Collectors of the UNC Herbarium
William Willard Ashe
William Willard Ashe was born in Raleigh,
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
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
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, matriculating in 1891. The ollowing year he received his M.S. from Cornell, where
he specialized in botany and geology.
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.
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
His botanical works centered around woody plants, especially the genus Crataegus,
although he also published on such herbaceous genera as Asarum
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 2,340 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,
Major Works by Ashe
Forest fires: Their destructive
work, causes and prevention. North
Carolina Geological Survey Bulletin no. 7. Raleigh, North Carolina: J.
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.
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
Curriculum North Carolina UNC
In Ecology Botanical Garden Biology Department
University of North Carolina
CB# 3280, Coker Hall
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3280
phone: (919) 962-6931
fax: (919) 962-6930
Last Updated: 7 June 2004