Liriodendron tulipifera flower

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


Collectors of the UNC Herbarium

William Willard Ashe


William Willard Ashe was born in Raleigh, North Carolina on June 4, 1872. His family inhabited a rambling antebellum estate named Elmwood * which provided Ashe, described by one biographer as a "congenital naturalist," with abundant woods and fields to explore for curiosities.

It is reported that Willard and his brother Samuel together published a small tract called "The West End Sun" with woodcuts carved by Willard. A copy of this work was placed in the cornerstone of the State Agricultural College Building in Raleigh.

Much of the young man's spare time was spent collecting specimens and his collections required a two-story building by the time he entered college. Ashe clearly had the eye of a scientist and was known for being able to readily discern differences between very similar plants.

At the age of fifteen, Ashe entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, matriculating in 1891. The following year he received his M.S. from Cornell, where he specialized in botany and geology.

Portriat of William Willard Ashe

From 1892 to 1905, he was employed as a forester by the North Carolina Geological Survey, but also worked on special projects with the recently-formed United States Forest Service. Ashe remained a professional forester all of his life, conducting his work on floristics and systematic botany in his spare time or as a minor sideline to his forestry labors. Realizing this makes a look at a list of Ashe's publications that much more amazing.

Flower of Magnolia ashei

Magnolia ashei Weatherby
Photo by Kenneth J. Wurdack

In 1905 Ashe joined the U.S. Forest Service full time and was employed there until his death in 1932. During this time he served as Secretary of the National Forest Reservation Commission (1918-1924), vice-president of the Society of American Foresters (1919), and chairman of the Forest Service Tree Name Committee (1930-1932).

In 1906 he married Margaret Henry Wilcox, for whom he named Crataegus margaretta and Quercus margaretta. His botanical works centered around woody plants, especially the genus Crataegus, although he also published on such herbaceous genera as Asarum and Panicum.

His keen eye for detail led him to create many new taxa, publishing 510 plant names during his career. Many of these have gone into synonomy.

To date, the University of North Carolina Herbarium has databased over 2,850 specimens collected by W.W. Ashe; many more remain to be catalogued.



Below are a specimen collected by Ashe and the cover and some pages from one of his field notebooks. These materials are from the archives of the UNC Herbarium, and are used with permission. Additional materials can be found in the Southern Historical Collection at UNC's Wilson Library.



Ashe was an amazingly prolific writer on a wide variety of subjects. Topics of his publications include the terracing of farm lands, forest management, light requirements of trees, optimizing profit through selective harvesting of timber, land acquisition policy for the federal government, and systematic papers on a number of woody genera, including Quercus, Rhus, Robinia, Pinus, Crataegus, and Carya.


Major Works by Ashe

Forest fires: Their destructive work, causes and prevention. North Carolina Geological Survey Bulletin no. 7. Raleigh, North Carolina: J. Daniels, 1895.

Timber trees and forests of North Carolina. (With Gifford Pinchot.) North Carolina Geological Survey Bulletin no. 6. Raleigh: Winston & Stewart, 1897.

Loblolly, or North Carolina pine. Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton, 1915.

Shade trees for North Carolina. North Carolina Geological and Economic Survey Bulletin no. 16. Raleigh: E.M. Uzell, 1908.


Major Biographical Sources

Coker, W.C., J.S. Holmes, and C.F. Korstian. 1932. William Willard Ashe. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 48(1): 40-47.

Dayton, W.A. 1936?. William Willard Ashe (1872-1932). [No publication information given.]

The latter reference includes a complete bibliography of Ashe's works organized by subject and may be found at the UNC North Carolina Collection.


*excerpts from:  Flowers, John Baxton III.  1975.  National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form:  Elmwood. 

For a number of years [after the death of Romulus Mitchell Saunders in 1867] the Elmwood house was rented to a series of people, among them Dr. T. D. Martin, a Perquimans County native and Confederate surgeon, who moved to Elmwood from his Hillsborough, North Carolina, home with his wife, Henrietta Perkins Martin, and their ward, Hannah Emerson Willard, daughter of William H. Willard, a Massachusetts manufacturer who had settled in North Carolina before the Civil War.  The widowed Willard had placed his daughter in the Martin household. 

On a visit to Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1871, Hannah Willard met Samuel A. Ashe, and they were married at Elmwood that same year.  The Ashes’ first child [William Willard Ashe] was born at Elmwood in 1872, and the house was being remodeled that year, so the Martins and Ashes moved out while repairs were made.  The Martins never returned to the house.  Instead, William Willard purchased the property on November 8, 1873, from Bradley Johnson, a trustee for the Saunders heirs.  It included almost five acres of land “Situate in the Western Part of said City (Raleigh) fronting on Hillsborough Street known as ‘Elmwood,’ late the residence of R.M. Saunders.”  The price was $12,000. 

Samuel A’Court Ashe [William Willard Ashe’s father] was born at Wrightsville Sound in New Hanover County, North Carolina on September 13, 1840.  His parents were William Shepperd Ashe and Sarah Ann Green.  He received his early education in old field schools, Abbott’s and Rugby academies in the District of Columbia, and Oxford Academy in Maryland.  In 1855 he entered the United States Naval Academy, but resigned in 1858 to return to his home and study law under William Kirkland Ruffin.  In 1861 he entered Confederate service, and was paroled in 1865 with the rank of captain.  He was for a time a railroad conductor, but in January, 1867, he was admitted to the bar in Wilmington.  In 1870 he was a successful candidate for the North Carolina House, and after his marriage in 1871 was a permanent resident of Raleigh, where he practiced law.  In 1874 he began to edit a daily newspaper, the Evening Crescent.  In 1879 he purchased the Raleigh Observer, and in 1881 the Daily News, joining both papers as the News and Observer – which is still a leading newspaper in the state… Always a prolific writer, he is best known for his principal editorship of the voluminous Biographical History of North Carolina, which first appeared in 1905 and is still a valuable resource.  Ashe died in 1938 and was buried in Raleigh. 

… [Two of William Willard Ashe’s sisters], Hannah (Mrs. William H. Bason), and Josephine (Mrs. Joseph Graef)…live at Elmwood today [1975]. 


This page was constructed by Ron Gilmour with the assistance of Mr. Bill Burk, Mrs. Mary Felton,
Dr. Jim Massey, and Mr. Jim Murphy. Additional information and corrections are welcome.

Curriculum in Ecology                 North Carolina Botanical Garden               Biology Department
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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
fax: (919) 962-6930

Last Updated: 5 November 2014