60-Second Science

Female Trailblazer Inspires New Species Name

Jeanne Baret disguised herself as a man to do botanical fieldwork in the 18th century. She has has been honored with a namesake species. Cynthia Graber reports

Jeanne Baret was passionate about science. So passionate that, in the 1760s, the Frenchwoman disguised herself as a man. She hid her true identity to accompany her lover, botanist Philibert Commerson, on the first French ship to sail around the world. At the time, women weren’t allowed on French navy vessels, and general sexism prevented them from working in science.

Commerson was sick for part of the trip, and so Baret accomplished much of the fieldwork on her own. Together the two collected more than 6000 specimens. More than 70 species have been named for Commerson. He intended to name a species after Baret, but he died before he could do so.

Then last year, University of Utah biologist Eric Tepe heard an interview with Baret biographer Glynis Ridley on NPR. The story inspired Tepe to name a species of vine from South America in her honor: Solanum baretiae. Its leaves are of variable shape, as were the leaves of the species Commerson had intended to name for Baret. S. baretiae’s flowers are violet, yellow or white. An exotic species for an unusual woman, who made a mark on science without leaving her name. Until now.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

[Also see Late Bloomer]


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