Joseph Nelson Rose, botanist, was born on a farm near Liberty, Indiana, on January 11, 1862. In 1881 he entered Wabash College, graduating with an A.B. in 1885. Rose stayed on at Wabash College as its first postgraduate student, receiving his A.M. in 1887 and his Ph.D. in 1889. During his last two years he acted as an assistant in botany under John M. Coulter, who was to have an influence on his later career.
Rose was appointed as an assistant botanist in the United States Department of Agriculture under George Vasey, working in the United States National Herbarium (USNH), in August 1888. (For a history of the USNH and George Vasey, see the description for the Hunt Institute collection 105.)
When the USNH was moved back to the Smithsonian in 1896, Rose transferred to the United States National Museum as an assistant curator, Division of Plants. In 1905 he was made associate curator.
Though Frederick Vernon Coville was honorary curator, USNH and the Division of Plants, in the United States National Museum (while at the same time chief botanist of the Plant Industry, USDA), it appears that Rose was directly in charge of the National Herbarium. Outgoing letterpress correspondence within these records contains copies of the USNH report for the Smithsonian Annual Report being transmitted by Coville through Rose and Rose's report on the Division of Plants for the Annual Report being sent to Coville. At times, Rose signed outgoing correspondence over the title, acting curator. Coville remained Rose's supervisor, however, with correspondence regarding Rose's collecting activities being transmitted between Smithsonian administrative officers and Coville.
In 1912, Rose transferred from the United States National Museum (USNM) to the Carnegie Institution of Washington as a research associate in order to prepare a monograph with Nathaniel Lord Britton on Cactaceae of the world. This work was jointly supported by the Carnegie Institution, the New York Botanical Garden, and the USDA. Rose was relieved of his administrative duties with the Smithsonian. Nonetheless, he retained an office in the Smithsonian and was allowed the use of Smithsonian franking privileges for all correspondence regarding his project, while retaining the title of custodian of "Cactaceae, Crassulaceae, and Miscellaneous Mexican Collections" in the National Herbarium.
Rose officially returned to the Smithsonian as associate curator, Division of Plants, in 1917, retaining that position until his death on May 4, 1928.
Rose's collecting activities and botanical studies began with the flora, fungi, and pine of Indiana and the Umbelliferae of North America. He was assigned the Mexican collections gathered by Edward Palmer while assistant botanist at the USDA. This led to 20 years of study of the flora of Mexico and numerous publications, including his "Studies of Mexican and Central America Plants," published in Contributions from the United States National Herbarium (1897-1911). His important study on Cactaceae of the world with Nathaniel Lord Britton resulted in the publication of four volumes titled The Cactaceae (1919-1923). Overall, Rose published almost 200 articles and monographs by himself and in collaboration with other botanists. Besides his own collecting explorations, Rose was instrumental in bringing to the Smithsonian one of its most important gifts, the large private herbarium and botanical library belonging to John Donnell Smith of Baltimore.
In reward for his botanical investigations and publications, Rose received an LL.D. from Wabash College in 1925. His remarks made during the ceremonies are included in this collection.