Commonly called snow-wreath, Neviusia alabamensis is a member of the Rosaceae or rose family of plants. This well-known flowering shrub is prized for its striking white blooms, which appear in early spring. In an unusual botanical variation, its blooms are actually white stamens, rather than petals, which are entirely absent.
Neviusia was first noted by Reuben D. Nevius, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, and W. S. Wyman, a Latin professor at the University of Alabama, in the spring of 1857. The two were walking along the Black Warrior River near Tuscaloosa and spotted a strikingly beautiful, white-flowering plant that neither of them had seen before on a sandstone slope. Nevius sent a specimen to Asa Gray at Harvard University, who recognized the plant as being previously unknown or new to science, with its closest relative residing in Japan.
Gray asked Nevius for help in naming the plant, and Nevius quickly suggested "Tuomeya" in honor and memory of Michael Tuomey, Alabama's first state geologist, who had died soon after the plant's discovery. (Nevius was then courting—and would later marry—Tuomey's daughter.) Gray agreed, but then discovered that an alga already bore that name, and the rules of nomenclature (which determine how an organism is given a scientific name) preclude the use of a previously used name. So, with some reluctance, Nevius agreed to allow the plant to be named in his honor, and Gray published "Neviusia alabamensis" in 1859. (In 1900, Wyman indicated that he was, in fact, the first of the two friends to observe the plant, and some botanists took to calling the plant "Wymania" out of respect for Wyman and anger toward Nevius.) Owing to both its beauty and rarity, Neviusia quickly became a sensation, and botanists and horticulturists traveled to Tuscaloosa to see it and procure seeds and cuttings. Efforts were also undertaken to find the plant in other places.
Although still considered to be quite rare, snow-wreath is now known from several other states of the American Southeast,
including Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennesssee. In Alabama, it is found in scattered localities primarily
in the central and northern counties.
Davenport, L. J. "Nevius and Neviusia." Alabama Heritage 57 (Summer 2000): 46, 48.
Gray, Asa. "Neviusia, a New Genus of Rosaceae." Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (New Series) 6 (1859): 373-76.
Howard, Richard A. "In Defense of the Rev. Dr. Reuben D. Nevius and the Plant Called Neviusia." Arnoldia 36 (March 1976): 57-65.
Pollard, Charles L. "A Visit to the Home of Neviusia." The Plant World 3 (1900): 136-37.
L. J. Davenport
Published March 8, 2012
Last updated March 9, 2012