John Torrey and Torrey’s Rush
Those of you that follow the PGA tour may recall that Tiger Woods recently won the Farmers Insurance Open, held at the Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, California. The Torrey Pines Golf Course is named after the rare Torrey pines that grow wild only along the coastline in San Diego County and Santa Rosa Island.
When I heard about the golf tournament I couldn’t help but think about John Torrey, the botanist after whom the Torrey pine is named. Although most North Dakotans may not be familiar with Torrey pine, no doubt a few among us, particularly those that took a plant taxonomy class in college, have seen Torrey’s name listed as the authority on a species in a plant manual.
Torrey was born in 1796 in New York. He learned botany and chemistry at an early age, but went on pursue a career in medicine. After running his own medical practice he became a professor of chemistry, mineralogy, and botany as well as Assistant Surgeon at West Point.
He then went on to become the New York state botanist and eventually took a similar position at Princeton College. He was a highly respected and influential botanist, known for his study of the plants of the Great Plains and western Rocky Mountains. On a more personal level, Torrey must have been quite the gentleman, being described as genial and generous.
John Torrey was the authority on several plants native to our state including inland saltgrass, plains muhly (a grass), sand dropseed (a grass), anise root, and river bulrush. A 14,000 foot peak in Colorado bears his name, as does a genus of evergreens, and of course the Torrey pine.
But whenever I hear or see a reference to Torrey, my thoughts turn, not to the pine, peak, or golf course, but to a small bulrush that can be found throughout our region in wet meadows and similar habitats: Juncus torreyi, or Torrey’s rush. It is a small, seemingly insignificant rush, often growing to between one and two feet tall with distinctive spherical flower clusters or seedheads about a half inch in diameter. I am not quite sure why, it may be because the plant is named for Torrey, but for some reason the plant seems to catch my attention.
Here are pictures of Torrey’s rush.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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