, because she did much of her work in the idiosyncratic environment of the Inner Coast Ranges, east of the Carmel-Big Sur region. Impenetrable in her day, not so much less so today! Alice Eastwood started with the California Academy of Sciences in 1890 and was head of their department of botany soon after and until she retired at 90 in 1949 only 3 years before she died.

("Alice Eastwood's Wonderland," by Carol Green Wilson and first published by Cal Academy, is a fascinating read, and is still available at quite reasonable prices.)

Eastwood's predecessor as head of the Cal Academy herbarium was another woman, Katherine Brandegee. Eastwood had a wide acquaintance among biologists of both sexes and gained great respect among them. There were (female) giants in those days!

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