Dr. Edwin B. Smith

In 1973, I met Dr. Edwin B. Smith as my professor in his Plant Taxonomy class. During the class, I would fall in love and marry a classmate, Annetta Gail Stokenbury, who was known as Gail. Dr. Smith had a reputation for being a difficult professor, something he was proud of. He spoke to our class of "grade inflation," something that has probably only worsened since he retired. I could not easily find much about him on Google, but I did discover one article about him in the paper.


Dr. Smith, who felt his "Smith" name was too common and insisted the B. be used so he could be remembered, was a relatively young professor at the time. His lectures were detailed and some probably considered them tedious, but he also insisted each student make a collection of 60 plant specimens, something that would later change my life. "You can collect anywhere you want," he said. "I can't give you grades based on where you collect your plants, because that would only encourage students to submit intentionally mis-labeled specimens. Some students don't have cars, so it would not be fair to do that anyway. But if you limit yourself to only the campus area, you are unlikely to find anything new. Washington County [Arkansas] is the best known in the state, and you would be lucky to find a county record here. State record species are also nice, but finding one near campus is very unlikely."

Perhaps I took that as a challenge. Dr. Smith had specialized in studying the genus "Coreopsis." However, I did find a state record plant on the south side of campus, what was then called "Galium pedemontanum." Dr. Smith was quite surprised, but did say others had found the plant before but it had been mis-identified. As often happens, it turned out that this species had first turned up in North America in the 1930s and would be easily found in many lawns in Arkansas, mostly outside the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain of much of eastern Arkansas.

I'm an ecologist, and I now call G. pedemontanum my "million dollar plant." How could a tiny weed give me a million real US dollars? Without going into detail, as an ecologist, I liked studying everything. Dr. Douglas C. James, my main professor and an avian ecologist, like to take us on field trips and could identify many species of both plants and animals (including insects). I wanted to be able to do that (one reason I'm on this website) and in about 1987 decided to start collecting plants to be a better ecologist. After collecting a few thousand, I decided to return to the U of A and get a master's degree in Botany. This led to work with the US Forest Service where, in my final year, 2007, I earned more than $75,000. I've been retired and receiving benefits since then and if you all up all the actual income and benefits, G. pedemontanum spurred my interest in a way that I have received more than $1,000,000 in my 17 year career and retirement.

I'd surprise Dr. Smith again. I found a state record plant, a Stellaria species, growing outside the door of the building that housed his office, the Science-Engineering building. Obviously, even plants are easy to overlook. The Echinacea plant connected to this blog is one he helped me publish a chromosome count on.

Dr. Smith, an atheist, felt his botany work would be the only way he would be remembered generally. Perhaps. He was not flamboyant. But he was detailed oriented. One weekend, my two children, at ages about 14 and 11, were spending time with me in the herbarium. My daughter needed a pencil and picked one up from Dr. Smith's desk. My son asked her, "Did you get that from Dr. Smith's desk?" When she affirmed it, he said, "Make sure you put it back exactly where you found it. If you don't, Dr. Smith will know."

"I'll never use computers," he told me in about 1990 when he asked me to put a paper we were publishing on my computer. After typing it in, he had revisions. After about an hour, I revised the paper and gave him a new copy. He was surprised at the speed, because he had always retyped papers. He found a few more minor errors, and asked me to revise it again. He was shocked when I returned with a printed revised copy in five minutes, compared to the time it would take to type it again. I guess it convinced him. He would later publish his keys to the flora of Arkansas by using a computer!

He bragged that his taxonomy class was not easy and he had no problem giving graduate students the grades they earned, even if they were Cs and Ds. I'm proud to say I had made a B as a college junior.

Publicado por sedgehead sedgehead, 01 de septiembre de 2018


Fotos / Sonidos




Mayo 21, 2010 05:46 AM CDT


Grown from seed taken from a local site. Cultivated at 610 East Sixth Street.


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