Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer, naturalist and newspaper editor, was born on May 21, 1801, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, the youngest son of Johann Hartmann and Jahnette Magdeline (Reisser) Lindheimer. His father was an affluent merchant. Lindheimer is often called the father of Texas botany because of his work as the first permanent-resident plant collector in Texas. He received his education at the Frankfurt Gymnasium and attended a preparatory school in Berlin. He attended the University of Wiesbaden, the University of Jena, and the University of Bonn, where he won a scholarship in philology. He returned to Frankfurt and became a teacher at the Bunsen Institute in the fall of 1827. There he became active in the political movement agitating for reform of the German government. In 1834 Lindheimer, whose political affiliations had alienated his family and placed him at risk, immigrated to the United States as a political refugee.
He joined a community of fellow German expatriates in Belleville, Illinois, many of whom were former colleagues from the Bunsen Institute. In the fall of 1834 he traveled to Veracruz, Mexico, and joined another German settlement at Karl Sartorius's hacienda, Mirador, near Jalapa, Vera Cruz. During his sixteen-month stay there, Lindheimer collected plants and insects. In 1836, aroused by reports of the Texas Revolution, he traveled to New Orleans and joined Jerome Bonaparte Robertson's company of Kentucky volunteers. Once in Texas Lindheimer enlisted in the army and served under the command of John Coffee Hays until 1837.
Responding to an invitation by George Engelmann, a botanist and friend from Frankfurt, Lindheimer spent the winters of 1839–40 and 1842–43 in St. Louis. In 1843 he completed arrangements to work for Engelmann and his partner, Asa Gray, a Harvard botanist, as a collector of plant specimens. He spent the next nine years collecting specimens in Texas from a variety of areas, including Chocolate Bayou, Cat Springs, Matagorda Bay, Indianola, and Comanche Springs. During the course of his work he became acquainted with fellow plant collector Louis C. Ervendberg and other prominent early Texans, including Rosa Kleberg and John O. Meusebach.
In 1844 Lindheimer joined the Adelsverein, settled in New Braunfels, and was granted land on the banks of the Comal River, where he continued his plant collecting and attempted to establish a botanical garden. He was hired as editor of the Neu Braunfelser Zeitung (see NEW BRAUNFELS HERALD-ZEITUNG) in 1852, and his association with the paper continued for the next twenty years. Lindheimer eventually became publisher of the Zeitung and used the paper as a forum to express his anticlerical views. In addition to his work with the paper he ran a private school for gifted children and served as the first justice of the peace of Comal County. During the Civil War, as an advocate of states' rights, he went against the apparent majority of German Americans and publicly supported the Confederacy on the basis that one should maintain regional loyalties. Some scholars have argued, nevertheless, that Lindheimer's postwar writings indicate that his true loyalty lay with the North.
In 1872 Lindheimer ended his association with the Zeitung and devoted himself to his work as a naturalist. He shared his findings with many others who shared his interest in botany, including Ferdinand von Roemer and Adolph Scheele. Lindheimer is credited with the discovery of several hundred plant species, among them a milkweed, a loco weed, a mimosa, a prickly pear, and a rock daisy. In addition his name is used to designate forty-eight species and subspecies of plants. In 1879 his essays and memoirs were published under the title Aufsätze und Abhandlungen.
Lindheimer married Eleanor Reinartz in 1846, and the couple had two sons and two daughters. He died on December 2, 1879, and was buried in New Braunfels. His house, on Comal Street in New Braunfels, is now a museum. Lindheimer's plant collections can be found in at least twenty institutions, including the Missouri Botanical Gardens, the British Museum, the Durand Herbarium and Museum of Natural History in Paris, and the Komarov Botanic Institute in St. Petersburg.