BEN # 207 - Dr. W.A. Weber Festschrift - Part I
aceska at VICTORIA.TC.CA
Mon Nov 16 03:52:24 EST 1998
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No. 207 November 16, 1998
aceska at victoria.tc.ca Victoria, B.C.
Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2
BEN # 207 and BEN # 208 are dedicated to
the doyen of Colorado botany
DR. WILLIAM ALFRED (BILL) WEBER
on the occasion of his 80th birthday, November 16, 1998.
W.A.WEBER'S COMMANDMENTS OF HERBORIZING
From: Tass Kelso <TKelso at ColoradoCollege.edu>
Far beyond all that graduate school coursework in the finer
points of comparative biochemistry of photosynthesis and
glycolysis, the evolution of the stele, or the history of
taxonomic philosophies, I reach back now as a professional
botanist most often into my early lessons, sitting at the feet
of Bill Weber. Whatever my current repertoire of professional
wisdom might be, some its most fundamental principles come from
those years as a neophyte and luckily, impressionable, field
botanist, and first opportunities to travel the landscapes of
Colorado, "herborizing" and exploring. Twenty years later, these
lessons still resonate as I "herborize" with my own flocks of
neophyte botany students. On this occasion of Bill's 80th
birthday, I offer these commandments in respect for their wisdom
and their longevity: Affectionately, Tass Kelso, Dept. of Biol-
ogy, Colorado College.
1. To the homework-diligent belong the spoils.
Never set an exploratory foot out the door without doing the
research necessary: know what the botanical "personality"
traits are for the species you look for: their ecology,
their associates, their blooming times. Are you near Utah?
Check the Utah flora for what might be new to the state!
Oklahoma? Likewise. There is a lot yet to be found; you'll
find it if you are prepared to find it!
2. If there is gold in them hills, check out the plants on it.
If you don't know your field geology, go learn it. It may be
the single most important feature determining plant dis-
tributions here in the West. As much as you know the Rose
family from the Ranunculaceae, you should know a granite
from a sandstone from a dolomite. Don't just read the
botanical literature, read the geological literature as
well. Go for the the gypsum, the chalks, the oil shales-that
is where you'll find the botanical gold.
3. You can observe a lot just by looking. (Y. Berra)
Every plant species has a "personality", and no book can
teach you it. You can learn that personality only by ex-
ploration and experience. Once you know that personality,
you will know where to go look for that species elsewhere.
4. You see a lot more on the farm once you've experienced Paree
(or Siberia, or Nepal, or Australia).
Seeing the world's botanical canvas does wonders for ex-
periencing your own locale in new and different ways. The
plantscape becomes multidimensional across continents and
across millenia as you see plant species in new contexts:
Our X becomes the Siberian Y, or our supposedly mutual Z
becomes a new and different Q and R.
5. Ars longa, vita brevis.
There is more to exploration than just the flowers, so enjoy
all that a place can offer: from ancient cliff ruins to
opera, the local hot sauce or the local art museum, take
time to appreciate more than just the natural history.
6. Marcus Jones is not a role model.
Whatever Jones' many botanical virtues may have been, col-
lection notes were not among them. Lack of collection detail
is a serious failing, so make sure you put them down, and
better yet, commit them all to memory so you can return to
the same place 30 years later and find the plant again.
7. Respect the elders: they might have been right.
The early botanists were often astute in their taxonomies,
and their journals and papers are well worth reading. It may
help you find locations again if you read journals of dis-
covery, and reflect or reinterpret what they saw or com-
mented on in light of today's landscape. The old literature
is a priceless resource.
8. Don't forget the good coffee.
No comment or explanation needed here.
FLORISTIC SURPRISES IN NORTH AMERICA
From: Barbara Ertter <ertter at uclink4.berkeley.edu>
[Extracted from talk given by Barbara Ertter at the Missouri
Botanical Garden symposium on Our Unknown Planet, 10 October
In 1858, Thomas Bridges wrote to William J. Hooker from Califor-
nia: "I can scarcely describe to you how pleasing and gratifying
it has been to me to learn that in my collections you have found
some new and rare plants--I was partially under the impression
that from the labours of Douglas, Hartweg, Jeffrey, Lobb and
other travelers from Europe with the many United States Explor-
ing Expeditions that little or nothing remained to be discovered
and only gleanings were left to those of us of the present day."
This assumption, that the North American flora has already been
fully explored and catalogued, with nothing of consequence left
to discover, is no more true today than it was in 1858. Granted,
the on-going discoveries tend to be among the rarest of the
rare, but this only increases their significance in an era
dominated by land-use management decisions that will irrevocably
determine the fate of our floristic heritage.
