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Nature's Beloved Son:

Rediscovering John Muir's Botanical Legacy

by Bonnie J. Gisel with images by Stephen J. Joseph

Foreword by David Rains Wallace
Heyday Books, November, 2008

Hardbound, ISBN: 978-1-59714-106-2, $45.00
286 pages (9 x 12), with over 150 images

From the Foreword:

“What is more basic to the living world than plants? When I first read Muir over three decades ago, it was his evocations of trees and wildflowers that most excited me…. This book brings the excitement back.”
—David Rains Wallace, author of Neptune’s Ark: From Ichthyosaurs to Orcas

John Muir's inordinate fondness for plants...

As a young boy growing up in Wisconsin, John Muir faithfully recorded in his journal that the pasque-flower was a "hopeful multitude of large, hairy, silky buds about as thick as one's thumb," and that the lady's slipper orchid in nearby meadows "caught the eye of all the European settlers and made them gaze and wonder like children."

Muir was blessed early on with a love and aptitude for botany, a field of study that helped him become one of the most influential environmentalists in the world. One realizes, in reading Nature's Beloved Son, how much Muir's successes as an adventurer, writer, and environmental advocate were driven by his belief in "nature's irresistible, divine beauty." Surprisingly, little has been written about John Muir the botanist.

Environmental historian Bonnie J. Gisel takes us through Muir's evolving relationship with the natural world, touching on his childhood in Scotland and Wisconsin, his sojourn in Canada, his thousand-mile walk from Louisville, Kentucky, to the Gulf of Mexico, his ecstatic travels in California's Sierra Nevada, and his thrilling exploration of Alaska. Photographer Stephen J. Joseph's breathtaking prints of Muir's botanical specimens d related correspondence are artfully presented in this book and provide the backdrop for the story of Muir's great passion for the natural world.

Honey Locust Chain FernRoseGoldenrod

Polypod Calla Muir Flower

Nature's Beloved Son: Rediscovering John Muir's Botanical Legacy

Traveling Exhibit

Some highlights from this exquisite book are now a traveling exhibit traveling around the United States for the next year or two. The exhibit will allow you to view large scale vivid images of the plants that preservationist John Muir held in his hands, carried in his pockets, and preserved for all time, along with other items from Muir's life, and a wonderful tribute video documentary available only at these traveling exhibit locations.

Museums may contact the company Exhibit Envoy who organizes this traveling exhibit as well as many others in art, history and culture, and natural history.


Exhibit Locations

John Muir’s Birthplace and Dunbar Town House Museum & Gallery

Saturday, 28 June 2014 to Tuesday, 30 September 2014

This exhibition celebrates the fascinating structures, patterns and anatomies of the plant world through the eyes and words of John Muir. High-resolution images of Muir’s very own plant specimens, drawings and journal notes are presented with both living and preserved real plant specimens. It includes hands-on activities for visitors and details of local John Muir Award projects. Spanning both venues, this is a unique opportunity to see Muir’s American botanical collection displayed for the first time in Dunbar, the town that inspired his later life.
The exhibition is delivered in partnership with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and is a traveling exhibition from Exhibit Envoy curated by Bonnie J. Gisel and photography by Stephen J. Joseph.


Riverside Metropolitan Museum

Riverside Metropolitan Museum
3580 Mission Inn Avenue
Riverside, CA 92501

Exhibit Open December 2, 2012 - January 19, 2014

"John Muir and the Personal Experience of Nature” exhibit at the Riverside Metropolitan Museum focused on Muir's contributions as a scientist — mainly as a botanist — but also examines nature’s role in individuals’ lives and the history of the United States, reminding visitors that nature is everywhere.

The exhibition is comprised of the traveling exhibition, “Nature’s Beloved Son: Rediscovering John Muir’s Botanical Legacy” by Exhibit Envoy; objects and specimens from Riverside Metropolitan’s collection and Smithsonian’s National Herbarium; and images and resources from the Holt-Atherton Special Collections (University of the Pacific); the Local History collection of the Riverside Public Library; the UC Riverside Department of Biology; and California Museum of Photography

A video of the exhibit is available on You Tube from one of the exhibit's visitors.

Atlanta History Center

McElreath Hall,
Atlanta History Center
Atlanta, Georgia
October 1, 2011 – December 4, 2011

Pacific Hotel Gallery

1650 Senter Road
San José, CA 95112
April 28 through September 25, 2011
Tuesday - Sunday - 11 am - 5 pm

Bedford Gallery

This first of the traveling exhibits was open January 8, 2011 through March 27, 2011 at Bedford Gallery, Walnut Creek, California.

Nature's Beloved Son Rediscovering John Muir's Botanical Legacy at Bedford Gallery


Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park

  • In 2020, the hotel rooms in the main building of the Ahwahnee were remodeled and decorated with reproductions of John Muir's botanical finds that photographer Stephen Joseph included in this book.

Preview online:

About the Author and Photographer:

Bonnie J. Gisel is an environmental historian and the curator at the Sierra Club's Le Conte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite National Park. She is the editor of Kindred and Related Spirits: The Letters of John Muir and Jeanne C. Carr (University of Utah Press, 2001) and Nature Journaling with John Muir (Poetic Matrix Press, 2006) and she has lectured extensively and published articles on John Muir as well as issues of environmental literacy.

Stephen J. Joseph has been a photographer for more than forty years. His work has been exhibited at the Oakland Museum, the San Francisco Legion of Honor, the Ansel Adams Gallery, and elsewhere, and he has been the Centennial Photographer for the Muir Woods National Monument and an artist in residence for Yosemite's LeConte Memorial Lodge.

Source: Heyday Books Fall & Winter 2008 Catalog.

For more information, see:

John Muir's Botany - defunct website by Stephen J. Joseph

Rediscovering John Muir's Botanical Legacy - Scientific American Slideshow (October 28, 2008)

"Cry for Joy Photo Essay "in Audubon Magazine by Stephen Joseph (November-December, 2008)

Nature's Beloved Son - Author & Photographer Interviews by Robert A. Schaefer, Jr. in

"Book Captures Muir's Passion for Botany "by Tom Sellars in Sacramento Bee (December 11, 2008)

John Muir's botanical pursuits brought to life:
Nature's Beloved Son' examines the conservationist's fascination with plants and features stunning images of the specimens he collected by Bettijane Levine Los Angeles Times (February 28, 2009)

John Muir's Botanical Travels - Radio Interview of Bonnie Gisel and Dean Taylor by Tom Ashbrok, On Point Radio (Boston NPR affiliate wbur.og)

Bonnie Gisel Interview on Sierra Club Radio (mp3) (October 17, 2009) ) (15 MB)

"The Naturalist: Pleasant Hill Photographer Stephen Joseph uses cutting edge technology to restore Muir's work," Diablo Magazine January 2011 (off-site link)

Exhibition of images from the book opens January 9, 2011 through March 27, 2011 at Bedford Gallery, Walnut Creek, California.

Seeds of Change: The John Muir Exhibit At the Ontario Museum Offers Us a Way Forward by Char Miller (1-8-14) (defunct off-site link)

Preview online:



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