Male Explorer Revealed To Be A Woman Honored Two Centuries Later

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Jean Baret was one heck of an explorer back in the late 1700s, circumnavigating the globe and serving as an assistant to naturalist Philibert Commerçon. Like many assistants of the time, Baret's work was overlooked in favor of the person he worked for, but scientists have now come to the conclusion that Baret made many important discoveries on his own. “Baret collected thousands of plant specimens from exotic locales around the globe, and, according to Ridley, likely collected the first specimen of one of the world’s most beloved flowering plants—bougainvillea,” wrote biologist Eric Tepe. The discovery was previously attributed to Commerçon.

Of course, Baret's discoveries aren't the only things that make him notable. As it turns out, he is actually a she, born Jeanne Baret. Due to the sensibilities of the time, a woman would have been prohibited from the expedition, so she had been forced to disguise herself as a man to go along. Using this ruse, Baret was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

In honor of the amazing explorer, Tepe is now naming one of his newly discovered flower species after her: Solanum baretiae is a distant relative of the potato and tomato. He says, “I don’t think she ever expected recognition in her own lifetime, just because women who were involved in science were thought of, at best, as something of an oddity, and, at worst, they were thought of as an abomination.”

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October 21, 2012 - 12:00pm
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