Jim Reveal, PhD, author of the Reveal system of botanical classification and leading authority on American plant taxonomy, passed away on January 9, 2015, at the age of 73. The majority of his research and writing in the field of botany involved the identification and study of plants in the Polygonaceae subfamily Eriogonoideae, commonly known as the wild buckwheats. Dr. Reveal discovered or identified more than 50 plant varieties; most of his discoveries were plants native to the American Southwest. He also devoted much of his time and energy to protecting and conserving endangered plant species, and he had a long-standing research interest in the botanical history of the American West.
Born in Reno, Nevada, Dr. Reveal earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from Utah State University. After earning his master's in 1966, he served as a pre-doctoral fellow for the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. He earned his doctorate in 1969 from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. While still a doctoral student in 1968, he documented five new species of plants at a nuclear testing site in Nevada. After earning his degree, he was hired as an assistant professor of botany at the University of Maryland; he became a full professor in 1981 and continued to teach at the university until his retirement in 1999, whereupon he was awarded the title of professor emeritus.
Dr. Reveal began his crusade for plant conservation and endangerment when he became a member of the Smithsonian's Endangered Species Committee. Serving on the committee from 1974 to 1982, he successfully lobbied for the sweeping 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA) to include endangered plant life. In 1975, upon direction from the government to identify plant species most in need of protection, Dr. Reveal and the Committee produced a report recommending that more than 3,000 species receive “threatened” or “endangered” >status. The first plants to be listed as endangered appeared in 1977. Since its implementation, the ESA has become one of the most effective tools in the continuing effort to protect species — both plant and animal — and their habitats in the United States.
In 1978, Dr. Reveal married C. Rose Broome, PhD, and they became close collaborators on many projects through Dr. Broome's work at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Dr. Reveal's position as the director of the Norton-Brown Herbarium at the University of Maryland, which he held from 1979 to 1999. Pursuing his deep and abiding interest in history and nomenclature, Dr. Reveal became known as an authority on the history of American botany, with a particular focus on the Lewis and Clark expedition. He wrote several articles and books about the plant life the expedition encountered on its trek, and he curated a collection called the Lewis and Clark Herbarium in conjunction with the University of Maryland and Cornell University.
Dr. Reveal's interests were not limited strictly to American taxonomy, however. “Thank goodness Jim accepted my invitations to accompany me on trips to China (circa 1980 or 1981) and to Panama, collecting and vouchering plants for the NCI [National Cancer Institute] cancer screening program,” wrote preeminent American economic botanist James A. Duke, PhD (email, March 27, 2015). “I think we brought back 800 total pounds of some 200-400 plant species for the program from China alone — of course with the permission of the Chinese. Tough trip, but Jim was tough too. We made it and enjoyed those hard-working trips.” Upon his retirement from the Norton-Brown Herbarium, Dr. Reveal had collected over 9,000 plant specimens from North America, Central America, and China.
He developed the Reveal system of botanical classification in 1999, a taxonomic system applied to a large group of angiosperm taxa with ten parts, beginning with Magnoliidae and ending with Asteridae. “Pure taxonomists, unlike us economic taxonomists,” wrote Dr. Duke, “do their taxonomic things, often making unwelcome but overdue changes in the scientific names of organisms —in our case, plants. That was Jim's forte. Though a great field botanist, Jim was also always a great correspondent. Any time I had a pure taxonomic question, I'd call on Jim, and have a solid, credible answer often almost immediately.”
Dr. Reveal joined the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) shortly thereafter to co-author the APG II and III classification systems. He remained active and working up until his passing; he was serving as an honorary curator of the New York Botanical Garden and as an adjunct professor at Cornell at the time of his death. He also served as a mentor to the Eriogonum Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the species that Dr. Reveal knew so well.
The diligence and service that Dr. Reveal brought to the botanical community did not go unrecognized, and he earned a number of honors and awards throughout his career. In 1994, the University of Maryland awarded him the Faculty Award for Excellence in Service; he was also a fellow of the Washington Academy of Sciences and the Linnean Society of London. Of his more than 500 publications, many received awards or nominations from organizations such as the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Council of Botanical and Horticultural Libraries, and the National Garden Club. He also received the Edger T. Wherry Award from the North American Rock Garden Society in 2009 and the Merritt Lynn Fernald Award from the New England Botanical Club in 2010.
Cornell University paid tribute to Dr. Reveal's memory with a botanical photo exhibit featuring his photography at the Albert R. Mann Library on campus. “Wildflowers for a Winter Season” was originally planned as a collaboration between the library and Dr. Reveal before his sudden passing. In his lifetime, Dr. Reveal was recognized for his contributions to botany with four species and one genus named in his honor: Castilleja revealii, Orobanchaceae; Eriogonum revealianum (syn. E. corymbosum var. revealianum), Polygonaceae; Montanoa revealii, Asteraceae; Rumfordia reveallii,Asteraceae; and Revealia (Asteraceae).