Scope of study

Ray travelled widely through Britain and Europe on scientific expeditions, and received information and specimens from others who travelled in Africa, the Americas and the Far East. But he also demonstrated that excellent work can be done in a small local area, or even in a garden.

Ray’s garden

Ray collected botanical samples and established them in the garden belonging to his tutor’s room at Cambridge:

“ a little spot of ground belonging to his chamber... it hath at least 700 plants in it.”

John Worthington wrote in 1660 about Ray:

“ He hath a little garden by his chamber which is as full of choice things as it can hold; that it were twenty times as big I could wish for his sake.”

After the 1662 Ejection, one of Ray's griefs must have been the loss of his botanic garden. In a later generation Sir Isaac Newton lived in the same lecturer's room that had been Ray’s room at Cambridge, and perhaps also had the use of what had been Ray’s garden.


In his spare time during the 1650s Ray catalogued local plants for his Cambridge Catalogue published in 1650, the first county flora.

“ My present purpose involved a measure of haste in order to revive the almost extinct study of botany ... There are larger prospects ahead. This little book may excite others to a similar survey of their own localities and so to a complete Phytologica Brittanica.”
Preface to the Cambridge Catalogue.

Ray returned to improve his own County Flora:

“ We have this year made a more narrow search into the countrey about Cambridge for plants, and have discovered in all about twenty-six that are not in our catalogue - some such as I had not seen before, nor are mentioned to grow wild in England ...”
Letter to Courthope, 26 Sept 1660, Further Correspondence p.18

Around the counties

Writing of a possible benefice in Kirby Lonsdale, Yorkshire:

“ One great motive to have induced me to take it was beacause of its vicinity to the Yorkshire Alpes, and especially Ingleborough Hill, which is not above sixe or seven miles thence distant. Indeed the whole country of Westmoreland, for variety of rare plants, exceeds that of any I have travailled in England; perhaps Carnarvonshire, in Wales, may vie with it.”
Further Correspondence p.22, Letter to Courthope, 14 Oct 1660

Exiled from Cambridge, Ray investigated his native Essex.

“ Since I returned hither I have made a ride as far as Kingston Wood in quest of plants. There I discovered, what I never saw before in its pride, growing wild, herba Paris, in many places, and not in Kingston Wood only, but also in Eversden Wood, in great plenty.”
Further Correspondence p.27, 28 April 1662

“ They tell of eagles about Tiptree heath, that come over in Summer time, & sometimes have bred thereabouts, ... near Totham ... I believe Eagles doe frequently come over into this island, & sometimes breed heer. I remember once there was a very great one shot in Bocking, a parish near us.”
Further Correspondence p.175-9, 24 Aug 1692

When others began to write Flora or their own counties, Ray corresponded over such matters as the differences in naming between counties.

“ thanks to Dr Plot and acquaint him that I have been long since assured by some Kentish Gentlemen, that their Horsebeech is no other than the Hornbeam tree or Carpinus. I also desire his judgement of the Sorbus mentioned in his Naturall History of Staffordshire, whether it be a tree specifically different from the Sorbus legitima s. sativa. ”
26 Sept 1689, Ray to Lister, Further Correspondence p.198

The Flora of Britain

In 1667 Ray produced a Catalogue of British Plants, which Charles Raven describes:

“ This was a complete flora of the British Isles which became the pocket companion of every botanist of this country for generations.”

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