Thomas Coulter, (1793-1843) was a native of Dundalk in County Louth, who introduced a considerable number of cacti to science and to cultivation in the early 1820s.
Although he is known for the introduction of Romneya Coulteri (The California Tree Poppy) and Pinus Coulteri (The Big Cone Pine), his significance as a collector of cacti has been generally neglected in these islands. This oversight was initially addressed when a list of his introductions, based on the research of Dr Charles Nelson was published as a monograph in Bradleya 15 (1997).
During the course of his career, Coulter travelled extensively in Mexico and Alta California working as a mining engineer and physician. It was while stationed at Zimapan near Guanajuato that he conducted his most important explorations, naming such important cacti as Echinocereus Pentalophus which was subsequently illustrated in Curtis' Botanical Magazine in 1838.
In February 1828 Thoms shipped an assortment of living cacti to Professor Ausustin-Pyramus de Candolle in Geneva, Switzerland. and also shipped to Trinity College, Dublin but are alas, no longer with us. De Candoll had just completed a review of cactaceae. He decided that there were 47 new species and 16 new varieties in Thomas Coulter's collection distinct from the cacti already in his review. In his recorded descriptions of these in the postscript to his paper, De Candolle observed that the collection increased by almost one half the number of cacti known to European botanists. One of the cacti, Cereus coulteri, was named in Thomas' honour. The list of specimens was used as a guide in forming a collection that is housed by the Coulter Glasshouse Project at the Louth County Museum in Dundalk.
The Coulter Glasshouse project is a co-operative venture between the Dublin and District Cactus and Succulent Society (DDCSS), The Northern Ireland Branch of The British Cactus and Succulent Society, Ducas -The National Heritage Council of Ireland, which has provided a grant to defray its cost, and the Louth County Museum, Dundalk. It enjoys the wholehearted support of the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin and of Dr. Nelson. The glasshouse was installed in December 1999, and the initial planting was complete and the installation of descriptive panels detailing Coulter's life and travels by the end of May 2000. The environmental requirements of the cacti are displayed on other panels designed and provided by the DDCSS.
The National Botanic Gardens have donate a Pinus Coulteri, Romneya Coulteri and Dipsacus (teasels) of which Coulter was an expert and they are planted in open beds in the courtyard surrounding the greenhouse. As the tree will not produce cones for a considerable number of years, a specially commissioned sculpture of a 'big cone' is situated in the Museum. The County Museum has mounted a permanent display of artifacts and mementoes associated with the life of Thomas Coulter including a lifemask and his christening spoon.
The greenhouse is accessible at all times though locked to the public and is attracting the interest of both enthusiasts and general public during the summertime and it is very nice to talk to the courious when attending to the plants which our committee members do at weekends as it is 50 miles from Dublin and we do not, as yet, have a Society member in Dundalk.
The first ever convention of Zone 17 of the British Cactus and Succulent Society brought together at least seventy enthusiasts to the museum in September, 2000 to hear speakers from Britain (Rodney Syms and the late Keith Grantham) and Ireland on various aspects of cultivation. This was the first of many symposia to be attracted to the venue.
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California's Frontier Naturalists By Richard G. Beidleman