Liriodendron tulipifera flower

The University of North Carolina
A Department of the North Carolina Botanical Garden


Collectors of the UNC Herbarium

Max Hoyt Hommersand
(b. 10 July 1930)

Information compiled Carol Ann McCormick,
Assistant Curator of the University of North Carolina Herbarium


B. A. University of California,
Berkeley 1954

Ph.D. University of California,
Berkeley 1958


Max Hommersand's area of research is the morphology, systematics and biography of the marine algae, with emphasis on the red algae. He has a world-wide collection of over thirty thousand specimens of marine algae for use in developmental studies. Research facilities include a Zeiss photomicroscope for light microscopy, three large culture rooms for growing algae, and other facilities for investigating the evolutionary biology and phylogeny of the marine algae.

Dr. Hommersand is the Curator of Algae at the University of North Carolina Herbarium. In 2013 the National Science Foundation funded the Macroalgal Digitization Project with a goal of imaging, databasing and georeferencing over 1.1 million algae specimens from 49 herbaria across North America.  NCU is contributing to this effort, and our specimens are available at

Those interested in Dr. Hommersand’s research or specimens should contact him via email at, or via mail at Biology Department, Coker Hall, CB#3280, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3280 USA.

Kari Kozak, Willaim R. Burk and Ian Ewing of the John N. Couch Biology Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have compiled a bibliography of Hommersand’s publications.

Haru “Fran” Chisaki Hommersand, Max’s wife, and their son, Eric A. Hommersand, frequently collect algae together with Max.  Fran earned a B.A. in Botany from the University of California in Berkeley, and Phycodrys franiae S-M. Lin & W.A. Nelson is named in her honor.


Selected references:

Hommersand, M.H. and S. Fredericq. 1988. An investigation of cystocarp development in Gelidium pteridifolium with revised description of the Gelidiales (Rhodophyta). Phycologia 27: 254-272.

Fredericq, S. and M.H. Hommersand. 1989. Proposal of the Gracilariales ord. mov. (Rhodophyta) based on an analysis of the reproductive development of Gracilaria verrucosa. J. Phycol. 25: 213-227.

Coomans, R.J. and M.H. Hommersand. 1990. Chapter 12: Vegetative growth and organization. In: K. Cole and R. Sheath (eds.), The Biology of the Red Algae. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Hommersand, M.H. and S. Fredericq. 1990. Chapter 13: Sexual reproduction and cystocarp development. In: K. Cole and R. Sheath (eds.), The Biology of the Red Algae. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Hommersand. M.H. 1990. Biogeography of the marine red algae of the north Atlantic Ocean. In: D. Barbary and G. South (eds.), Evolutionary Biography of the Marine Algae of the North Atlantic. NATO ASI Series G: Ecological Sciences Vol. 22. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Fredericq, S. and M.H. Hommersand. 1992. Morphology and systematics of Acanthococcus antarcticus (Cystocloniaceae, Rhodophyta). Phycologia 31: 101-118.

Hommersand, M., S. Fredericq, and J. Cabioch. 1992. Developmental morphology of Gigartina pistillata (Gigartinaceae, Rhodophyta). Phycologia 31: 300-325.

Fredericq, S., J. Brodie, and M.H. Hommersand. 1992. Developmental morphology of Chondrus crispus (Gigartinaceae, Rhodophyta). Phycologia 3(6), In press.


Anonymous (2006) Hommersand receives lifetime achievement award. University Gazette 31(1): 8. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.

Max Hommersand, a biology professor who joined the University more than 46 years ago, recently received the 2005 Award of Excellence from the Phycological Society of America (PSA). Hommersand is a professor emeritus in the biology department. Phycology is the study of algae and the society is the largest publisher of papers on algae in the world.

The award was presented at the international meeting in Durban, South Africa, and recognizes phycologists who have demonstrated sustained scholarly contributions in and impact on the field of phycology over their careers. Honorees have also provided service to the PSA and other phycological societies. "A committee from the society looks over the work of different researchers," Hommersand explained. "They are looking back over the impact of your work over a lifetime."

Hommersand's area of research is the morphology, systematics, and biology of the marine algae (seaweeds), with emphasis on the red algae. He has a collection of over 30,000 specimens of marine algae for use in developmental studies.

"It was a surprise," Hommersand said of the honor. "I was very pleased to be recognized and placed in the same group as some of my colleagues who have received the award."

