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Special Exhibits

Dr. Tolmie, The Naturalist
April 12 to July 20, 2014
Its common name is the Piggyback Plant, but its scientific name is Tolmiea menziesii.  It was named for William Tolmie, the on-site manager of Hudson’s Bay Company operations at Fort Nisqually from 1843 until 1859. A new exhibit at Fort Nisqually reveals the exploits of a younger Tolmie as he collected plants and animals of the Pacific Northwest.

Tolmie’s mentor, botanist William Hooker, named the Piggyback Plant (also known as Youth-on-age or Pig-on-a-back) after his then 20-something student.

“Hooker hoped that Tolmie would make great discoveries in the Pacific Northwest,” said Exhibit Curator Chris Erlich. Perhaps Hooker hoped Tolmie would collect as much as one of his other former students, David Douglas, who collected more 200 new specimens, including the Douglas Fir which is named in his honor.

Tolmie’s first botanizing expedition in the Northwest was history making. In 1833, he became the first European to enter into what is today Mount Rainier National Park. Images of several of the original specimens he collected on that adventure are included in the exhibit. Also on display are modern specimens of plants that were named in Tolmie’s honor, as he was the first to successfully collect them.  

Through the 1830s, Tolmie developed a collecting network for both plants and small animals (some of his original bird specimens are in the collection of the Smithsonian). In the early 1840s, Tolmie determined that the best course for his future was to put his full attention and energies into the Hudson’s Bay Company, and he left his naturalist exploits in his past.