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Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution, presents annual award to Honor José Cuatrecasas
Laurence J. Dorr, Mireya Correa, recipient of the 2008 Cuatrecasas Medal, W. John Kress

Dr. Douglas Jones, Director of the Florida Museum of Natural History, accepts the José Cuatrecasas Medal for Excellence in Tropical Botany on behalf of the 2009 recipient, Norris H. Williams. Photo by Don Hurlbert.

The Department of Botany and the United States National Herbarium are proud to award annually the José Cuatrecasas Medal for Excellence in Tropical Botany. Our objectives are two-fold. Firstly, we wish to keep vibrant the accomplishments and memory of our late colleague José Cuatrecasas (1903–1996) who spent almost fifty years working in our Department and who had a distinguished career devoted to systematic botany and exploration in tropical South America, especially in Colombia. And secondly, we wish to use this award as a vehicle to honor a professional colleague who is a botanist and scholar of international stature and who has contributed significantly to advancing the field of tropical botany.

This year we are very pleased to present the eighth José Cuatrecasas Medal for Excellence in Tropical Botany to Norris H. Williams of the Florida Museum of Natural History and the University of Florida in Gainesville. In making this selection, the award committee took note of his accomplishments as a researcher, educator, and administrator. His research on Neotropical Orchidaceae has contributed to a better understanding of this important and species-rich family. In addition to his work on orchid molecular phylogenetics, his contributions to the chemistry of floral fragrances and pollination biology of orchids have given us a better understanding of the evolution of these plants and their insect pollinators. The committee also took note of his many years of service as a professor of biology and botany first at Florida State University and then at the University of Florida. Finally, we recognized his invaluable role in overseeing the growth and management of the herbarium of the Florida Museum of Natural History, which is the largest herbarium in the state of Florida.

Dr. Williams was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1943 and grew up in Anniston, which is situated more or less halfway between Birmingham and Atlanta, but more importantly on the edge of the Talladega National Forest. He developed an interest in the flora and fauna of north Alabama while hiking and exploring the mountains of the region. In 1964 he received a B.S. from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa with a major in Biology and in 1967 he received an M.S. from the same University in the same field. His tenure at Alabama was not continuous as in 1964-1965 he held a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis. Four years later, in 1971 he received his Ph.D. from the University of Miami. After graduation he held a series of postdoctoral positions; at the University of Miami, in the Department of Botany of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and at the Fairchild Tropical Garden in Coral Gables, Florida. In 1973 he secured an appointment as an Assistant Professor of Biology at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Promoted to Associate Professor, he remained at FSU until 1981, when he moved to Gainesville. He held a number of positions and titles with a joint appointment at the Florida Museum of Natural History and University of Florida. These positions initially included Associate Curator, Affiliate Associate Professor of Botany, and Keeper of the Herbarium. He also served as Chairman of the Department of Natural Sciences of the Florida Museum of Natural History for almost ten years and he continues to hold many of the same positions and titles except he was promoted to full professor and no longer serves as chairman of the Department of Natural Sciences.

Dr. Williams' is author or co-author of almost 100 papers and his current research focuses on the molecular systematics of Maxillaria and its relatives, and the molecular systematics of the subtribe Oncidiinae (Orchidaceae). His field work has taken him to Central America (notably Panama), the Caribbean, and South America (Colombia, the Guianas, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina). He is an Honorary Life Member of the American Orchid Society and has received the President's Medal of the University of Costa Rica and the Lankester Prize for pioneering work on the ecology, evolution, phylogeny, and systematics of orchids.

Selection Committee (2009):
L.J. Dorr (chair), W.J. Kress, K.J. Wurdack, and L. Zimmer

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