Hommersand came to Carolina in 1959 and stayed here first as an instructor before becoming a professor. He retired in January 1998, but still comes to the office seven days a week, he said. "I have filing cabinets full of unpublished data that keeps me motivated," he said. "There is so much that has been done by me and my students that is just getting dust. I want to get the unpublished information, from my file cabinets and my head, out. I have the opportunity now that I am retired into this effort."

His fascination with algae and his distinguished career began more than 60 years ago. "I started with the Natural History Museum in San Diego," Hommersand said. "This was during World War II, and I took a field trip from the musuem. I was 13 at the time. We arranged to out to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and we met with researchers. I actually made a collection that I still have. From the time I was 13, I was collecting." He first researched the organisms while an undergraduate student at the University of California at Berkeley in 1948.

Today, he sees the field continuing to evolve. "A lot of people around the world now are using molecular techniques to look at all algae," Hommersand said. "There is already a great expansion in the use of molecular tools to study the systematics of algae. More people are collecting with scuba and submersibles in deeper water around the world. A lot of the picture of the classification and distribution of marine algae are starting to come from the newer collections that are being made this way."

Always a researcher, Hommersand has an ida about where phycology should go in the future. "I think someone should do follow-up research to expeditions from the early 1800's that went to the remote places of the world," he said. "Those expeditions were to collect everything under the sun, by the French, British, and Germans. They hit all these little islands in the Southern Hemisphere. Since then, no one has sent a ship around the world to look at those remote areas. It is conceivable to go back and re-survey the areas that were done in the 19th centiry and look at them from a modern perspective. Much could be learned by doing that."

Anonymous (2005) PSA Awards of Excellence, 2005: Thanarapu Vedanta Desikachary, Max Hoyt Hommersand, and Frank Eric Round. Phycological Newsletter, a publication of the Phycological Society of America 41(2): 2.


Max, as he is known to most of us, has had (and continues to have) a remarkable career of great significance in terms of teaching, scholarship and service to phycology. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley in Botany in 1954. He received his Doctorate in Botany from the University of California at Berkeley under the aegis of Professor George F. Papenfuss where he produced a massive dissertation on the morphology and taxonomy of selected Ceramiaceae and Rhodomelaceae. In the fall of 1957, Max was awarded a two-year NSF [National Science Foundation] Postdoctoral fellowship from Harvard University. Max has been on the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for over 38 years and has supervised more than 22 doctoral students.

For people who know Max, his being an energetic and active Professor Emeritus is not a great surprise. According to Paul Silva, Max was a precocious high school student the year they met (1946) at the Allan Hancock Foundation. As a young student, Paul encountered Max “reading Fritsch (Structure and Reproduction of the Algae) while eating sandwiches!” Max was fascinated by seaweeds after being introduced to them on nature walks by E. Yale Dawson (following World War II). Actually, Max’s fascination and passion for seaweeds has been his signature trait throughout his life. He has traveled the world collecting material for his phycological studies.

Many contemporaries of Max consider him to be one of the great phycological intellects of the last half century. He and his many collaborators have had unparalleled contributions to the fields of seaweed biogeography and red algal systematics. He has published more than 68 major scientific papers. His evolution from a classical macro-algal taxonomist to one of the worlds’ leaders in using and interpreting molecular data together with more classical observations on algal morphology and reproduction is unique among his generation of phycologists. According to Mike Guiry, “the significance of the development of the female reproductive apparatus before and after fertilization was first recognized by Schmitz in Germany, pursued by Kylin in Sweden, and by Papenfuss in Berkeley, but it was Max and his co-workers who have striven to establish the value of the hypotheses.”

Perhaps the last 15 years have been most significant for Max in terms of his professional accomplishments. Working with a number of colleagues, Max has significantly altered our genetic level understanding of the classical Order Gigantinales. He has revised the taxonomic understanding of key genera in the Ceramiales, Gracilariales and Gelidiales, and improved our understanding of red algal phylogeny and phylogeography. Max has published seminal papers highlighting the information to be gleaned by marrying his extensive knowledge of marine floras and in particular, the red algae, with what we know of plat tectonic movements. He and his co-workers have used the huge potential of DNA sequences in constructing phylogenetic hypotheses. As Steve Murray writes, “today, almost 50 years following the award of his dissertation, Max is at the top of his game and continues to impact phycology.”

Max continues to be a model and an inspiration to a new generation of scientists in phycology from around the world. Max Hoyt Hommersand has demonstrated the very essence of what it means to be nominated and receive the PSA [Phycological Society of America] Award of Excellence.


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University of North Carolina Herbarium
CB# 3280, Coker Hall
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3280
phone: (919) 962-6931


Last Updated: 20 October 2014