Collectors of the UNC Herbarium
John Nathaniel Couch
John Nathaniel Couch was born in Prince
Edward County, Virginia on October 12, 1896 to John Henry Couch, a Baptist
minister, and Sally Love Terry Couch, a schoolteacher. In 1914 he entered
Trinity College (now Duke University) in Durham, North Carolina. After
three years at Trinity, he transferred to UNC to study medicine, but almost
immediately changed to botany, under the influence of William Chambers
Coker, then Chairman of the Botany Department.
While still an undergraduate, he had a brief
tour of duty in France and received his bachelor's degree in absentia
through the University of Nancy. Upon returning to the United States, he
completed both an M.S. and a Ph.D. under Dr. Coker and joined the faculty
at UNC as an assistant professor in 1922.
During this time he also taught science
classes at Chapel Hill High School. He also taught botany at the University
while working on his Ph.D. and retained a very active interest in teaching
throughout his career, guiding the studies of 27 master's and 15 Ph.D.
he married Else Dorothy Ruprecht of Brooklyn. His
wife was very strong in languages and aided both Couch and his students in
translations of French and German literature. They had two children: John
Phillip Couch and Sally Louise Couch Gooder.
the retirement of Dr. Coker in 1944, Couch became the Chairman of the
Botany Department, a position he held until 1960. In 1945 he was awarded a
Kenan chair. He retired in 1968, but remained active in the department.
deeply opposed to the 1982 merger of the botany and zoology departments and
was involved in unsuccessful attempts to prevent that action. Dr. Couch
died in Chapel Hill on December 16, 1986.
Dr. Couch followed the interests of his
mentor, Dr. Coker, in his research on fungi. He co-authored a work on the gastromycetes of the eastern United States with Coker, a
work which remains unsurpassed.
During a brief period of study in Jamaica,
Couch became interested in the genus Septobasidium,
a fungus which exists symbiotically on the trunks of tropical trees with
scale insects and which became the focus of his life's work.
His 1938 monograph on the genus earned him the
Walker Prize of the Boston Society of Natural History. Other fungal genera on
which he worked were Actinoplanes, which he
discovered and believed to be a possible link between fungi and bacteria; Coelomomyces, a fungus which parasitizes mosquito
larvae; and (briefly) the green alga Vaucheria,
in which he studied gametogenesis.
1937: Jefferson Medal from the North Carolina
Academy of Sciences.
1937-1939: Associate editor of Mycologia.
1943: President of the Mycological Society of
1946-1947: President of the North Carolina
Academy of Sciences.
1946-1961: Editor of the Journal of the
Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society.
1955: Meritorious Teaching Award from the
Association of Southeastern Biologists.
1964: Vice-President of Botanical Society of
1964: First recipient of the Gold Medal
Science Award of the State of North Carolina.
One of the best sources for biographical
information about Couch is a piece written by Leland Shanor
in the Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society, vol. 84, pp.
1-7, from which much of the material here presented is drawn. This article
also lists Couch's publications.
Another important source is an article by UNC
Biology Librarian William R. Burk and former Couch student Charles E. Bland
which appeared in Mycologia vol. 81, pp.
181-189. In addition to an extensive bibliography, this article includes a
list of Couch's graduate students with the titles of their theses and some
personal remembrances of Couch by Dr. Bland. Mr. Burk has also assembled a complete listing of Couch's publications. A few especially important
works are listed below.
Couch's papers are held both at the Southern
Historical Collection, Manuscript
Department, Wilson Library, and in the archives of the UNC Herbarium.
Relevant materials can also be located in among the papers of the Botany Department in the University Archives.
Coker, William Chambers & John
Nathaniel Couch. 1928. The Gasteromycetes of the
Eastern United States and Canada. Chapel Hill: University of North
Couch, John Nathaniel. 1937.
"A new fungus intermediate between the rusts and Septobasidium."
Mycologia 29(6): 665-673.
Couch, John Nathaniel. 1938. The
genus Septobasidium. Chapel Hill: University of
North Carolina Press.
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 & corrections
Curriculum North Carolina UNC
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University of North Carolina
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phone: (919) 962-6931
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Last Updated: 7 May