Sunday, March 19, 2017

Arthur Cronquist: Famed Botanist with Idaho Connections [otd 03/19]

Dr. Cronquist. New York Botanical Garden.
World-renowned botanist Dr. Arthur Cronquist was born March 19, 1919 in San Jose, California. An expert on the broad Compositae or Asteraceae family (sunflowers and daisies, among others), Cronquist began his scientific career in Idaho and maintained a life-long interest in the area. He grew up near Portland, Oregon and then Pocatello, Idaho.

After high school, Arthur enrolled at the University of Idaho-Southern Branch (now Idaho State University [blog, Sept 22]). He planned to major in range management, which led him to a plant taxonomy course taught by eminent Idaho botanist Ray J. Davis.

Davis sparked Arthur’s interest in botany, and became his mentor. As a semester project, the professor required each class member to do a field study on some plant family. The story is told that Arthur and another top student flipped a coin and the loser – Cronquist – had to “settle” for Compositae. The account concludes, “Thus do legends begin.”

Arthur soon transferred to Utah State University, where he received a B.S. degree in 1938 and an M.S. two years later. During those years, he found time to study Idaho flora – around Dubois for the U. S. Forest Service, and also as a contract plant specimen collector. He earned a Ph.D. degree from the University of Minnesota in 1944. During the last year of his doctoral studies, he worked on his specialty at the New York Botanical Garden.

Dr. Cronquist next held teaching positions at the University of Georgia and then at Washington State University. Starting in 1951, he served a year in Europe as a botanist for the U. S. government. He spent the rest of his career after 1952 back at the New York Botanical Garden. At the same time, he also served on the faculties of Columbia University and the City University of New York.

This brief essay cannot begin to detail Cronquist’s monumental contributions to botany – those encompass a huge body of field observations as well as landmark treatises on botanical theory and principles. Cronquest's many honors include the Asa Gray Award, for career achievement, from the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, and the Linnean Medal for Botany.

His obituary noted that he, “was also a recognized expert on the plants of the Western United States. He wrote or contributed to nearly all the major works on plants of the region and was at work on a six-volume series about the plants of the Intermountain West when he died.”
Sunflowers. U. S. Dept of Agriculture.

In fact, Cronquist died on Sunday, March 22, 1992.  He was then scheduled to be featured speaker the following Friday for the Annual Symposium of the Idaho Academy of Science, in Caldwell. A hastily-organized tribute session extolled Arthur’s professional legacy as well as his humanity: Colleagues and students remembered him as a boisterous singer, animated raconteur, clever punster, and a helpful and caring friend.

One speaker subconsciously slipped into the present tense for some of his anecdotes. At that time, I prepared a summary of the event for the Academy newsletter. In that, I wrote: “Cronquist was obviously a man so alive in life, he barged full-bellow into a tribute after his death.”
References: Theodore M. Barkley, “In Memoriam: Arthur Cronquist: An Appreciation,” Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, Vol. 119, No. 4, Lawrence, Kansas (1992).
“Biographical Note,” Arthur Cronquist Records (1939-1992), Mertz Library, The New York Botanical Garden (1999).
E. E. Filby, “Memories of Dr. Arthur Cronquist,” The Retort, Vol. 28, No. 3, Idaho Academy of Science, Idaho Falls (September 1992).
“Obituary: Arthur Cronquist,” The New York Times (March 26, 1992).

1 comment:

  1. He was a very friendly kindly person - once answered a letter of mine where I suggested more use of chemical characters - the data were not then available he explained, though he acknowledge the future potential. His western Idaho roots are worth remembering and his work on the Composites or Asteraceae.

    John Barrett now in Forks Washington.