Even for those botanists who are most actively involved in
describing new taxa from North America north of Mexico, the
sheer magnitude comes as a surprise. In a new publication,
Hartman and Nelson (1989) tally 1,197 vascular plant taxa
described from 1975 through 1994. This translates into ap-
proximately 60 per year, and the rate has remained remarkably
steady. Dean Taylor (unpublished data) has extrapolated that a
minimum of 300 vascular plants are probably still waiting to be
discovered in California alone, and this in turn suggests that
at least 1,800 taxa, nearly 5% of total North American vascular
flora, are still in the undescribed category.
Furthermore, while most discoveries do in fact result from
explorations of remote areas and/or monographic revisions, a
surprising number result from new discoveries in well-populated
and well-botanized areas: Ionactis caelestis within sight of Las
Vegas, Neviusia cliftonii along a well-traveled highway,
Clematis morefieldii within the city limits of Huntsville,
Alabama, Lomatium observatorium among the buildings of Lick
Observatory near San Jose. Some are even distinct enough to
qualify as monotypic genera, the most recent being Sibaropsis
hammittii from southern California. Nor are dramatic discoveries
limited to vascular plants. Verrucaria tavaerisae, described
just last year from the central California coast, is noteworthy
not only in being one of the few known marine lichens, but the
only one with a brown algal symbiont.
Although one might assume that the bulk of these on-going dis-
coveries are resulting from the professional activities of
harbarium-based plant systematists, this proves not to be the
case. In a recent survey of 56 faculty-status vascular plant
systematists at universities with significant herbaria in the
contiguous western United States, where an average of 41 vas-
cular plants are being described per year, less than half had
described any taxa from the region, and only 10 had described
more than one. (None of which should be taken as an indication
of research productivity, it just doesn't happen to involve
alpha taxonomic studies of the regional flora).
So who is doing the discovering and describing? A diverse crowd,
consisting of emeriti, museum-based systematists, agency
biologists, environmental consultants, non-systematists, and
amateur enthusiasts. It might be argued that the increasing pool
of para-systematists will suffice, but this neglects the reality
that para-systematists get their start as a result of encourage-
ment and training from a regionally based professional sys-
tematist who is actively involved in the local flora. Without a
professional core, the system is in danger of collapsing, or at
the very least suffering from a lack of professional-level
training and quality control. In this light, it is particularly
ominous that the largest herbaria in two states, Montana and
Nevada, lack faculty-level systematists, and that not a single
faculty-level systematist in Colorado is actively involved in
describing the regional flora.
Morever, this is not a statistical fluke, but rather a direct
result of the fact that the current academic infrastucture
actually discourages alpha taxonomy on the regional flora.
Several respondents indicated that they knew of undescribed
regional novelties, but could not justify the effort required to
publish them: "the value of new species descriptions in terms of
professional prestige and satisfaction of university ad-
ministrators (who control raises and promotions) seems low
relative to other publications that could be generated in a
similar period of time." In effect, the publication of regional
novelties is not only of little value, it is actually counter-
productive to career development in the current academic en-
vironment. Paradoxically, the fact that the amount of time and
effort it takes to publish a novelty can be equivalent to that
needed for other research activities, in itself provides
evidence that describing novelties is not the trivial activity
it is often perceived (and valued) as. A key misconception
behind this state-of-affairs is the belief that describing
species involves nothing more than static data, when it should
in fact be understood as the generation of complex hypotheses,
which are constantly being tested and modified in the face of
In conclusion, what taxonomists have been up to is nothing less
than one of the most massive scientific endeavours ever under-
taken; namely, a centuries-long, internationally collaborative
effort to model global biodiversity. If this does not qualify as
"Big Science", I don't know what does! In an era when crucial
decisions are being made that will determine the face of life on
the planet, it is imperative that these decisions be made with
the most comprehensive information possible. It is bad enough
that we risk losing 5% of the floristic diversity in our own
national "backyard" by ignorance alone; if this be willful
ignorance, then we have only ourselves to blame.
Hartman, R.L. & B.E. Nelson. 1989. Taxonomic novelties from
North America north of Mexico: a 20-year vascular plant
diversity baseline. Monographs in Systematic Botany 67: 1--
U.S. News & World Report, November 16, 1998, page 64: "A flower-
ing of finds for American botanists: new species challenge
the common wisdom."
