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Harold Epstein: 1903-1997.
"He was a remarkably gifted man who was a passionate horticulturist and global plant collector, who introduced many wonderful plants to American horticulture." -- Michael Balick, New York Botanical Garden.

Harold Epstein, known by many as the elder statesman of the horticultural world, died in July. At the time of his death he was working on his long-term project, the classification of the genus Epimedium, a semi-evergreen ground cover. He was born in Manhattan and graduated from New York University. Few of his admirers realized that he was a totally self-taught horticulturist who had been a practicing certified public accountant until 1963 when, he said, a heart attack persuaded him to indulge two loves: travel and plants. "I've circled the globe four times, with 29 trips to Japan, my favorite destination," he said in a 1991 interview. His interest in gardening began in 1939 through the advice of experts from the New York Botanical Garden after he moved to Larchmont, New York. He soon became an active member of the American Rock Garden Society, inaugurated its quarterly bulletin, started a seed exchange and organized an annual symposium. He was the society's national president fo r 16 years.

He clearly thrived on finding, collecting, and introducing horticultural prizes not previously found in American gardens. His first such introduction was in 1949 when he returned with a Korean lilac, Syringa meyeri C.K. Schneid. in Sarga, Oleaceae. He was soon donating or swapping seeds, seedlings, or cuttings, of the unusual plants he had found throughout the country -- rare cultivars of azaleas and rhododendrons, as well as the flowering vine Schizophragma hydrangeoides Siebold & Zucc., Hydrangeaceae, and the golden ornamental grass Hakonechloa macra (Munro) Honda, Poaceae. Among his favorite lecturing sites were the New York Botanical Garden, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Alpine Garden Society of Great Britain, and the Japan Alpine Rock Garden Society. His writings appeared in several of the journals of the societies, and he received awards from many horticultural and garden societies. One of his biggest horticultural jewels, which he called, "the biggest thing I've done in this lifetime," was a dawn redwood, now some 150 feet high. This tree, which dates to the time of the dinosaurs, was believed extinct in 1948 when he was given one of the first seeds brought by botanists from China to Harvard's Arnold Arboretum. "Over the years he's shared with us many unusual plants, and these have become part of the garden," said Marco Polo Stufano, director of horticulture at the Wavehill Center for Environmental Studies in the Bronx.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Barbara A. Johnston