recollections of A.E. Radford
by Steve W. Leonard
April 14, 2006
From January 1968 until the end of 1971 I was
privileged to be employed by the University as Herbarium Curator—a position
handed to me by Dr. Radford—and I never knew what happened behind the scenes
to make it happen. The Herbarium was already well along on the Carolinas
exchange program with 105 participating institutions when I got there. Later
we expanded to 125 and then 135. As a result the place was busy with boxes
arriving and boxes being sent out all over the world. Mrs. Snow and Mrs.
Harper were the two principal part-time employees with incoming specimens.
Nancy Clark and Betty Hall were two of the administrative secretarial people
whom I recall, and we had a long list of undergraduate and graduate student
But this account is not about students or
herbarium workers but about the Man, himself and some of my recollections
from numerous field trips into various parts of the Carolinas. My introduction
into the Radford modus operandi occurred in the fall of
1967 when I was invited to accompany John Bozeman and Radford on a collecting
trip to lower South Carolina. I knew almost no plants so I had to pick up as
much instruction as possible along the way. One of our first stops was at a
pond behind some church in upper South Carolina and I was told to gather
specimens of a grass growing in the edge of the lake. As carefully as I
could, I squatted along the bank and reached out as far as possible to snatch
stems of my quarry, being careful not to get wet! In a few moments I looked
up at the sound of great splashing to see Radford wading along the margin of
the pond, knee-deep in water while concentrating in his methodical manner on
all species visible and some no doubt he expected to find. I thought if it is
okay for him to get wet, then it is okay for me, and from that day
onward—even to this—I rarely wear boots, and will plunge in, Radford fashion,
if it is not over my head. When the three day field trip had ended and all of
our collections were pressed, the three of us had gathered 4,607 specimens
I haven’t done it but I could go back through
my accession books to see how many trips the two of us made. Sometimes a
graduate student would go with us but the best trips were those when he and I
were alone. I learned the knack of driving with one eye focused on the
highway and the other focused on the roadside plants. We could travel mile
after mile with never a word said. In the early days I waited for him to
issue the “Stop” command but eventually I gained enough confidence to stop on
my own when something stuck out of the roadside flora or when an interesting
place was spotted. We always started our days promptly at 7AM, spent as
little time as possible for lunch if we ate at all, and collected until dark.
If it rained, we got wet. At nightfall we hunted for the standard Holiday Inn
($14/night for a room with two double beds) and a local eatery.
One of our most remarkable field trips
coincided with a minor hurricane off the coast of South Carolina. From the
time we crossed into South Carolina it rained and rained and rained some
more. We stowed our wet clothes in our standard military rubberized laundry
bags that were used for packing the bundles of collections. The next day on
one of the coastal islands near Charleston during an absolute monsoonal
deluge, we collected the wonderful beach primrose, Oenothera
drummondii, with its huge yellow flowers.
Dripping with water we decided to change back into our clothes of the
previous day that were damp though not wringing wet. In the humidity and
heat, they had soured. But they were less wet than what we were wearing, so
we changed right there in front of the disbelieving world, and spent the rest
of our smelly journey with the heater on and the windows down!
There were very few times when Radford
revealed anything of his early years or his private life. On one occasion
when we lodged in Edgefield, South Carolina he told me about his high school
years of playing baseball in Edgefield and how his family had moved
frequently (17 times by the time he had finished high school). It may have
been on that occasion that he told me about his brothers and sisters—there
were nine altogether—and seven earned Ph.D. degrees. He never discussed his
military career, and never elaborated on family matters. I suppose such focus
and mental discipline came from his determination to succeed or from his
military indoctrination. The only time I ever heard him utter a profane word
was when he was quoting one of his teachers, Professor Roland Totten. I guess
the story is worth telling.
Dr. Totten had an interest in giant trees of
each species but harbored a fear of snakes. On one of his field trips into
the swamp of the Roanoke River at the head of Albemarle Sound in eastern
North Carolina where a huge bald cypress supposedly grew, Dr. Totten was
leading his small class of students when all at once he encountered a large
coiled rattlesnake on the bank of a small stream in a canebreak
thicket. At the sight of the serpent, Dr. Totten uttered an irreverential “Great god a-mighty!” and jumped straight
up, almost landing on the snake when he came down, according to Radford who
chuckled over recalling Dr. Totten’s dilemma.
One piece of advice—a warning—Radford left
with me characterizes the man in a special way. He said if you are going
to do something, get at least 40 percent of it done before you announce what
you are doing. He was both a realist and an idealist. He was acquainted
with unprofessionalism in botany having himself been burned, but he looked
for the positive—the potential in an individual. He gave me the benefit of
the doubt and for that I am grateful.
PO Box 310
Wiggins, MS 39577
ca. 1974 by Laurie Stewart Radford: University of North Carolina botany class
field trip to Dolly Sods, West Virginia.
Dr. Al Radford is in the center, wearing baseball cap.
If anyone recognizes the students, please email firstname.lastname@example.org so we can
add their names to this caption.
