Nathaniel Lord Britton (January 15, 1859 – June 25, 1934) was an American botanist and taxonomist who co-founded the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, New York.
Britton was born in New Dorp in Staten Island, New York to Jasper Alexander Hamilton Britton and Harriet Lord Turner. His parents wanted him to study religion, but he was attracted to nature study at an early age.
He was a graduate of the Columbia University School of Mines and afterwards taught geology and botany at Columbia University. He joined the Torrey Botanical Club soon after graduation and was a member his entire life. He married Elizabeth Gertrude Knight, a bryologist, on August 27, 1885. They had met when she joined the club and were lifelong collaborators in botanical research.
New York Botanical Garden
During their honeymoon in 1888, they visited Kew Gardens, which led to his wife proposing a botanical garden for New York at a Torrey Club meeting. Together, they campaigned to bring about the NYBG. Britton left Columbia in 1895 to become the first director of the New York Botanical Garden, a position he held until 1929. He was on the first Board of Managers for the institution, along with Andrew Carnegie, J. Pierpont Morgan, and Cornelius Vanderbilt II. He engendered substantial financial support for the botanical garden by naming plants after wealthy contributors.
Much of his field work was done in the Caribbean, where he visited frequently when the winter weather in New York City became too severe. His contributions to the study of Caribbean flora are undisputed.
He wrote Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada, and the British Possessions (1896) with Addison Brown, and The Cactaceae with Joseph Nelson Rose.
Britton is also remembered as one of the signatories of the American Code of Botanical Nomenclature that proposed such radical changes to the rules governing nomenclature that a compromise was not reached (and some or the principal American provisions adopted) until nearly 30 years later.
Death and legacy
He died at his home in the Bronx, after suffering a stroke 9 weeks earlier.
The house he lived and worked in, the Britton Cottage, is preserved at Historic Richmond Town on Staten Island.
The standard author abbreviation Britton is used to indicate this individual as the author when citing a botanical name.