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Barton H. Warnock: 1911-1998.
Barton H. Warnock, one of the nation's outstanding botanists and a leading authority on the flora of the Trans-Pecos region of Texas, died June 9, at the age of 86. Warnock was born July 21, 1911, in Christoval, Texas. He grew up in Fort Stockton, and graduated from Sul Ross State University in 1937, where he was also a football standout. He earned a master's degree from the University of Iowa in 1939, and joined the Sul Ross State University (Alpine, Texas) faculty in 1946 after receiving a Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin. Warnock was named chair of the biology department at Sul Ross University in 1947. When he retired in January 1979, he was named Distinguished Professor Emeritus by the Board of Regents. In February 1979, the Science Building was named in his honor.

Nearly everyone in Texas west of the Pecos River knew Warnock as "the Doc." To them he was a legend. Barton belonged to the ranchers. He was their systematist. From E1 Paso to the Pecos, Warnock knew them all, who owned what spread, how many sections what kind of plants dominated. He even knew the history of their places better than they did, having outlived most of the original owners.

Warnock spent much of his time after retiring as a plant collector and "curator" of ranch herbaria. He set up numerous small collections in one or two herbarium cases at the ranch headquarters of the bigger spreads in the trans-Pecos so that the ranch owner, or his manager, or the owners' children might know what their land grew and where.

Said Professor Billy Turner of the Botany Department, University of Texas at Austin, "Meeting Dr. Warnock changed my career, if not my life. He wooed me with words, smiles, and competition; noting that I excelled in his class with little effort and much enthusiasm, he began to ask me out on his collecting forays. Weird fellow, I thought, collecting plants in sets of four. `Why?' I asked. `For exchange,' he replied. And so it would go mile after mile, picking up the beginnings of botany, the names of plants, where they grew, what they were related to, those kinds of beginnings.

"I still remember one of his challenges: faced with an ascent of about 2,000 feet up to the top of Altuda Peak, an isolated protrusion about 15 miles east of Alpine overgrown with oaks and miscellaneous shrubbery, Barton hollered out suddenly, `Beat you to the top, Turner, you find your own way.' And he took off in a trot up a broad gully at the base of the peak. I snickered, thinking. `Like hell, you will,' and took off up my own little gully, knowing that my young legs would get there first. But they didn't. When I got to the top there was the Doc, smiling like a pig eating swill, remarking casually, `What took you so long, Turner? Been waiting here ten minutes or so.' That kind of manner and mien in the man appealed to me: fully contagious, like teachers ought to be."

A prolific collector, Warnock discovered many undescribed species of Trans-Pecos plants, personally collecting over 26,000 numbers from this region. More than a dozen new species of plants were named after him, including Noelloydia warnockii, Justicia warnockii, Bouteloua warnockii, Mimosa warnockii, Senecio warnockii, and Hexalectris warnockii. He played a major role in building the Sul Ross Herbarium to its current prominent status and he authored and co-authored over 20 publications, including three books. Wildflowers of the Big Bend Country, Texas (1970), Wildflowers of the Guadalupe Mountains and Sand Dune Country, Texas (1974), and Wildflowers of the Davis Mountains and Marathon Basin, Texas (1977), all achieved national recognition with both lay-persons and naturalists.

Mike Powell, Sul Ross professor of botanical sciences, was both a student and a colleague of Warnock. "He was a charismatic person who got a lot of people interested in botany. Professor Warnock was an absolutely unusual person for his time. He assimilated an incredible collection of plants of intrinsic scientific value."

"Professor Warnock will be sorely missed," said Sul Ross President R. Vic Morgan, who joined the faculty in 1975 as a mathematics professor when Warnock served as Director of the Science Division. "His contributions to Sul Ross are without measure in terms of what he brought to the institution."

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Barbara A. Johnston