Specimen Spotlight - What does it mean to be green?

February 16, 2022
Specimen Spotlight - What does it mean to be green?

If I say that a leaf is “green”, do I mean green like an evergreen, or like an avocado, or maybe a lime? How do we accurately describe colors so that others can know the shade? This was an especially difficult question prior to the widespread use of photography. But even in today’s digital environment, the display on different screens is not always the same.

Robert Ridgway (1850-1929) was a distinguished ornithologist who was the first full-time curator of birds at the United States National Museum. A talented scientific illustrator, his drawings of birds were well known for their accurate coloration. In an effort to standardize the naming of colors, Ridgway published a small book of colors, A Nomenclature of Colors for Naturalists in 1886. He greatly expanded on the work in 1912 with the self-published Color Standards and Color Nomenclature. 1,115 colors are included, each carefully reproduced to ensure consistency and prevent fading.

Although intended for ornithologists, the 1912 book became a standard in many other fields, including mycology. The Botany Libraries contains 5 copies of this work, representing the importance of this work to botanists such as Asa Gray, Oakes Ames, William Farlow, and Charles Sprague Sargent. So here’s to Apple Green, Elm Green, Hellebore Green and all the other wonderful colors of plants.

Reference: Robert Ridgway, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Robert_Ridgway&oldid=1032671292 (last visited Nov. 9, 2021).

Plate XVII from Ridge, R. (1912). Color standards and color nomenclature.
Plate XVII from Ridgway, R. (1912). Color standards and color nomenclature. The author.


This month's spotlight was contributed by Diane Rielinger, Digitial Projects Librarian, Botany Libraries.