Pioneering Female Botanist Honored Centuries After Her Death

An 18th century botanist and explorer who lived as a man just for the opportunity to make discoveries has finally been honored centuries after her death. Jeanne Baret, a woman who disguised herself as a man to ship off with the first French naval expedition, may be the first woman to have circumnavigated the globe in 1766. During the three year voyage, accompanying longtime male companion and renowned botanist Philibert Commerson, Baret likely discovered several new plants, like the bougainvillea plant.
By: Michelle Garcia
January 06 2012 4:18 PM

An 18th century botanist and explorer who lived as a man just for the opportunity to make discoveries has finally been honored centuries after her death, according to Live Science.

Jeanne Baret, a woman who disguised herself as a man to ship off with the first French naval expedition, may be the first woman to have circumnavigated the globe in 1766. During the three year voyage, accompanying longtime male companion and renowned botanist Philibert Commerson, Baret likely discovered several new plants, like the bougainvillea plant, named after expedition leader Louis Antoine de Bougainville, and her namesake, the Baretia, which eventually lost its original name.

After two years Bougainville became suspicious and questioned her gender. Baret said she was a eunich, but according to the author Glynis Ridley, who wrote The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe, Baret was eventually revealed to be a woman. Members of the ship may have also raped her upon learning that she was female. After Commerson died during the expedition, Baret was left with nothing, so she married a marine and returned to France, where she died in obscurity in 1807.

Fast forward to 2010: university botanist Eric Tepe discovered a hybrid relative of the tomato and potato, but he needed a name for the fruit. While listening to an NPR interview with Ridley, Tepe decided to name the plant the Solanum baretiae in honor of Baret.

"I have always admired explorers, especially botanical explorers," he said according to Live Science. "We know many of their names, and they all have endured hardships in pursuit of interesting plants, but few have sacrificed so much and endured so much as Baret."

The Discovery of Jeanne Baret is available on Amazon. 

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