Botanist George Engelmann braved difficult nineteenth-century travel to describe the then little-known plants of the western United States and northern Mexico. Born in Germany, Engelmann earned his medical degree from the University of Wurzburg, although his dissertation––on the morphology of plants––had more to do with botany than medicine. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe read the dissertation and was impressed enough to offer Engelmann his collection of unpublished notes from his work The Metamorphosis of Plants.
Engelmann came to the U.S. as a land agent for his uncles in 1832, eventually settling in St. Louis and opening a medical practice there. In addition to cataloguing and describing many previously unknown plants, he made contributions to the understanding of parasitic plants and plant diseases. His work with Phylloxera led to resistant American grape rootstalks being grafted to European grape varieties, aiding the French wine industry during a major blight. He was also influential in the establishment of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Engelmann was a charter member of the National Academy of Sciences.