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
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 Quercus
margaretta. 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 2,850 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.
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:
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.
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
… [Two of William Willard Ashe’s sisters],
Hannah (Mrs. William H. Bason), and Josephine (Mrs.
Joseph Graef)…live at Elmwood today .
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
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
Updated: 5 November 2014