Ynes Mexía is remembered as much for her prolific collection of rare plant specimens as her frequent risk of life and limb for her efforts to advance science.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Google dedicated its Doodle on Sunday to the Mexican-American botanist. It was on this date in 1925 that Mexía embarked on her first botanical expedition, traveling to Mexico with a group from Stanford University to collect rare botanical species. But the 55-year-old Mexía soon decided she could accomplish more on her own and abandoned the group to travel the country for two years.
During this expedition, Mexía fell off a cliff and suffered a broken hand, bringing her trip to an end, but not before she collected more than 1,500 specimens – 50 of which were previously undiscovered.
Mexía was born in 1870 in Washington, DC, where her father was serving as a Mexican diplomat. She contemplated becoming a nun, but she became a social worker in San Francisco, where she had moved in 1908. Her love of botany began to bloom at the age of 51, when she began undergraduate botany studies at UC Berkeley and joined the Sierra Club.
Mexía made many expeditions during the next 12 years, frequently traveling alone on her collection travels, something very uncommon for the time. Her expeditions to destinations such as Alaska, southern Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Peru yielded 150,000 samples, including one new genus and many new species.
During a South America expedition in 1929, Mexía traveled about 3,000 miles up the Amazon River in a canoe to its source in the Andes. During an expedition to Mexico in 1938, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, which would take her life that July at the age of 68.
Although Mexía never completed her degree, she became a celebrated botanist, lecturing frequently in the Bay Area and publishing accounts of her adventures in a variety of environmental periodicals. During her short career as a botanist, Mexía collected 150,000 specimens, including at least two new genera — Mexianthus Robinson and Spulula Mains — and about 500 new species, 50 of which are named after her.