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John W. Thieret 1926-2005
John W. Thieret 1926—2005

Renowned botanist John W. Thieret, PhD, passed away on December 7, 2005, at the age of 79.1 His lifelong dedication to the botanical field resulted in contributions to taxonomy, education, research, and botanical literature.

Dr. Thieret was born August 1, 1926, in Chicago, IL.2 He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in botany from Utah State University (in 1950 and 1951, respectively) and obtained his PhD in botany from the University of Chicago in 1953.3 He began his career serving as Curator of Economic Botany at the Field Museum of Chicago from 1954-1961. He then entered academia, teaching at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette from 1961-1973. He later served as Professor of Botany at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) from 1973-1992, after which he acted as that institution's Professor Emeritus of Botany.

Miriam Steinitz-Kannan, PhD, professor of biology at NKU and close associate of Dr. Thieret for 26 years, said Dr. Thieret attracted many students to the study of botany, some of whom had very little previous knowledge of plants (Steinitz-Kannan M, oral communication, June 1, 2006): "He got so many students interested in botany—that's probably his greatest legacy! He adored botany and had a tremendous eye for diversity. He had such a passion for the field that it was contagious. We're going to miss that a lot."

For many years, Dr. Thieret also actively worked in an advisory or editorial capacity for various organizations and publications.3 He was an editor of the journal Economic Botany for over 25 years, from 1959-1984, and later also served as the journal's associate editor. He was an advisor in botany for the Encyclopedia Britannica, a member of the Board of Trustees for the Lloyd Library in Cincinnati, and a member of the editorial committee of the Flora of North America Association, to name just a few.

Another lauded accomplishment was his founding and development of the NKU herbarium.2 His research and field work also led him to publish multiple articles and books, and several plant species bear his name.

"Probably the greatest legacy of John Thieret is his continuing influence on those he encountered who wished to learn about plants," said Robert Naczi, Curator of the Claude E. Phillips Herbarium at Delaware State University (e-mail, May 26, 2006). "John was a gifted teacher whose enthusiasm for all aspects of plants was infectious. Through sharing his deep botanical knowledge, quick wit, and attention-getting (often unconventional) demonstrations and stories, John managed to communicate passion and accurate science to generations of students, naturalists, and other professional botanists."

James Reveal, PhD, Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland, commented that Dr. Thieret's botanical knowledge encouraged many organizations and individuals to seek his counsel (J. Reveal, e-mail, May 24, 2006): "John was the person the Flora of North America Committee turned to whenever they needed someone to write a treatment of some group that no one else particularly knew anything about. Foremost to me personally was his knowledge of botanical explorations and discoveries in the Southeast; he was a valuable resource whenever I was working on the subject."

Dr. John Thieret is survived by his wife Mildred, his 5 children, 7 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren.1

—Courtney Cavaliere


1. Eshbaugh WH. John Thieret: A brief biography. Lloydiana. 2006:10;2.

2. Hansel M. John Thieret, botanist, cornerstone at NKU. Kentucky Post. December 10, 2005. Available at: Accessed May 18, 2006.

3. Kentucky Academy of Science Superlative Awards page. Kentucky Academy of Science Web site. Available at: Accessed May 24, 2006.