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ISC People

Dr. Charles Edwin Bessey, founder and curator of the herbarium, 1870-1884

Charles Bessey, founder of the herbarium
Charles Bessey, founder of the herbarium

In 1859, during preliminary planning for Iowa State College, four professorships were authorized. One was in botany. All students were required to take the beginning botany course.

Charles Bessey came to Iowa State in 1870, the year after the college opened. He was hired to teach horticulture, botany, and zoology. Apparently, his first botany students were required to collect and identify plants;  these collections were the beginning of the Iowa State Herbarium. By 1872, Dr. Bessey had become Professor of Botany and Zoology.

During his tenure, the herbarium grew to nearly 15,000 specimens. In addition to the herbarium, Dr. Bessey also saw the need for laboratory study of botany. Up until this time, undergraduate study was limited to the library, lecture hall, and field. He started the first "botanical laboratory" in the United States for undergraduate study, and the laboratory included the use of microscopes.

In 1884, while Bessey was serving as Vice-President of the college, a disagreement arose between him and the state legislature. An offer of a Deanship at the University of Lincoln prompted him to leave Iowa State. His fame as a botanist grew during his years at Lincoln, especially after he became author of a new classification of flowering plants.

Dr. Louis Pammel, curator of the herbarium, 1889-1931

L.H. Pammel, with a herbarium sheet
L.H. Pammel
L.H. Pammel, in the field
Pammel, in the field

Any and every kind of plant attracted Dr. Pammel's attention. He collected and studied everything, from fungi to trees, publishing papers on economically important plants, weeds, plant diseases, and seeds. His publications number nearly 700, including 10 books. However, many of these were completed with help from Charlotte King, Ada Hayden, R.I. Cratty, and others (whether officially acknowledged or not).He was the first botanist of the Agricultural Experiment Station.

Dr. Pammel taught courses in everything from plant taxonomy to pharmaceutical botany and bacteriology. Many of his students went on to successful careers in botany, horticulture, seed science, medicine, and other fields. For example, George Washington Carver, Robert E. Buchanan, J.C. Blumer, and Ada Hayden received training from him.

Dr. Pammel added as many as 50,000 specimens to the herbarium. This was the age of botanical exploration, and he delighted in taking students and colleagues on expeditions to new areas.

Dr. Pammel arranged for the College's purchase of the C.C. Parry Collection, containing specimens from Iowa and the American West. Many of these specimens are types and therefore are of great importance to taxonomic botanists. By the time of Dr. Pammel's death in 1931, the herbarium contained close to 200,000 specimens.

Mr. Robert I. Cratty, curator of the herbarium, 1918-1934

R.I. Cratty
R.I. Cratty

R.I. Cratty's interest in botany began long before he came to Iowa State to serve as curator of the herbarium. Even as a farmer and teacher in a one-room school near Armstrong (Emmet County, Iowa), he must have spent nearly every free moment collecting and studying plants. He published several papers around the turn of the century on the sedges, rushes, aquatic plants, and other flora of Emmet County.

Upon his retirement from teaching and farming he came to Iowa State to continue his research. He was happy to take Dr. Pammel's offer of the position of curator of the herbarium, and became the first "official" curator. During this period he published The Iowa Flora:  An annotated list of the ferns, fern allies and the native and introduced flowering plants of the state represented in the Iowa State College Herbarium. It is primarily a checklist, yet it remains as the most recent published attempt to catalogue all of the vascular plants in the state. He donated his personal herbarium of around 7000 specimens, collected mostly in Emmet County and near Ames, to the Iowa State collection.

Dr. Ada Hayden, curator of the herbarium, 1934-1950

"...determined, independent, brusque, eccentric", perhaps even a bit frightening, some called her "the worthy Ada." Ada Hayden was an artist and photographer, a poet in love with plants and prairies, a visionary, and a devoted friend and admirer of L.H. Pammel.

Her numerous herbarium specimens are more nicely prepared and contain more label data than most of those of her contemporaries. Her zeal for the herbarium and for conservation left us a legacy only now being appreciated. She melded her interests with her art, photography and flair for writing, devoting her life to the documentation and conservation of Iowa's few remaining prairies.

For a longer biography, see the Ada Hayden page.

Dr. Richard W. Pohl, curator and director of the herbarium, 1950-1986

R.W. Pohl with bamboo
R.W. Pohl with bamboo

Shortly after his arrival at Iowa State, Dr. Pohl and his students began publishing cytological and taxonomic papers on the grasses. Among the earlier papers is his Grasses of Iowa. He published How to Know the Grasses, an introductory survey of the grasses of the United States, in 1967. At around this time, Dr. Pohl made his first trip to Costa Rica, and acquired a lifelong love of tropical grasses. In addition to numerous other papers on Central American grass taxa, he prepared the treatment of the grasses for Flora Costaricensis. He, with his student Gerrit Davidse, contributed the treatments of most of the grass genera for Flora Mesoamericana.

Not all of Dr. Pohl's publications were on grasses. He documented the introduction and distribution of several weed species in Iowa. In 1975, he published the Keys to Iowa Vascular Plants, the only available identification guide to all the major vascular plant groups (and all common species) devoted exclusively to Iowa plants.

Dr. Pohl and his graduate students accumulated an impressive collection of grasses from the Western Hemisphere, with emphasis on Central America.

During Dr. Pohl's tenure as curator, the herbarium grew by more than 100,000 specimens.

Dr. Duane Isely, director of the herbarium, 1986-1989

Duane Isely
Duane Isely

Dr. Isely gained international recognition for his work in the Leguminosae (bean family). He also published extensively in the areas of seed analysis and weed science. His career at Iowa State University began when he was hired as a Seed Technologist. In 1954 he published Seed Analysis, which became a standard textbook for seed science.

Many students benefited from his course on weed science. Later, research on legumes commanded all of his attention. Dr. Isely and his students produced a series of publications on various groups of legumes of the United States. He contributed the treatments for the legume family for the Flora of the Southeastern United States and the Flora of California.

Dr, Isely provided support and assistance to the herbarium over many years, traveling and collecting legumes and other plant groups to add to the collection. He, along with then department chair Dr. Ronald Coolbaugh, deserves credit for establishing, in 1984, a position of full-time curator for the herbarium.





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