BEN # 207 - Dr. W.A. Weber Festschrift - Part I

Adolf Ceska 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.
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 Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2
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            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
1998]

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
new data.

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.

Reference:

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--
   59.

See also:
U.S. News & World Report, November 16, 1998, page 64: "A flower-
   ing  of  finds  for American botanists: new species challenge
   the common wisdom."
   http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/981116/16bota.htm


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.

References

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 !
- Adolf]

Dear Rhoda:

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


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                     HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BILL !

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Submissions, subscriptions, etc.:  aceska at victoria.tc.ca
BEN is archived at   http://www.ou.edu/cas/botany-micro/ben/
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