Charles V. Piper was born in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1867. He grew up in Seattle, and attended the Territorial University of Washington until about 1892, although he had received his bachelor’s degree in 1885 at the age of 18.
Piper’s career as a botanist had two almost distinct, although overlapping, phases, first as a regional taxonomist in the Northwest and later as an agronomist with the United States Department of Agriculture at Washington, D.C. His activity as a student of Northwest flora began in the mid-1880s, associated with his mountaineering hobby and supported by the Young Naturalists, a Seattle scientific society. Piper joined the staff of the newly opened Washington Agricultural College and School of Science, now Washington State University, in late 1892, and spent the next decade at Pullman, except for one year while a fellow at the Gray Herbarium of Harvard University. At Pullman, he and his collaborator, R. Kent Beattie, composed the first reasonably complete and authoritative regional Flora, beginning with a survey of the Palouse area of Southeastern Washington and expanding into the 1906 Flora of Washington. The investigations Piper conducted at Pullman also served as the basis for two later publications, Flora of Southeast Washington and Adjacent Idaho (1941) and Flora of the Northwest Coast (1915).
Piper’s career as a USDA researcher began in 1903 and continued to his death in 1926. His primary work consisted of the location, domestication or development and introduction of grasses. His most notable success during these years involved his discovery of Sudan grass, a plant he found in Africa and introduced to North America as a forage plant.
As a plant scientist Piper often attempted to take positions which placed him simultaneously in several of the various schools of thought which characterized the bitterly divided field of botany of his day. Throughout his career he consistently emphasized attention to economic and agricultural plants, much to the criticism of the purists of the profession. He also attempted to combine various positions in the nomenclature dispute: while arguing for the necessity of historical research to establish the validity of original names, his Flora adhered to the names proposed by the International Rule school. He himself undertook a great deal of the historical research inspired by the American Rule school. He was greatly involved in the re-discovery of Meriwether Lewis’ lost herbarium and encouraged the publications of journals of earlier plant explorers of the Northwest, such as Archibald Menzies and David Douglas. On one occasion, Piper even traveled to England to make a copy of Douglas’ journal, which was not then available in the United States. Piper also took a mixed position of matters of "splitting" and "lumping." While criticized as a "splitter" and "too anxious for new species," he expressed opinions which tended to encourage "lumping."
Poor health began to restrict Piper’s activities in his early 50s and he died at Washington, D. C. in 1926.
Those of Charles V. Piper’s papers which are located at Washington State University consist primarily of correspondence and notes relative to taxonomic studies of Northwest flora, and to the history of Northwest botany. Piper’s letterbooks contain considerable correspondence relative to the identification of plants sent to Washington State University by the public.
Restrictions on Access :
This collection is open for research use.Preferred Citation :
[Item Description]. Cage 317, Charles Vancouver Piper Papers . Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.
Piper’s correspondence is arranged in a chronological sequence. His notes follow the subject files he established, with the exception of his typescript copy of the Journal of David Douglas, an item found among the papers of R. Kent Beattie and relocated with Piper’s papers. An index for this collection is available in Manuscripts Archives and Special Collections. Additional Botanical manuscripts in MASC may be found in the following collections:
Custodial History :
The papers of Charles V. Piper, 1867-1926, were received by the Washington State University Herbarium in 1926 along with his library and herbarium, donated by Maude Hungate Piper, Stanley Piper and R. Kent Beattie. Transcripts of correspondence located in other archives and repositories were added from time to time.Acquisition Information :
The materials in this collection of botanical documents were transferred to the Washington State University Library in 1975 from the university’s Ownbey Herbarium.Bibliography :
Biographical treatments in Piper appear in Albert S. Hitchcock, Charles Vancouver Piper, 1867-1926, Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 57 (1928) 275-276 and Irwin F. Lange, Pioneer Botanists of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon Historical Quarterly, 57 (1957) 120-124.
Another segment of Piper’s papers is located in Office File of C. V. Piper, 1903-1924, Series 71, Records of Division of Forage Crops and Disease, Bureau of Plant Industry Records, Record Group 54, National Archives, Washington, D. C.
Additional Botanical manuscripts in MASC may be found in the following collections:
Cage 318 Beattie, Rolla Kent Papers, 1899-1956
Cage 53 Botanical papers, 1881-1973
Cage 316 Cusick, William Conklin Papers, 1906-1924
Cage 319 St. John, Harold Papers, 1912-1957
Cage 315 Suksdorf, Wilhelm Nicolaus Papers, 1867-1935
Detailed Description of the Collection
The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.
This collection is indexed under the following headings in the online catalog. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.