USDA Drug and Poisonous Plant Investigations Photograph Collection

Drug, condiment, and essential oil plants trial garden. Beltsville, Maryland, 1942.

Introduction

The USDA Drug and Poisonous Plant Investigations Photograph Collection consists mainly of
black-and-white and colored glass lantern slides produced between 1902 and 1943. There
are also a few glass and film negatives with corresponding black-and-white photographic
prints. The collection is believed to have originated with the Division of Drug and
Poisonous Plant Investigations (later called the Division of Drug and Related Plants) of
the USDA’s Bureau of Plant Industry.

The collection occupies 5 linear feet of shelf space and is housed in 11 boxes. The
materials are in fair to poor condition. There are no restrictions on the use of these
materials for research; however, users must take care when handling the glass slides and
negatives, some of which are damaged.

Sara Lee and Stephanie Ritchie arranged, inventoried, and partially described the
materials in 2004. Diane Wunsch completed arranging and describing the collection in
2018.

Historical Sketch

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI)
consolidated its medical and poisonous plant research in 1905 under the Division of Drug
and Poisonous Plant Investigations. Dr. Rodney H. True, a plant physiologist who worked
on drug and medicinal plant research, headed the new division.

One of the division’s goals was to promote the commercial production of medicinal plants
in the United States so the country could rely less on imported materials. Scientists
cultivated belladonna, digitalis, stramonium, hyoscyamus, aconite, arnica, licorice, and
opium poppy, among other plants. The division established small field plots in various
U.S. geographic areas to study the influence of climate and latitude on plant growth and
on the production of the plants’ active substances. Researchers also investigated the
properties and geographic distribution of toxic plants.

By 1922, the BPI reorganized the unit and renamed it the Office of Drug, Poisonous, and
Oil Plant Investigations. Its research scope expanded to include the commercial
production of oil-seed and volatile-oil producing plants, along with methods for
converting waste products from the canning and fruit-packing industries into oils and
other products.

The unit went through several more organizational changes, eventually becoming the
Division of Drug and Related Plants in 1931. It was consolidated with the tobacco
research division of the Bureau of Plant Industry, Soils, and Agricultural Engineering
in 1945.

Scope and Content Note

The USDA Drug and Poisonous Plant Investigations Photograph Collection consists mainly of
black-and-white and colored lantern slides. There are also a few glass and film
negatives and black-and-white photographs. The images in this collection depict gardens,
plants, and research activities conducted by the Drug and Poisonous Plant Investigations
division of the Bureau of Plant Industry, and the division’s successor agencies. The
collection spans the years 1902 to 1943.

The collection is arranged into three thematic series of images: drug gardens, poisonous
plant investigations, and botanic gardens. Most of the plants shown in these images are
identified by their scientific names, although some are labeled with their common names.
Researchers should search for plant images under both scientific and common names for
best results.

Series Description

Series I: Drug Garden Images. 1902-1943. 4 boxes.

This series contains lantern slides, negatives, and photographs of medicinal plant
gardens at various institutions across the United States. Other subjects include field
plots of drug plants at the USDA’s South Farm in Beltsville, Maryland; specimens of
plants used for medicines and essential oils; distribution charts of plant species; and
a few paintings of drug plants.

Series II: Poisonous Plant Investigation Images. 1907-1925. 5 boxes.

The lantern slides in Series II depict poisonous plant research, mainly showing the
effects of plant toxins on livestock. Most of these slides show livestock that have
ingested toxic plants. Many of the slides are labeled with the scientific name of the
subject plant, the animal type, the animal number, and the date and time of the
photograph. Sequences of images follow the course of a particular animal’s reaction to a
plant toxin. A few of the slides show poisonous plants in their native habitats. Some
slides have charts, tables, maps, and figures related to poisonous plant research.

Series III: Botanic Garden Images. 1910-1922. 2 boxes.

This series contains lantern slides depicting various botanic gardens. The images include
plans and photographs of plants and landscape features at botanic gardens in the United
States and other countries.

