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From First Studies of Plant Life

Atkinson's books

Atkinson had strong feelings about education, perhaps because he approached his own education purposefully, later in life than others.

His books aimed to open the sciences of botany and mycology to all learners, from children entranced with pumpkin seedlings, to college-educated adults.

His book on mushrooms aimed to both demystify and help with identification. Like his other books, it is copiously illustrated with his own photographs. A few color plates by F.R. Rathbun highlight some handsome Russulas and other mushrooms.




1. The Biology of Ferns, 1894.
2. Elementary Botany, 1898.
3. First Studies of Plant Life, 1901.
4. Lessons in Botany, 1901.
5. Studies of American Fungi: Mushrooms, Edible, Poisonous, etc. 1904.
6. A College Textbook of Botany, 1905.
7. Botany for High Schools, 1910.





In Atkinson's book, First Studies of Plant Life, Atkinson's own photos and line drawings by his long time collaborator Frank R. Rathbun provide copious illustrations. Unlike other texts of the day, Atkinson wrote this book in a way designed to engage young readers. He included inquiries and experiments for adolescent readers to do: on seedling growth; on the effects of turgor pressure and transpiration; on how to observe starch in plants; and what kind of gas is produced by leaves in sunlight. In one of his chapters on the Life Stories of Plants, Atkinson begins, "Mushrooms, too, have a story to tell." Reading this passage gave me a wonderfully warm feeling, as the same thought is behind of one of my own teaching efforts, a century later: the Cornell Mushroom Blog.

"In this book the plant stands before the child as a living being with needs like his own."
–excerpt from Anna Botsford Comstock's Introduction.