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June 27, 2006



Fascinating stuff!


There is really no substitute for looking at a clean resolution image, Jenn and I regret I haven't access to a larger one in digital form to share. Mr. Troiani's site at www.historicalartprints.com has a slightly larger image of the painting in question, "Retreat by Recoil". By my count there are several barberry plants in the image, with the largest in the lower right corner. If you can get a copy of Troiani's Book, Don Troiani's Civil War (Stackpole Books: 1995), the image in question is on page 119.

I believe, but am not quite as certain, that Troiani may also have included a Japanese barberry bush in another of his paintings, this one from Antietam and entitled "Until Sundown". The shrub in question is just below the outswept arm of Confederate Colonel John Gordon, depicted conversing with Lee at the famous Sunken Road. The same critique of Berberis thungbergii at Gettysburg would apply to Antietam, as well as my rationale for ruling out both B. vulgaris and B. canadensis as the form of barberry depicted.

To his great credit, Don Troiani makes an effort to depict the actual seasonal flora found at the sites that are subjects of his paintings. I have carefully reviewed the work of his only other rival to the title of premier artist/historian of the Civil War, Keith Rocco, and while finding no barberry have also found the flora in Mt. Rocco's paintings generally to be rendered in less detail than Troiani's.


Excellent! But I want to see it for myself - the link on the image just goes to a same-size version. Is there a bigger web version you can point us to?


Excellent questions. The authority I used for the introduction of Berberis thungbergii is the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England IPANE, which at http://invasives.uconn.edu/ipane/ under barberry relates the following:

"Berberis thunbergii was first introduced to the United States (and New England) as an ornamental in 1875, via seeds sent from Russia to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. In 1896 it was planted at the New York Botanic Garden. Berberis thunbergii was later promoted as a substitute for Berberis vulgaris, which was planted by early settlers from Europe for hedgerows, dye and jam. Berberis thunbergii was not a host for the black stem grain rust, whereas Berberis vulgaris was. In the northeast, it appears that Berberis thunbergii did not become naturalized until about 1910 when it became more popularly planted at people's vacation homes. In Nantucket and Isle au Haut it was recognized as a garden escape before 1910. At Isle au Haut, it was reported to have "escaped from the village." There were also early sightings in New Hampshire near Mount Monadnock in 1913 by Manning, who mentioned that he was "constantly seeing seedlings some distance from the original plants."

I served on the Massachusetts Invasive Plant Advisory Group with IPANE researcher Leslie Mehrhoff and the Arnold Arboretum's Dr. Peter del Tredici, both of whom confirm the 1875 horticultural introduction at the Arnold.

Berberis canadensis, or Allegheny barberry, was at the extreme northern edge of its historic coniguous range in south central PA but is today considered endangered and has been completely extirpated from both PA and MD. It may well have occurred at Gettysburg in 1863 and was used medicinally, but would not have been growing at the site when Troiani visited the site. Japanese barberry, however, was rampant until the Park Service started control measures. I must conclude that unless Don Troiani is as extraordinary an historian of botany as he is of the Civil War, he probably did not deliberately paint the rare and extirpated Allegany barberry where Japanese barberry was clearly growing at the site in modern times.

Viewing the picture in clearer, unpixelated form also reveals that Troiani has taken pains to paint the common summer wildflowers of Pennsylvania's old fields in Retreat by Recoil. There is certainly common mullein in the lower foreground. Check out the painting in Don Troiani's Civil War for a clearer look.

Thanks for your very interesting comments.

Sissy Willis

Wonderful post, but here's a question for you. According to the plantsman's bible, Michael A. Dirr's Manual of Landscape Woody Plants, Berberis vulgaris was introduced -- from Korea -- into the US in 1905.

It's hard to tell from the above image, but could the plant in the painting be our own native Berberis canadensis, American Barberry?

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