Collectors of the UNC Herbarium
William Chambers Coker
The botanist who gave his name to one of UNC -
Chapel Hill's biology buildings and its arboretum was born in Hartsville,
South Carolina on October 24, 1872. His father was Major James Lide Coker, an educational reformer who helped to found
the South Carolina public school system and the Coker College for Women in
Hartsville. His mother was Susan Armstrong Stout.
Coker received his undergraduate education at
the University of South Carolina and his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins
University, working as the first student of Duncan S. Johnson, in 1901. In
1902 he came to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as an
associate professor. By 1908 he was a full professor and chairman of the
newly established Botany Department, located in Davie Hall (now home to the
Psychology Department). He had also begun the planting of the Coker
research interests were far-ranging. His Ph.D. research concerned the embryogeny of Taxodium
(bald cypress). He continued this type of work for a short time,
investigating embryogeny and seed-formation in
the gymnospermous genera Podocarpus
also interested in the woody flora of the Southeast, not only in an academic
sense, but also for purposes of landscape design. Other topics of inquiry
included bryophytes, filmy ferns, the teaching of science, and the
biography of Southeastern botanist.
Coker's first love was mycology, and the bulk of his publications (137 in
his fifty-one year career at UNC!) are devoted to the fungi. His most noted
achievement is probably his research on the Saprolegniaceae,
a group of water molds. This group was also the subject of one of Coker's
few independent books.
Besides his scientific research, Coker also
continued his father's interest in education, founding the Bureau of Design
and Improvement of School Grounds. This group was especially concerned with
the beautification of school grounds through planting. UNC's campus benefited
tremendously from Coker's landscaping skills as he served for thirty years on
the Building and Grounds committee.
Finally, Coker was known for his love of
teaching. He was known for a spontaneous teaching style with an emphasis on field
trips and abundant fresh material for students to examine.
Laurie Stewart Radford
(Curator of the University of North Carolina Herbarium 1936-1942)
Photograph by Lindsay
In a paper published just after Coker's death
(June 27, 1953), his students John N. Couch and Velma D. Matthews wrote that
"to a remarkable degree, he had the rare ability to stimulate the
student to want to find out more for himself and to
believe in the importance of what he was doing, if it added to
Coker had also been known to financially assist
needy graduate students and to contribute from his own pocket to the
collections of the UNC Botany Library (later named after his student, John
Couch). The current strength of both the botanical library and the herbarium
owes much to Coker's labors.
In 2011 the University of North Carolina
Herbarium (NCU) joined 33 other herbaria across North America to database 2.3
million bryophyte and lichen specimens.†
Moss specimen labels from this collaborative effort funded by the
National Science Foundation (NSF ADBC 1115116) can be searched and viewed at bryophyteportal.org†
In 2012 the University of North Carolina
Herbarium (NCU) joined 34 other institutions across the United States to form
the Macrofungi Collection Consortium.† This collaborative effort funded by the
National Science Foundation (NSF ADBC 1206197) aims to database 1.4 million
dried scientific specimens of fungi.† NCUís
macrofungi collection, including those collected by
W. C. Coker, can be accessed at mycoportal.org
Below are two samples of Coker's handwriting.
Both may be clicked upon to obtain larger images. The writing samples
represent a letter to L. H. Bailey at Cornell, written in Coker's more
legible hand and notes taken from Theophrastus' Enquiry into Plants.
The manuscript materials on this page are from the
archives of the Herbarium at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
and are used with permission. Further materials are located in the Coker
papers in the Southern
Historical Collection, Manuscript Department, Wilson Library, and in the papers of the
UNC Botany Department.
Coker's writings are extremely numerous, consisting
largely of papers printed in the Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific
Society and Mycologia. These writings
are listed in Couch and Matthews' article in Mycologia
vol. 46, pp. 372-383.
In 2007 the John N. Couch Biology Library at the
University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill completed an on-line bibliography of
William Chambers Coker's publications.
A few of
Coker's seminal works are listed below.
Coker, William Chambers. 1923. The Saprolegniaceae, with notes on other water molds.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Coker, William Chambers. 1923. Clavarias
of the United States and Canada. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Coker, William Chambers & Henry Roland Totten.
1934. Trees of the southeastern states, including Virginia, North
Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Northern Florida. Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press.
Coker, William Chambers & Alma Holland Beers. 1951.
The stipitate hydnums
of the eastern United States. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
page was constructed by Ron Gilmour with the assistance of Mr. Bill Burk,
Mrs. Mary Felton,
Dr. Jim Massey, Mr. Jim Murphy, and Ms. Carol Ann McCormick.
Additional information and corrections are welcome.
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: 8 October 2007