A Celebration of Historical Women in Horticulture

By Shannon Moreau 

March is a month of many celebrations. The vernal equinox ushers in spring, daylight savings time meaning longer days in the sun (both celebrated and cursed depending on who you ask), Saint Patrick’s Day(March 17th, and of course Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day (March 8th). In celebration of this month and wonderful day, here are the achievements of a few historical women in the horticultural world and a glimpse into their lives and their accomplishments.

Mary Ann Heacock (1915 – 2011)

A passionate part time botanist, Heacock’s exquisite collections and enthusiasm inspired many others.  She was well known for her native gardens packed with a wide array of hardy cacti and other xeric plants. Mary Ann Heacock was a founding member of the Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society and thanks to her we have the Prairie Jewel Penstemon and even get to enjoy her prized dwarf ponderosa (Pinus ponderosa ‘Mary Ann Heacock’) which is still grown to this day by local plantsman Kirk Fieseler. 

Gladys Tantaquidgeon (1899 – 2005)

Gladys Tantaquidgeon

Starting early in life, Tantaquidgeon first began studying Mohegan plant medicine with her village elders. She went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania and earned her degree in anthropology, but she didn’t stop there. Tantaquidgeon researched and documented other medicines used by neighboring tribes. Her books are important records of the medical uses and techniques of indigenous peoples on the East Coast. 

Hazel Schmoll (1890 – 1990)

Rocky Mountain Columbine

Growing up in the mountains of Colorado, Schmoll fell in love with wildflowers early on in her life. After earning her bachelor’s degree and then doctorate degree at the University of Chicago in Ecological Botany, Schmoll returned to Colorado and served as Colorado’s State botanist from 1919 – 1935, surveying the wildflowers and plants found in the state. During that time she pioneered the protection of our state flower, the Rocky Mountain Columbine. It is through her efforts that the general assembly passed the law that protects our state flower. 

Ethel Granger McDowell Early Clark (1899 – 1976)

Truly a cornerstone of her community and an ardent gardener, Clark was the president of multiple gardening clubs and became  first president of the Negro Garden Clubs of Virgina in 1933. This club was a hub for Black gardeners to come together to grow together to improve their green spaces and share their gardening knowledge with one another. The club’s work included revitalizing roadways, forgotten lots, and bringing beauty to segregated communities. By 1942 the club had grown from 7 chapters to 65 in 1942. She would continue bringing people together through gardening throughout her life.

Barbara McClintok (1902 – 1992)

Barbara McClintock

Barbara Mcclintock attended Cornell University and earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree, where she was first introduced to the field of genetics. She would go on to specialize in the field of cytogenetics, which is the study of chromosomes and their genetic expression and focused on the genetic mutations in maize (corn). Her research was so groundbreaking that many of her colleagues frankly, didn’t believe her work could be true. It took several decades before the rest of the field would catch up to her theories. Fortunately she was not slowed by her naysayers, and her discoveries are vital not just to the agricultural world, but to the field of genetics as a whole. 

Fort Collins Nursery Staff

While these five women are certainly notable for their accomplishments, they represent only the tip of the iceberg! There are many women making history right now in horticulture and botany, and in many other facets of the green industry as a whole. That is of course not limited to those with formal education, as we’ve seen with both examples made by Ethel Earley Clark and Mary Ann Heacock. Countless women who are passionate gardeners and environmentalists leave their mark in history and on their communities. I urge you to spend some time this March to explore the works of these women and to learn more about the other pioneers who paved – or rather, planted – the way for us all now. 


-”Women who changed science.” https://www.nobelprize.org/womenwhochangedscience/stories/barbara-mcclintock 

–  Meg Bieser. “Eight Women to Know in Horticulture Accessed (2.23.2024).

History.”https://gardens.si.edu/learn/blog/eight-women-to-know/ 8.25.2021. Accessed (2.23.2024).

– “Our History” https://coloradocactus.org/about/history.html. Accessed (2.26.2024).

– “Prairie Jewel Penstemon.” https://plantselect.org/plant/penstemon-grandiflorus-p010s/ Accessed (2.26.2024).

“Gladys Tataquidgeon.” https://www.mohegan.nsn.us/about/our-tribal-history/in-memoriam/gladys-tantaquidgeon Accessed (2.26.2024).

-Meredith Henne Baker, “Ethel Granger McDowell Earley Clark (1899–1976),” Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2022 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Clark_Ethel_Earley, accessed (2.26.2024).

– “Hazel Schmoll.” https://www.cogreatwomen.org/project/hazel-schmoll/. Accessed (2.24.2024.

– Irene Shonle. “A great Colorado botanist most of us have never heard of”

 https://csuhort.blogspot.com/2015/05/a-great-colorado-botanist-most-of-us.html?m=1 (accessed 2.24.2024)

-“Hazel Schmoll Bio” https://web.archive.org/web/20151222023059/http://boulderhistory.org/reveal/bios/schmoll.html (accessed 2.26.2024)

Originally published on February 29th, 2024.