BILL WEBER & WILHELM SUKSDORF
From: Rhoda Love <rglove at oregon.uoregon.edu>
[Excerpts from Love 1998]
Wilhelm Suksdorf was a remarkable, largely self-taught plant
collector who made an inestimable contribution to the knowledge
of western botany. The German-born Suksdorf lived for 56 years
on the Columbia River at Bingen, Washington, and collected
primarily in the Klickitat County-Mount Adams country. Most
modern botanists agree that by the time of his death in 1932 he
had encountered virtually every plant species in his chosen
territory. He corresponded with dozens of the country's most
important botanists; he collected innumerable plant specimens
and pressed, identified, and mounted on paper some 150,000 of
them over his lifetime; his specimens sheets reside in many
world's major herbaria; and a genus and some 70 species, sub-
species, and varieties have borne his name.
As he wandered and collected year after year in the Columbia
River country, Suksdorf employed a singular habit: that of
giving his own, usually German, and almost always highly roman-
tic, names to various geographic features. These names, such as
Wodanthal (Wodan's Valley) and Falconthal (Falcon Valley),
puzzled later botanists who attempted to locate Suksdorf's
specific collecting sites, as none appear either in German or in
English translation on modern maps. In addition, Suksdorf was in
the habit of employing a shorthand of symbols or abbreviations
for many of these place names, making it still more difficult to
determine his site locations. In the years shortly before his
death, Suksdorf spent some time at Washington State College
working over his collections and translating some of these place
names. However, it may be just as well that he did not complete
this task, as it was his unfortunate habit to change the names
of his localities such as Schmetterlingsee, which was a specific
lake and a favorite collecting station, to general descriptions
such as "small mountain lake, Chiquash Mts."
In the early 1940s, Marion Ownbey, Herbarium Curator at WSU,
assigned to Masters student William A. Weber, the task of deter-
mining Suksdorf's sites and collecting itineraries. Weber did a
splendid job (Weber 1944) which should be applauded now and
forever by anyone concerned with the flora of Washington. For
the task, he needed to combine the skills of a detective as well
as those of a cryptographer. The young graduate student was able
to match Suksdorf's symbols and codes in notebooks with those on
plant collection sheets, a few of which also bore complete place
names. The result is that we now know the locations of virtually
all of Suksdorf's sites. For example, his Donnerthal is the
valley of present-day Big Muddy Creek on the south flank of Mt.
Adams, and Falconthal or Falcon Valley is the Camas Prairie-
Conboy Lake area of northwest Klickitat County. In addition,
Weber provided a chronological day by day itinerary of all of
Suksdorf's collecting forays in Iowa, California, Washington,
Oregon, and Montana for 57 years, from 1872 to 1929. Weber's was
a singular and very important achievement.
Love, R. 1998. Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf (1850-1932), pioneer
botanist of the Pacific Northwest. Pacific Northwest Quar-
terly, 89 (Fall 1998): 171-187.
Weber, W.A. 1944. The botanical collections of Wilhelm N.
Suksdorf, 1850-19932. Research Studies of the State College
of Washington, 12: 51-121.
BILL WEBER REMEMBERS HIS SUKSDORF'S DAYS
[Parts of the letter Bill Weber wrote to Rhoda Love, October
1998. Bill, I hope you don't mind that I am posting it on BEN !
I have finally gotten a few hours to read, and have been re-
living the Suksdorf story. You certainly have done a wonderful
job of fleshing it out. Why didn't I do more with him? I just
had no time. I had to type every herbarium label for all the
duplicates in his collection (on that small Gothic-type manual
typewriter, and no carbon copies!), and I was just a poor
graduate student who had to finish. (The typewriter, inciden-
tally, is still in use, as I recall I saw it and its current
owner at the Hunt Botanical Library about a decade ago.) My
"life with Suksdorf" did not end at Pullman. Actually, in 1944 I
was sent down to Cascade Locks as a conscientious objector and
was able to visit and stay overnight with Theodor [Suksdorf,
Wilhelm's brother] and Hertha (my second daughter Eunice, now
Heather, was born on May 12, 1944, in the White Salmon
Hospital), and Hertha gave us a few pounds of their home-made
butter to celebrate.
I am so glad that you were able to use the negative of the
original house. Sometime during 1942 my wife's sisters came out
from Iowa and took us in their car on a trip to central
Washington. We spent a day hiking up Wodenthal to the snow line.
My daughter Linna was only about a month old at the time. I flew
to Seattle once, and somehow I was able to get an aerial picture
of Falcon Valley. I doubt that it would have been good enough to
use in your manuscript.
There must have been a lot more material that accumulated since
I left Pullman. All we had was a single file drawer in Ownbey's
office. You have been lucky to find so much more of interest to
fill out the story.
And I am so glad that Suksdorf will finally be where more people
can learn about him; I assume that the book you are getting out
will have the Suksdorf story in it. I am so glad that I was
still around to help you with it. I shall hit 80 on November 16.
As ever, Bill Weber
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BILL !
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