Happy Book Birthday to Forgotten Botanist!

Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Book Birthday to The Forgotten Botanist: Sara Plummer Lemmon’s Life of Science and Art (Bison Books, 2021) by Wynne Brown.

About the Book:

The Forgotten Botanist is the account of an extraordinary woman who, in 1870, was driven by ill health to leave the East Coast for a new life in the West—alone. At thirty-three, Sara Plummer relocated to Santa Barbara, where she taught herself botany and established the town’s first library. Ten years later she married botanist John Gill Lemmon, and together the two discovered hundreds of new plant species, many of them illustrated by Sara, an accomplished artist. Although she became an acknowledged botanical expert and lecturer, Sara’s considerable contributions to scientific knowledge were credited merely as “J.G. Lemmon & wife.”

The Forgotten Botanist chronicles Sara’s remarkable life, in which she and JG found new plant species in Arizona, California, Oregon, and Mexico and traveled throughout the Southwest with such friends as John Muir and Clara Barton. Sara also found time to work as a journalist and as an activist in women’s suffrage and forest conservation.

The Forgotten Botanist is a timeless tale about a woman who discovered who she was by leaving everything behind. Her inspiring story is one of resilience, determination, and courage—and is as relevant to our nation today as it was in her own time.

A Word from the Author:

What a year it’s been – twelve months deeply suffused with the essence of Sara Lemmon.

Some of my favorite moments:

            ~ discovering the email from the 80-something man who’d read Scientific American’s review of The Forgotten Botanist while remembering me as a rambunctious 8-year-old doing cartwheels down my grandmother’s lawn, and who then reached out to me – after 62 years!

            ~ being invited to the northern California ranch established by JG Lemmon’s brother in the 1850s and hearing the stories from descendants of other Sierra Valley ranchers,

            ~ rambling through the pine-scented woods surrounding Webber Lake woods where Sara illustrated the Mountain Hemlock and where she and JG camped with Clara Barton and Julian Hubbell,

            ~ sitting in the dirt outside a miner’s tunnel in Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains, reading aloud from JG’s account of the eleven days he and Sara hid from the Apaches – in that very tunnel,

            ~ contemplating the golden rolling hills of Cholame, California, while savoring the “Sara-dipity” of meeting the Jack Ranch foreman who showed us the exact site where the Lemmons homesteaded,

            ~ reverently handling Sara’s watercolors at the University of California & Jepson Herbaria Archives in Berkeley while helping re-house each of them in archival-quality folders – work funded by donations that might not have happened without my book.

Most of all, the success of The Forgotten Botanist reminds me daily of the power of storytelling and of all creative work. So many people exclaim to me, so often, how in awe they are of Sara’s resilience and determination and of the exquisite beauty of her illustrations – and how grateful they are to me for shining a light on her neglected story.

Even though that reaction validates my conviction that Sara’s story needed to be told, I’m still surprised: first printing sold out in six months, seven awards, gratifying reviews – and (compared to my other books at least) a large royalty check!

This year the book has also elicited 50+ speaking invitations. I’ve always been a highly private person, but The Forgotten Botanist has taught me to grow into a public performer. I’ve learned (to my surprise!) that I can present Sara’s life and work in a powerful, visual, creative way that captures both her story and the audience.

I like to think Sara would be pleased.


2022 WILLA Literary Award Winner in Creative Nonfiction

2022 Spur Award Winner, Best Western Biography

2022 Top Pick in Southwest Books of the Year

2022 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards Finalist in History–Anthology

New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards Finalist in Cover Design

2022 Arizona Authors Association Best Published Nonfiction

Honorable Mention in the At-Large NFPW Communications Contest


“I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to understand the contribution of women to the field of botany, but also to anyone who wants to read a fascinating and memorable tale of life as a botanist in the 19th century.” –Plant Science Bulletin

“Every once in awhile, a book comes along that, even though it is non-fiction, is so well written that it reads like a novel.” –Nebraska Library Commission

“In this attentive and richly researched portrait, writer Wynne Brown honors not just Plummer Lemmon’s many accomplishments but her verve and courage.” –Scientific American

“Reproductions of Lemmon’s artwork allow readers to experience the fruit of her painstaking efforts and her talent firsthand, and Brown is so successful in facilitating engagement with a forgotten figure that many will be deeply saddened by Lemmon’s last years…” –Publisher’s Weekly

“This is a splendid biography of the namesake of Tucson’s favorite getaway. It recounts young Sara Plummer leaving the East in 1870; learning botany, marrying botanist John Gill Lemmon; and traveling around the West discovering hundreds of new plant species.” –Arizona Daily Star

“…A biography that should be on the shelf of any serious Arizona historian or botany enthusiast.” –Journal of Arizona History

“An engaging, enlightening read with wonderful illustrations.” -Western Writers of America’s RoundUp Magazine

“Wynne Brown spent seven years researching and writing this book, and her dedication to share Sara’s story shines through every page of her beautifully written book.” –Plant Press Arizona

“… A well-written, informative and fascinating biography that opens a window upon life in the American West of the late 19th century and the botanical world of that time … a wonderful read for botanical artists.” –The Botanical Artist

The Forgotten Botanist: Sara Plummer Lemmon’s Life of Science & Art, by Tuscon author Wynne Brown, richly details Plummer Lemmon’s life of pluck and inquisitiveness that led to grand, sometimes harrowing, adventures and discoveries.” –Desert Leaf


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