Jacob Schneck (1843-1906)
physician, botanist, writer

Jacob Schneck was born December 11, 1843 near New Harmony, and in 1890 he published a seventeen-page booklet entitled Notes on Early New Harmony. This work predates the often quoted book by Lockwood (1905). On the subjects it covers, it is probably more accurate than most accounts written during the first half of the 20th century. It is further significant because of the closeness with which Dr. Schneck worked with Richard Owen, right up to the day before Dr. Owen died.

Having left the family farm when his father, John F. Schneck, died in 1857, young Schneck enlisted in 1861 as a private in Company E, 16th Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry. He was taken prisoner at the battle of Jackson soon after the fall of Vicksburg. He was paroled and was later in naval service until 1865, when he returned to his home in New Harmony.

He then enrolled in an academy at Owensville, Indiana and prepared to become a teacher. In 1867 he taught school in Olney, Illinois, but then turned toward the study of medicine. This course he pursued as financial conditions allowed from 1868 until graduation in 1871 from the Chicago Medical College. With the M.D. degree now in hand, he opened his practice in Mt. Carmel, Illinois, where he resided for the rest of his life.

Dr. Schneck was intensely interested in plants and spent many hours in the field. He noted that certain red oaks have a distinctive acorn and so informed the botanist Nathaniel Lord Britton, who gave the name Quercus Schneckii, commonly known as Schneck Oak. Subsequently, the renowned botanist Charles Sprague Sargent, Director of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, determined the present-day full name for the Schneck Oak as

Quercus shumardii var. schneckii (Britton) Sargent

Another Hoosier botanist for whom an oak is named is the author of

Charles C. Deam, Trees of Indiana, Fort Wayne Printing Co., 1921.

On page 297, the tallest Schneck Oak, probably the type specimen, is listed as having a height of 181 feet. By comparison, the tallest Schneck Oak listed in the 1995 Indiana Big Tree Register, published by The Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry, was only 107 feet tall. This state champion, situated in the same county as New Harmony, was some 38 feet shorter than tallest tree listed in the 1995 Register (a hickory), which was yet another 36 feet shorter than the Schneck Oak recorded by Deam.

Thus, the "original" Schneck Oak, noted by Dr. Schneck and listed by Deam, was taller than any tree now standing in the state of Indiana.

Modern taxonomists are not in agreement on the validity of schneckii as a distinct variety of Quercus shumardii. (For example, the list of Illinois Big Tree Champions (1998) recognizes only Quercus shumardii.) However, in Flora of North America (Oxford University Press, v. 3, 1997, p. 465), a distinction is made as follows:

Trees with shallow cups covering ca. one-fourth of the nut are treated as Quercus shumardii var. shumardii; those with more deeply rounded cups covering ca. one-third of the nut are treated as Q. shumardii var. schneckii (Britton) Sargent.
In 1869, E. T. Cox of New Harmony was appointed State Geologist of Indiana. One of his reports, cited below, includes a 76-page account, written by Dr. Schneck, of plants of the lower Wabash Valley, including the area of New Harmony.

Dr. Schneck's other publications are somewhat harder to find. Among those in the Botanical Gazette are the following:

"How Bumblebees extract Nectar from Mertensia Virginica," vol. 12, p. 111;
"Proterogyny in Datura meteloides," vol. 12, pp. 223-4;
"Dispersion of Seeds of Euphorbia marginata," vol. 12, pp. 225-6;
"Notes on some Illinois Grapes," vol. 13, p. 95;
"Typha," vo. 13, p. 98;
"Some Effects of the Mild Winter," vol. 15, pp. 209-11;
"Further notes on the Mutilation of Flowers by Insects," vol. 16, pp. 312-3;
"Mutilation of the Flower of Tecoma radicans," vol. 16, pp. 314-5;
"Observations on the Spider-flower," vo. 20, pp. 168-170, vol. 20 (1895) 168-70;
"Phacelia Covillei at Mt. Carmel, Ill.," vol. 27 (1899) 395-6;
"Pteris cretica in Illinois," vol. 29 (1900) 204;
"Notes on Aquilegia Canadensis Linn. and A. vulgaris Linn," vol. 32 (1901) 304-5.

Dr. Schneck's publications in Meehan's Monthly include

"The Hackberries as ornamental and shade Trees," vol. 7 (1897) 231-2;
"The American Lotus—Longfellow vindicated," vol. 10 (1900) 163-5;

and in Plant World,

"The Cross-bearing Bignonia or Cross Vine," vol. 6 (1903) 157-9;
"Hybridization in the honey locust," vol. 7 (1904) 252-3;
"Fasciation in the cherry," vol. 8 (1905) 35-6.

His other known publications were

"Asplenium Ruta-muraria on the towers of Milan cathedral," Fern Bulletin 12 (1904) 118-9;
"Do Humble Bees periorate tubular Flowers?" Asa Gray Bulletin 6 (1898) 47-8;
"Notes on the Hardwood Trees of Illinois," Hardwood; ii (1892), no.1; ii, no. 5; iii (1893), no. 4-6;

and the major publication,

Jacob Schneck, Catalogue of the Flora of the Wabash Valley Below the Mouth of the White River, and Observations Thereon, in E. T. Cox, Seventh Annual Report of the Geological Survey of Indiana, Made During the Year 1875, Indianapolis, 1876.

Several taxa honor Dr. Schneck, in addition to the oak already described. These names were given by botanists basing their descriptions on specimens collected by Dr. Schneck. (In 1911, a portion of his herbarium was purchased by and is now a part of the herbarium at Indiana University; in 1914, another portion was purchased by and remains a part of the herbarium at the University of Illinois; additional specimens collected by Dr. Schneck repose in the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University.)

Carya x schneckii is a hybrid, thought by Sargent to have parents Carya illinoinensis (= pecan) and Carya tomentosa (= mockernut hickory). However, this parentage is disputed in literature up to 1962. It appears that the question remains open but probably could be settled, at considerable expense, by DNA testing.

Other taxa bearing Dr. Schneck's name include Acer saccharum var. schneckii, (= Schneck sugar maple) and Rubus schneckii, (= Schneck blackberry). Both of these grow in southern Illinois, the blackberry occurring in the plant list for Giant City State Park, a few miles south of Carbondale.

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