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3.2.1: Scientist Spotlight - Ynes Enriquetta Julietta Mexia

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    Ynes Enriquetta Julietta Mexia \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    When retracing the history of ecology, it is easy to come to a full-stop at Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. His theory of evolution by natural selection shook the scientific community to its core, and observations used to synthesize this theory were collected on a five-year voyage around the world. However, Darwin was not the only one to achieve an expedition of such grandiose scale.

    Motivated by a newfound interest in science, Ynes Enriquetta Mexia enrolled in classes at UC Berkeley in 1921. She was 51 years old at the time. By the age of 55, she was engaged in a series of botanical expeditions in remote Alaska and in South/Central America. Alongside a Stanford University botanist, Mexia collected 500 plant specimens on her first trip to Mexico. She went on to collect about 145,000 specimens over the next 13 years, 500 of which were new species. Charles Darwin collected a mere 500 specimens on his famed five-year voyage. In addition to the sheer number of Mexia’s samples, she was a natural scientist whose research contributed immensely to the modern classification of plants in North America. Her “discoveries helped to clarify and complete botanical records.”


    Figure 1: Ynes Mexia.  Source:

    Despite her impressive fieldwork, Mexia never received recognition comparable to that of her male counterparts. However, of the 500 plant species she discovered, 50 were named after her, as well as the entire genus Mexianthus.

    This photo shows a Mexianthus mexicanus specimen from the Smithsonian Institution, collected by Ynes E. J. Mexia.

    A Mexianthus mexicanus specimen collected by Ynes E. J. Mexia. This photo, from the Smithsonian Institution, is in the Public Domain.


    Spotlight inspiration from the Scientist Spotlights Initiative

    Elias, Sarah. Ynes Enriquetta Julietta Mexia. <>. Accessed September 21, 2021.

    Smithsonian Institution. Mexianthus mexicanus B.L. Rob. <>. Accessed September 21, 2021.

    3.2.1: Scientist Spotlight - Ynes Enriquetta Julietta Mexia is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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