Liriodendron tulipifera flower

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


Collectors of the UNC Herbarium

Francis Whittier Pennell
(4 August 1886 -- 3 February 1952)

Information compiled by Carol Ann McCormick, November 2005

The University of North Carolina Herbarium has catalogued approximately 50 specimens that were collected by, determined by, or annotated by F. W. Pennell. As cataloguing of the collection continues more will be found.

Wherry, Edgar T. (1952) F. W. Pennell. Castanea 17(1): 66-67.

Francis Whittier Pennell was born August 4, 1886 on a farm near Wawa, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and died of a heart attack while attending Meeting at Media, on Sunday, February 3, 1952. He is survived by his wife, Anne, a son, and by several brothers and sisters. He was educated at Westtown School and the University of Pennsylvania, receiving here the degrees of B. S. in 1911 and Ph.D. in 1913. From 1914 to 1921 he was on the staff of the New York Botanical Garden, and then became Curator of Plants at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Early showing an interest in Nature, he was encouraged by local amateur botanists, among whom he noted Dr. Willima Trimble as having been especially helpful. It was the head of the Botany Department of the University of Pennsylvania, the late Dr. John M. Macfarlane, who stimulated him to take up Botany as his life work. Enthusiastic over Darwin's views as to the evolution of floral and other features through natural selection, Macfarlane was especially interested in the bearing of the Scrophulariaceae on that field, and suggested the study of members of this family as a topic for a doctoral thesis. The outcome is known to every taxonomist: Francis W. Pennell became a world authority on this complex plant family.

He was a prolific writer, not only on this group, but on various other plants, on taxonomic problems in general, and on botanical history. Complete lists of his writings will be duly published elsewhere; here may be mentioned the major work to which every student of the flora of the southern Appalachians turns for useful keys to and copious information upon the "scrophs," "The Scrophulariaceae of Eastern Temperate North America: Monograph 1, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 650 pages, 1935."

In 1927 I had the privilege of driving him on a month-long auto trip to study the genus Chelone in the Appalachians and Interior Plateau country; and in 1931, on a longer one to study the members of the family in the western states, under a grant from the National Research Council. I was impressed, first, by his active mind: he was ever observing phenomena and relationships among the plants we encountered -- and not by any means only those of his chosen family -- and discussing them in an interesting way, indeed continuing even when circumstances diverted my attention elsewhere. I was further impressed by the extent to which an interest in science would overcome handicaps. As a youth, Francis told me that he was delicate, and had been excused from farm duties. He had thereby attained a sort of inferiority complex concerning mechanical devices, and was unable to master even such an operation as applying an air hose to a valve to fill a sagging tire. He had early been admonished that getting ones' feet wet could lead to illness, and had gained an extreme aversion to water (I did all the collecting of aquatic scrophs). And he would shrink in fear at the approaching of a barking dog or even a curious cow. Correspondingly, he was proud of his control over non-mechanical things: thus, when we crossed a standard-time boundary line, he promptly changed his watch accordingly. However, his intellectual curiosity was so powerful that he was able to surmount these and other difficulties, and do a vast amount of productive field work, even in the wilds of South America. His loss is keenly felt by the professional and amateur botanists of the Philadelphia Botanical Club, of which he was for some years President, as well as by taxonomists throughout the world.


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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: 30 November 2005