Dr. A. E. Radford and of “Radford”
by L. L. Gaddy
May 1, 2006
I have tucked under a pile of books on the bottom
shelf of an old bookcase my first copy of Manual of the Vascular Flora of
the Carolinas, by A. E. Radford, H. E. Ahles, and C. R. Bell. I bought
it in 1971 or so for just over ten dollars. It originally had a green
hardcover (the newer editions have a purple cover). The cover illustration
was the Venus flytrap, a Carolina endemic and one of the world’s most famous
(or “wonderful,” as Darwin put it) plants. Dalibarda
repens is now on the cover (I really don’t
know why). My first copy is now coverless and is falling apart. I keep it for
the memories of my early botanical years.
The manual was generally referred to as
“Radford,” people having dropped the Ahles and Bell—out of convenience, not
disrespect for these two junior authors. “Radford” was (and still is) quoted
like the botanical bible of the Carolinas. “Radford says….this…, Radford
says…that…, Radford has Viola tripartita
from Macon County, Radford claims Ludwigia
linifolia is rare, and Radford says Actaea pachypoda
is found in rich woods (whatever that means).” This book sometimes seemed
more real than Nature herself. We, the young botanists of the seventies,
would often check “Radford” to see if the plants were growing where they were
supposed to grow…and, most of the time, they were. Albert Radford died last
month in Missouri at the age of 88. In his 1183-page manual and now in his
death, he became and has become greater than himself—as W. H. Auden said of
W. B. Yeats after the passing of the latter, “he became his admirers.”
Dr. Albert E. Radford was born in Augusta,
Georgia in 1918. He attended Furman University and later became Professor of
Botany at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Radford the man
was large in stature and had a gravelly, somewhat high-pitched southern voice.
He was always willing to dispense good botanical advice to those who
accompanied him on his field excursions throughout the Carolinas. In his
office in Chapel Hill, he often seemed preoccupied and grouchy, as are most
field botanists when in office captivity. In the field, however, he seemed to
be a different person. In the eighties, I remember once driving the old
Panther Creek Road (on the GA-SC line) on Easter Sunday in an open-air jeep.
A white van filled with students pulled up beside me on the dirt road; the
driver, dressed in khaki, looked me straight in the eye with a knowing smile.
It was Dr. Radford, pursuing his religion, in that holiest of sanctuaries,
the southern Appalachians.
I am sure Dr. Radford was proud of the manual,
which was often criticized as having many errors, but, in the long run, was
generally recognized as one of the best, if not the best, regional floras in
the country. He was also proud of his discovery of a bluff on Stevens Creek
near Clarks Hill in South Carolina. Here, he had found a one-of-kind relict
Pleistocene plant community with numerous state and regional floristic
records. Radford was also a student of the sedge genus Carex
and was ahead of his time in understanding the complexities of Carex ecology. Dr. Radford inspired many field
botanists and produced outstanding students, many of whom are now teachers or
herbarium curators (former students of his are on the editorial board of both
Flora of North America and Flora of China !). In his final university
years, he spent time working on the natural areas of the southeastern United
States and discussing methodologies with which to document such areas. His
concept of “ecosystematics,” refined in Vascular
Plant Systematics, was original and complex, and strongly influenced numerous
southeastern botanists, including myself.
In the seventies, I had asked Dr. Radford
about unexplored areas in the southern Appalachians. He told me about the
Brevard Belt, its complex geologic structure, and its undocumented flora.
Years later when I found a new species of Carex
endemic to the Brevard Belt of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina
(it only took ten years to describe it and get it published), I named it Carex radfordii
in honor of the man who told me where to look.
L. L. Gaddy
125 South Edisto Avenue
Columbia, South Carolina 29205
Jay Kranyik's photograph of his well-used Manual, in
use in Dupont Forest.
Jay adds, "I have pictures of Botanists glued to the inside covers of my
(sometimes when I need some help, I lay my palm on their picture and channel
Botanical Gardens of Asheville
Asheville, North Carolina
Al" and Conservation
by J. Dan Pittillo
18 May 2006
Dr. Albert E. Radford is perhaps he is best
known for his contribution to botanical knowledge that began with the Flora
of the Carolinas project. The team of University of North Carolina
botanists included several students that received their masters
degrees by compiling floras of various counties. After only a decade this
project resulted in two publications. He, along with Harry E. Ahles and C.
Ritchie Bell, published the Guide to the Vascular Flora of the
Carolinas in 1964, with the subsequent publication of the Atlas
of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas in 1965. I had the privilege
to join this group in my last two years of high school, submitting a
collection from Henderson County, NC. The final product of this
ground-breaking effort was the well known Manual
of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas in 1968, complete with county
records for which collections were either made or documented from other
What many people do not realize is that Dr.
Radford was a key player in the establishment of the Natural Heritage Program
for North Carolina. This effort began in 1976 with then Governor Holzhouser's appointment of the committee under the
guidance of The Nature Conservancy. Dr. Al, as we fondly called him, insisted
that we make this program a line-item budgeted by the State, and it has
resulted in perhaps the best Natural Heritage Program in the Southeast.
For Dr. Al's tireless efforts we can all be
grateful that we not only have a fine reference for identifying the plants of
the Carolinas, but we also have a program that helps protect the habitats for
this flora as well.
J. Dan Pittillo
675 Cane Creek Road
Sylva, North Carolina 28779