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Lincoln Constance

Professor of Integrative Biology, Emeritus




June 11, 2001 brought the end of an era at the Jepson Herbarium and the University of California, Berkeley, with the loss of our dear friend and invaluable colleague Professor Lincoln Constance, at the age of 92. Lincoln was the patriarch of botany at Berkeley and the last of the original trustees of the Jepson Herbarium. Among the Berkeley faculty, he was also the last direct, living link to Willis Linn Jepson, who was Lincoln's mentor and Ph.D. advisor in the 1930s. He is survived by his son, William, of Berkeley and a niece, Nancy Constance Doornink of Springfield, Oregon. His wife, Sara (Sally) Luten Constance of Oregon, died in 1991.


Lincoln was born on February 16, 1909 in Eugene, Oregon to parents Lewis Llewellyn Constance and Ella Clifford Constance, who had moved to Oregon the year before, from Wisconsin. His interest in natural history began as a child, in part through YMCA summer camp activities. In high school, he spent Saturday mornings at the University of Oregon interacting with Louis F. Henderson, a prominent plant systematist, and obtaining "very exciting" experience in identifying problematical native plant collections. He graduated from high school in 1926 and enrolled directly in the University of Oregon. His first professional experience as a botanist came as an undergraduate, in 1928, when he began collecting plants in eastern Oregon for Professor Henderson. He obtained his B.S. degree in 1930 and accepted admission to graduate school and a teaching assistantship with Professor Jepson (earning 50 cents a day) at Berkeley, where he was among the original occupants of the Life Sciences Building. During his time in graduate school, Lincoln was a seasonal naturalist at Crater Lake National Park (for two summers) and conducted floristic fieldwork on Redwood Peak in the Oakland Hills, which was the basis for his M.S. degree, in 1932. He conducted extensive systematic research on the woolly sunflowers (Eriophyllum), the basis for his Ph.D., which he received in 1934.


With the Great Depression still underway, Lincoln accepted his first academic appointment in 1934 as director of the herbarium at Washington State College in Pullman, where he "...was paid for half time, and ... worked about two-and-a-half time." He married his college sweetheart from Portland, Sally (Sara Luten), in 1936. In 1937 he left Washington to return to Berkeley as an assistant professor, immediately following Jepson's retirement. Jepson, who had become bitter about his experiences as a faculty member, warned Lincoln against accepting a professorship at Berkeley, which he characterized as a "nest of vipers," but Lincoln had already accepted the position upon receiving Jepson's warning and never regretted his decision.


Lincoln was a true gentleman among botanists and won the enduring trust of Jepson, who named Lincoln as one of three original trustees to administer the Jepson Research Fund. Consequently, Lincoln was directly involved in the establishment of the Jepson Herbarium after Jepson's death in 1946. For more than 50 years, Lincoln helped to guide the course of the herbarium and was an important source of advice and perspective on Jepson's wishes. He served as principal investigator of the Jepson Manual Project and provided important guidance that helped to ensure successful completion of that effort in 1993.


We cannot do justice to Lincoln's innumerable accomplishments as a scientist and administrator in this brief memorial. Some of the formal titles that he held during his long career at UC Berkeley give an inkling of his deep involvement in academic life at Cal. He was Curator of Seed Plants in the University Herbarium in the 1940s, chair of the Department of Botany in the early 1950s, dean of the College of Letters and Science from the mid-1950s to early 1960s, vice chancellor of academic affairs from the early to mid-1960s, director of the University Herbarium from the early 1960s to mid-1970s, and acting chancellor at various times. His sense of service to the campus extended from these responsible and demanding administrative positions to his habitual picking up of trash from campus lawns and paths. As a botanist, Lincoln's outstanding contributions to the field of plant systematics are reflected by his receipt in 1986 of the Asa Gray Award, the highest honor for lifetime achievement offered by the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, and his receipt in 1985 of the prestigious Fellows' Medal from the California Academy of Sciences, where he served as president during the mid-1970s.


