Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Website Search Box

The 2002 José Cuatrecasas Medal for Excellence in Tropical Botany was presented to P. Barry Tomlinson at the 2nd Annual Smithsonian Botanical Symposium, 6 April 2002. The award presentation was made by W. John Kress, Head of Botany, United States National Herbarium. Dennis Stevenson from the New York Botanical Garden (below) accepted the medal for Prof. Tomlinson and read a letter from Barry Tomlinson accepting the award.

P. Barry Tomlinson

Dr. P. Barry Tomlinson. Recipient of the 2002 José Cuatrecasas Medal for Excellence in Tropical Botany.

W. John Kress and Dennis Stevenson

Return to Introduction -- Text of Presentation -- Letter of Acceptance

Presentation of the 2002 Cuatrecasas Medal by W. John Kress, Head of Botany, United States National Herbarium

The recipient of the Cuatrecasas Medal is selected by a committee made up of botanists on the staff at the National Museum of Natural History, in consultation with other local plant scientists in the Washington area. In 2002 the Committee was composed of Larry Dorr (Chair), Pedro Acevedo, Alan Wittemore, and Pat Herendeen. Nominations for the Medal are accepted from all scientists in Botany at the Museum. The award consists of a bronze medal bearing an image of José Cuatrecasas on the front with the recipient's name and date of presentation on the back.

In reviewing nominations for the 2002 recipient of the Medal, the selection committee was confronted by a long list of candidates. However, one esteemed botanist quickly rose to the top of the list: Dr. P. Barry Tomlinson of Harvard University.

The selection committee was impressed by the many important contributions that Prof. Tomlinson has made to tropical botany over his long and distinguished career. Tomlinson was born in 1932 in Leeds, England where he received both his undergraduate and graduate training at the university there in conjunction with work at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. He has held positions since that time at the University of Malaya, Singapore Botanic Gardens, the University of the Gold Coast in Ghana, West Africa and at Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami. Currently he is the E. C. Jeffrey Professor of Biology at Harvard University.

The publication of his wonderful books on the biology of tropical trees, the anatomy of monocotyledons, and the botany of mangroves, his numerous papers on anatomy, morphology, and tropical botany, and, of course his contributions to our knowledge of the Zingiberales (my favorite research specialty), are among the many achievements that led the committee to unanimously conclude that Prof Barry Tomlinson is the scientist most deserving of receiving this year's Cuatrecasas Medal. Perhaps most important is his commitment to teaching students about the tropics. Many of us in this auditorium have been trained by Barry Tomlinson in his courses at Fairchild Garden and in Costa Rica. My own career in tropical botany is result of one of his courses.

The José Cuatrecasas Medal for Excellence in Tropical Botany is awarded to Dr. P. Barry Tomlinson for his exceptional work on the anatomy, morphology, and ecology of tropical plants. We applaud the inspiration that he has provided many botanists around the world in the understanding of tropical biology.

Unfortunately Prof. Tomlinson could not join us tonight to receive this Medal. He is on sabbatical in Hawaii and New Zealand and just returned to his home base at the National Tropical Botanical Garden from a research trip in the South Pacific. So I would like to invite Dr. Dennis Stevenson from the New York Botanical Garden to accept the Medal for Prof. Tomlinson. I am going project a slide of Prof. Tomlinson with a chain saw cutting down, or should I say dissecting a palm, while teaching a class on plant anatomy in Florida.
W. John Kress, April 2002

Return to Introduction -- Text of Presentation -- Letter of Acceptance

Dear John,

I regret very much the fact that I will be unable to be present at the award ceremony. I have been doing field work in the South Pacific and have only just returned from a meeting in New Zealand, which continued on to New Caledonia.

I am happy to accept the José Cuatrecasas Medal in Tropical Botany but I am a bit puzzled as to why you would want to choose me. The medal honors José more than me, of course, and I have always appreciated his work as truly representing the essence of tropical biology. He traveled and collected extensively, made many discoveries relating to tropical plants and enhanced the reputation of the institutions for which he worked. I had the pleasure of meeting him soon after I reached the United States and so could always connect the name to a very real person on the many occasions I came across his publications He was indeed a role model and I appreciate the distinctive way in which the Smithsonian has chosen to remember him.

Your choice of myself as recipient certainly reflects the broad search you have made and I appreciate that your Committee has interpreted Tropical Botany so widely. I have never been a collector and have largely traveled in order to see the plants on which I work as natural entities in their own environment. I have tended to work on common species and have been able to demonstrate the diversity of structures and mechanisms that can be elucidated once one accepts the notion that tropical plants fit well into the norm for all plants once one is prepared to tackle the frequent difficulties of size and complexity that they present. This is the approach I have been able to introduce into my teaching and the real pleasure of my professional development has been the regular opportunity to show students that botanical conundrums are best elucidated if one learns to "ask the plant". In this sense I believe I pass on a message well understood by botanists of the stature of José Cuatrecasas and it is in this spirit that I perceive the great honor you bestow on me.

With profound gratitude.

P. Barry Tomlinson


[ TOP ]