Director’s Series at the Arnold Arboretum

Tulip Tree (Lirodendron tulipfera) American native tulip tree on the front lawn of the Hunnewell Building at the Arnold Arboretum

A Darwinian Look at Darwin’s Evolutionist Ancestors

Last night I had the pleasure of hearing Ned Friedman, the new Director at the Arnold Arboretum, speak about the early history of evolutuonary thought. Well-spoken, passionate, and comprehensive in his presentaion, Friedman answers the question “Is Darwin truly deserving of his place in history?” Although approximately fifty naturalists, horticulturalists, arborists, theologians, philosophers, poets, and medical practitoners had advanced evolutionary concepts for the diversification of life, it was Darwin who wrote about and developed the concept most exhaustively and comprehensively (most notably, On the Origins of Species, 1859) and conclusively, and it was Darwin who convinced the rest of the scientific world. Interestingly, we learn that Charles Darwin’s grandfather, the physician and naturalist Erasmus Darwin (a great friend of our forefather Benjamin Franklin– are you listening tea party creationists?) most certainly planted the seed and devolped the foundation for his grandson’s theories on evolution, through his own writing Zoonomia (or the Laws of Organic Life, 1794).

Erasmus Darwin writes “Would it be too bold to imagine, that in the great length of time, since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, would it be too bold to imagine, that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions, and associations; and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!”

It is not easy leaving my cozy home on a frigid New England evenning. I usually have to depart a full two to two and half hours prior to any event in the city when it is scheduled anywhere near rush hour. This makes for a very long evening, however, I find all the progams that the Arnold Arboretum has to offer entirely worth my while and last night’s presentaion was no exception. I am very much looking forward to the upcoming lecture topic Restoring Hawaii’s Marvels of Evolution, presented by Robert Robichaux, scheduled for Monday, February 7 at 6:30.

All programs in the Directors Lecture series are free but you must register ahead of time online or call 617.384.5277.

Tulip tree (Lirodendron tulipfera). Lirodendron is a genus of only two species of trees in the Magnoliaceae; both are known under the common name tulip tree. Lirodendron tulipfera is native to eastern North America, while Lirodendron chinese is native to China and Vietnam.

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