At the time of his death, Lincoln was the undisputed world authority on the highly diverse umbel family (Umbelliferae/Apiaceae), a group notoriously difficult for systematists to comprehend. Much of what we know about systematics of the umbels comes from the efforts of Lincoln, his students, and his associates, including his longtime collaborator, the late Mildred Mathias of the University of California, Los Angeles. His monographic and floristic treatments of umbels from throughout the world and his innumerable scientific articles on the family are a lasting legacy that will guide new research on the family far into the future. Among Californian umbels alone, he described or co-described over a dozen new species and varieties and was in the process of describing a new species of Californian Eryngium just prior to his death. He also made major contributions to systematics of the taxonomically difficult waterleaf family (Hydrophyllaceae), a group well represented in the California flora, and to understanding of the woolly sunflower group (Eriophyllum and relatives), the subject of his Ph.D. dissertation. Lincoln's imprint on California botany is also evident from the Californian plant species named for him, including Arabis constancei, Eryngium constancei, Lupinus constancei, and the genus Constancea.


Lincoln made important conceptual contributions to systematic botany, as well, and was a strong advocate of incorporating new research approaches and techniques into the field without abandonment of long established practices. His hopeful vision of systematics as an "unending synthesis" proved prophetic, as botanists now seek to combine data from diverse sources to resolve persistent questions about plant relationships. Lincoln's influence also extended to historical plant geography. From a Californian perspective, a particularly notable contribution to plant geography was a symposium over which he presided during the early 1960s to address the occurrence of close relatives of Californian plants in the Mediterranean climatic region of Chile and Argentina. From that symposium came a series of papers in the Quarterly Review of Biology (1963), including a review and introduction by Lincoln that brought new understanding to the importance of ancient long-distance plant dispersal between western North America and southern South America in shaping the floras of the two regions.


Lincoln's major influence on systematic botany is perhaps best evident from the following list of his graduate students, many of whom went on to become botanical luminaries and prominent contributors to understanding of the world's flora, including the California flora: Satish Banwar, Alan A. Beetle, C. Ritchie Bell, Paul But, Sherwin Carlquist, Tsan-Iang Chuang, Duncan Clement, Theodore J. Crovello, John W. Dawson, George W. Gillett, Frank W. Gould, Lawrence R. Heckard, John W. Ingram, Hsuan Keng, Charles T. Mason, Richard S. Mitchell, Elwood Molseed, Reid V. Moran, Thomas Morley, George E. Pilz, Douglas M. Post, Charles F. Quibell, Rafael L. Rodriguez, Reed Rollins, Wayne Savage, Ren Hwa Shan, M. Yusuf Sheikh, Otto T. Solbrig, Willard L. Spence, Roy L. Taylor, Warren H. Wagner, and Carroll E. Wood.


Personal reflection by B. G. Baldwin:


I first met Lincoln in 1994, long after his so-called "retirement" and shortly after the loss of his beloved wife, Sally. I was extremely fortunate to have an office next door to Lincoln, who freely shared his great knowledge and soon became a close friend. Although he was 85 when I arrived at Berkeley, he was in the herbarium at least six days a week and kept long hours for years. During those years he managed to publish articles and treatments at an astonishing rate while identifying umbels by the caseload for herbaria throughout the world. He obviously loved botany. Although his workload often appeared to be oppressive, he never turned away a drop-in visitor or a request for assistance with plant identification or a manuscript. He greeted everyone warmly.


In 1996, Dr. Pablo Vargas, a postdoctoral fellow from Madrid, Spain (now on the faculty at the Royal Botanical Garden in Madrid), and I were fortunate to have the opportunity to collaborate with Lincoln on a phylogenetic investigation of the Calfornian sanicles (Sanicula sect. Sanicoria), a group of umbels that Lincoln knew extremely well. True to form, Lincoln was excited about seeking a new perspective on evolutionary relationships of umbels while carefully considering the merits of the approach and the data. We enjoyed a memorable year of shared discoveries that peaked with the finding that the Hawaiian sanicles are evolutionary descendants of the Californian group.


Most of all, I am grateful to Lincoln for being my friend and for the inspiration he provided by being such a sterling role model as a scholar and colleague. I am certainly not alone in that sentiment. On the occasion of his 90th birthday, I read the following passage from a letter to Lincoln from Prof. Daniel J. Crawford that nicely expresses how botanists throughout the world will continue to feel about Lincoln:


"One of the highest compliments that can be paid a man in academics is to refer to him as ‘a gentleman and a scholar.’ To me, and I'm sure to many others, you, more than anyone else, represent the embodiment of this description."



Brent D. Mishler

Bruce G. Baldwin

Roderic B. Park