The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Page  131

DEPARTMENT OF BOTANY

The imminent involvement of the United States in World War II demanded special duties for students and faculties. Carl LaRue was chosen by the USDA to procure fresh bud-wood of the Brazilian rubber tree from Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Mexico. He and Harley Bartlett, two decades earlier, had pioneered in the cloning of selected high-yielding rubber trees in Sumatra.

Bartlett went to the Panama Canal Zone in the summer of 1940 as botanist with the Gorgas Memorial Institute to attempt to discover the causes of increase in malarial-bearing mosquitoes. On his return to the States he was directly drafted to supervise the propagation of "the best Hevea (rubber) strains (in the Orient) and bring them to tropical America." In the summer of 1941 he succeeded in establishing plantations of choice Hevea clones in Haiti.

In September 1942, Bartlett began a "rubber-land-location assignment" in Mexico and South America which did not terminate until 1944. He supervised the introduction of plantings of the "rubber-bush," guayule, and the Russian dandelion, kok-saghz. This assignment was as much a diplomatic mission as a plant introduction project. It was his opinion in 1944 that "the future of guayule rubber appears very bright at this stage, at least as a hemisphere project, and the Congressional appropriations underwriting further development in many directions — one of which is improving methods for collecting the minute seeds — should greatly advance the culture of the plant in the Americas." In 1979 guayule cultivation again became news as the U.S. Congress legislated and funded for it an immense program in southwestern U.S. desert lands.

Frederick Kroeber Sparrow Jr., mycologist, showed ecumenical spirit in accepting an appointment with the Michigan State Experiment Station, growing milkweed for its floss, to be used in Army Air Corps uniforms. William Campbell Steere, bryologist, participated in the U.S. Cinchona Mission to Ecuador to procure quinine bark to compensate for the cut-off of supplies from the South Pacific. The mission was highly successful. William Randolph Taylor, Page  132now an internationally renowned expert on marine algae, was Senior Biologist in the Oceanographic Section of the Bikini Expedition, Crossroads, which witnessed mankind's first open, scientific demonstration of the power released in atomic fission.

During the years of the war the staff was more than adequate to teach the reduced civilian student population. The course for men in military service was accelerated. All staff members taught sections in the elementary course. The Veterans' "Bulge," following the cessation of the war, would have created great difficulties for all laboratory sciences had not the veterans been so eager for the opportunity of an education.

Professor Bartlett resigned as Chairman in 1947 having completed twenty-four years at that assignment. He retained directorship of the Botanical Gardens at its site near Iroquois Street off Stadium Boulevard, a research facility which he had virtually established in 1919. Professor William Campbell Steere was chosen as Bartlett's successor. In the regrettably short time he was in office (1947-50) he created an efficient operation within the botanical community of the University. Steere recruited new staff members in areas in which we were heretofore not represented: Pierre Dansereau, ecology, Alfred S. Sussman, physiological mycology, Fergus S. H. Macdowell, photobiology, and Robert J. Lowry, cytology, later electron microscopy, and Erich E. Steiner, an Oenothera geneticist.

Upon Steere's sudden decision to accept a professorship at Stanford University where he would be free of administrative duties, Kenneth L. Jones was appointed chairman for a three-year term.

W. Herbert Wagner, Jr., in systematics and morphology, developed courses in systematics of flowering plants, woody plants, and ferns. Elzada U. Clover who had been teaching taxonomy of flowering plants during Bartlett's numerous absences to faraway places, chose to shift her teaching efforts to an applied botany course at the Botanical Gardens.

Under the aegis of the Phoenix Project, a World War II memorial to University of Michigan veterans, the department Page  133received a munificent grant from the Dearborn Motors and Tractor Division of the Ford Motor Company to create the Plant Nutrition Laboratory in a renovated unit of the University Hospital on Catherine Street with fundamental research on soil-plant relationships. A. Geoffrey Norman was appointed Director, with George G. Laties as a full-time researcher. When Bartlett retired as Director of the University Botanical Gardens he was succeeded by Norman who recruited Peter Hypio, horticulture and taxonomy, and Peter Kaufman, physiology and development of vascular plants.

Primarily because of the increasing value of the land as real estate, the University deemed it expedient to disband the Iroquois Street area as a site for the Gardens. Regent Matthaei donated an extensive rural holding on Dixboro Road for relocation of the Gardens and, with the National Science Foundation, financed the buildings.

At about the same time the University Herbarium moved into new quarters in the North University Building. The National Science Foundation made possible the purchase of a great increase in herbarium cases. Also it funded complete renovation of all of the teaching laboratories in the Natural Science Building and of many of the private office/laboratories. It was a major decision on the part of the central administration of the University to approve the expansion and resettlement of the Herbarium and the Gardens. Dean Charles E. Odegaard was responsible for a change in status of Museums (and Herbarium) Curators. All were to have faculty appointments and classroom teaching responsibilities. This helped in the recruitment of new personnel: Edward G. Voss who had devoted himself to a special project on Michigan flora, became Assistant Professor of Botany in 1960 and took over the Aquatic Flowering Plants course developed by Sparrow and (in the Summer Session) the floristic taxonomy offerings at the Biological Station at Douglas Lake.

Titular appointments in Botany were now held by some faculty of the School of Natural Resources, their courses being cross-listed as part of our graduate degree programs. To stimulate research the Regents created divisions within the University which cut across departments and colleges. The Division of Biology, which included nonclinical units in the Medical School, School of Public Health, Natural Page  134Resources, Museums, and College of LS&A, was for several years a very lively affair, perhaps because of the deft chairmanship of Dean Samuel Trask Dana of the School of Natural Resources. Botanists profited as the Regents were pressured to purchase Mud Lake Bog, near Whitmore Lake. A program of distinguished visiting lecturers was initiated.

Jones retired as Chairman, after thirteen years, in 1963. He was replaced by Sussman (who became Associate Dean of LS&A in 1968 and advanced to Dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies in 1974). Norman became Vice-President for Research in the University (1964-72). Taylor became our only recipient of the Russel Lectureship "for Distinguished Achievement in Research" (1964). Steiner succeeded Sussman as Chairman of Botany (1968-71), and was followed by Beck (1971-76), whose brilliant studies on Devonian fossils are widely recognized.