Contents Description

Series I: Drug Garden Images. 1902-1943. 4 boxes.
Box Title/Description
1 Photographs and negatives. Images of plants used for medicines and essential oils. Views of drug gardens in various locations within the United States. Arranged by negative number.
2 Glass lantern slides. Plants shown include:

Actinea odorata, Althea, Artemisia cina, Belladonna, Camphor, Cannabis indica, Capsicum annuum, Cascara sagrada, Chenopodium anthelminticum, Delphinium glaucum, Henbane, Humulus lupulus, Lallemantia, Lupinus albus, Japanese peppermint, Marjoram, Mentha citrate, Nolina, Papaver somniferum, Peppermint, Prunus laurocerassus, Pycnathemum, Sumac, Sweet basil, Tephrosia virginiana, and Wormwood. Other images include drug and botanic gardens, plant cultivation, and drug manufacture.
3 Glass lantern slides. Plants shown include:

Actinea odorata, Asclepias cordifolia, Asclepias subulata, Astragalus diphysus, Astragalus mollissimus, Astragalus tetrapterus, Cannabis, Conium maculatum, Digitalis, Humulus lupulus, Kalmia angustifolia, Kalmia latifolia, Oxytropis lamberti, Papaver somniferum, Phellandrium aquaticum, Prunus laurocerasus, Rhus copallinum,. Other images include various drug and botanic gardens, herb harvesting, and images of the BPI’s Orlando, Florida field station.
4 Glass lantern slides. Plants shown include:

Aconitum columbianum, Aesculus carnea, Aesculus hippocastanum, Amanita muscaria, Amanita pantherina, Amygdalus communis, Asclepias albicans, Asclepias eriocarpa, Asclepias galioides, Asclepias mexicana, Asclepias pumila, Asclepias speciosa, Asclepias verticillata, Asclepias vestita, Asclepiodora decumbens, Astragalus argillophilus, Astragalus bigelovii, Astragalus diphysus, Astragalus earlei, Astragalus mollissimus, Astragalus pattersoni, Astragalus tetrapterus, Chrosperma muscaetoxicana, Daubentonia longifolia, Delphinium menziesii, Delphinium penardi, Gut. Diversifolia, Heracleum lanatum, Hymenoxys floribunda, Hymenoxys ligut[?], Isocoma wrightii, Lupinus sericeus, Melanthium virginicum, Menziesia ferruginea, Menziesia glabella, Nerium oleander, Nicotiana attenuata, Nicotiana trigonophylla, Nothoscordum bivalve, Oenanthe crocata, Oxytropis lamberti, Senecio integerrimus, Senecio longilobus, Triglochin maritima, Xanthium echinatum, Xylorrhiza parreyi. Also contains images of New Harmony cliffs, Salina Experiment Station, and unidentified subjects.
Series II: Poisonous Plant Investigation Images. 1907-1925. 5 boxes.
Box Title/Description
5 Lantern slides. Subjects include effects of plant toxins on livestock:

Actinea – sheep; Asclepias – sheep, cattle, horses; Astragalus – cattle; Chrosperma – sheep; Daubentonia – sheep; Delphinium – cattle, horses; Eupatorium – cattle; Hymenoxys – sheep; Isocoma – sheep, cattle; Karwiniskia – sheep, cattle; Loco – cattle; Lupine – sheep; Prunus – sheep; Senecio – cattle; Zygadenus – horses. There are several unidentified subjects.
6 Lantern slides. Subjects include effects of plant toxins on livestock:

Actinea – sheep; Agrostemma – poultry; Asclepias – sheep, cattle, horses; Astragalus diphysus (plant); Chrosperma – sheep; Cicuta – cattle; Delphinium – cattle; Eupatorium – sheep, cattle; Isocoma – cattle; Karwiniskia – sheep, cattle, poultry; Loco – cattle; Menziesia – sheep; Nicotiana – cattle; Prunus – sheep; Senecio – cattle, horses.
7 Lantern slides. Subjects include effects of plant toxins on livestock:

Asclepias – sheep, cattle; Aplopappus – cattle; Cannabis – dog; Delphinium – cattle; Eupatorium – sheep; Isocoma – cattle; Loco – sheep; Lupine – sheep; Menziesia – sheep; Nicotiana – cattle, sheep; Prunus – sheep; Senecio – horses.
8 Lantern slides. Graphs, maps, data tables, publications, and presentation slides related to poisonous plant research.
9 Lantern slides. Graphs, maps, data tables, publications, and presentation slides related to poisonous plant research. There are also a few miscellaneous sheep images and unidentified subjects.
Series III: Botanic Garden Images. 1910-1922. 2 boxes.
Box Title/Description
10 Lantern slides. Plans, features, and plant specimens of botanic gardens in the United States and other countries.
11 Lantern slides. Plans, features, and plant specimens of botanic gardens in the United States and other countries.

Selected Bibliography

Sources Used for Finding Aid

Powell, Fred Wilbur. The Bureau of Plant Industry: Its History,
Activities and Organization.
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1927.

United States Department of Agriculture. Annual Reports of the Department
of Agriculture
. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1902.

United States Department of Agriculture. Annual Reports of the Department
of Agriculture
. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1903.

United States Department of Agriculture. Annual Reports of the Department
of Agriculture
. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1905.