24 March 2010

Ada Lovelace Day Post: Nancy Adams, Botanist and Botanical Artist

Today, Wednesday 24 March, is Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging (videologging, podcasting, comic drawing etc.!) to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science.

Ada Lovelace, for those who don't know her, was the world's first computer programmer (true) and one half of a celebrated pair of crime-fighting superhero mathematicians (true in a less truthful way).

Ada Lovelace Day began in a celebration of women in technology, but has now broadened out to include female scientists as well. I'm glad it has, because this has allowed me to blog about a woman in science whose contribution has helped and inspired many New Zealanders in her chosen field - scientist and non-scientist alike.

Her name is Nancy Adams, she lived from 1926-2007 (see her obituary), and she was a botanist and botanical artist. As this excellent article about Nancy Adams in the Listener discusses, her magnum opus was her 1994 Seaweeds of New Zealand: An Illustrated Guide.

When I was studying Botany at Otago University in the late 1970s, though, I was mainly interested in New Zealand land plants. So I encountered Nancy Adams as the co-author and illustrator of (A.L.) Poole and Adams' Trees and Shrubs of New Zealand.

Previous books of this type may have had scientifically valuable illustrations, but they were completely unusable to identify plants in the wild. The great advantage of Trees and Shrubs of New Zealand was that the colour illustrations were perfect for actually identifying plants. Generations of botanists, amateur and professional, headed out into the back country (or into their gardens) with Poole & Adams.

I didn't end up with a Botany degree, but the highlight of the whole course for me was the plant identification that Nancy Adams made possible for me. It was not until later that I learned of the full range of her achievements. I'm pleased to draw attention to her life and work on Ada Lovelace Day.

1 comment:

Kay McKenzie Cooke. said...

Thanks for the info here Tim. Must pass it on to others I know interested in NZ botany. Wonderful tribute - Ada certainly deserves some limelight. (Love that word, 'lime light' ...) :)