LYMAN BRADFORD SMITH

Photo of Lyman Smith

Lyman was born September 11, 1904, in Winchester, Massachusetts, was mostly home-schooled and became interested in natural history and collecting. He went to Harvard in 1921, where he wrestled (he continued wrestling twice a week until 65), went collecting on the Gaspé Peninsula with Fernald in 1923, and earned an AB degree cum laude in 1925. He continued in the university, earning an AM degree in 1928 and traveled to Brazil (1928-29) on a Sheldon Travelling Fellowship. He married in 1929, and they traveled to the European herbaria on their honeymoon. He earned a PhD degree in 1930 under B. L. Robinson and was awarded a senior assistantship at the Gray Herbarium. He continued studies in Europe in 1933 and 1935, and focused on bromeliads and received promotions. Eventually he became the sole curator in 1943 and began work on Begoniaceae. He came to the U.S. National Herbarium in October 1947 as associate curator. His research was prodigious with many collecting trips to South America and hundreds of papers, focusing not only on Bromeliaceae, but also Velloziaceae and Begoniaceae. He was famous for his ability to identify unknown specimens. He was curator of phanerogams from 1956 to 1966 and then senior botanist. He officially retired in 1974 at the age of 70, but continued to work productively every day for almost 20 more years.

He collected more than 16,000 plant specimens, had 519 publications, including books, and named 1,785 new taxa. He was honored by the generic name Lymania (type: L. smithii Read 1984) and about 50 species names, including Miconia luctatoris Wurdack (1962, “of the wrestler” since he continued wrestling into his 60s!). His name is in the author citation of 2,145 species names.

He was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1948 and terminated his membership in 1967. He died on May 4, 1997, in Manhatten, Kansas.