When University of Utah botanist Eric Tepe heard the broadcast, he agreed. Now, a relative of the potato that Tepe recently identified—Solanum baretiae—is named after Baret. It’s the first species to bear her name.
In December 1766, Baret was a French botanist who disguised herself as a man to join Louis Antoine de Bougainville’s journey around the world. As the lover and assistant to the well-known French botanist Philibert Commerson, she helped classify hundreds of plant species during the voyage in locations like Rio de Janeiro, the Strait of Magellan, Tahiti, Mauritius and Madagascar. According to his journals, Commerson planned to name several species for Baret but died before the work was completed.
“I don’t think she ever expected recognition in her own lifetime, just because women who were involved in science were thought of, at best, as something of an oddity, and, at worst, they were thought of as an abomination,” Ridley said.
The newly identified Solanum baretiae is a vine endemic to the Amotape-Huancabamba zone of southern Ecuador and northern Peru and grows in the understory of montane forests and disturbed roadside and pasture vegetation. Its flower petals have been seen in shades of violet, yellow or white. The leaves of the vine are highly variable in shape, as are the leaves of the species that Commerson originally intended to name after Baret.
Ridley said it’s a fitting tribute to a botanist uniting seemingly contradictory qualities: a woman dressed as a man, a female botanist in a male-dominated field, and a working class woman who travelled farther than most aristocrats of her time.
Although it’s impossible to know, Ridley added, Baret would probably be pleased to serve as scientific inspiration so many years later.
“I would say she would be very happy having something named after her. And the fact that it’s a plant that has some similarities to the plants that Commerson wanted to name after her is particularly cool.”