2014 Asa Gray Award Winner: Alan Smith

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Boise, Idaho, 29 July 2014 – The American Society of Plant Taxonomists awarded Dr. Alan R. Smith, Emeritus Research Botanist of the University Herbarium at the University of California, Berkeley, the Society’s 2014 Asa Gray Award.  The award is named for Dr. Asa Gray (1810-1888), the most important American botanist of the 19th century. It recognizes outstanding lifetime achievement in the field of plant systematics.

Dr. Alan Smith is an expert on ferns from around the world and is widely recognized as the greatest living student of fern diversity and the undisputed expert of fern identification. During his distinguished career, Dr. Smith has published over 180 peer-reviewed articles and books and has contributed to or been sole author on the floras ranging geographically from China to Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Mesoamerica and North America. Through his persistent dedication to collection and identification, Dr. Smith has single-handedly generated the most inclusive and well-curated pteridophyte collection in the world. Despite not having a formal teaching appointment, Dr. Smith has served on numerous graduate student committees, was the primary mentor for several PhD students completing degrees in Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley, and mentored and instructed countless visitors to the University and Jepson Herbaria who came from around the world to seek his guidance and insights. His commitment to training junior colleagues even without a formal obligation to do so is a notable and praiseworthy accomplishment of his distinguished career. Dr. Smith has led numerous Jepson Herbarium Weekend Workshops, extending his love of ferns to amateur botanists and local conservation experts, and has been involved in field classes in New Zealand, Hawaii, Costa Rica and Ecuador. Given this excellence in curation, scholarship, mentoring, and teaching, Dr. Alan Smith is considered by his community of peers and students to be the ‘dean of modern work on ferns and allied plants.’

A native of Sacramento, California, Dr. Smith went to High School in Topeka, Kansas and earned his PhD from Iowa State University in 1969.  He became a Research Botanist with the University Herbarium at UC Berkeley in 1969 and held that position until his retirement in 2007. 

Dr. Smith’s nomination for the Asa Gray Award was compiled by Dr. Christopher Haufler (Professor and Chair, University of Kansas) and included supporting letters from established botanists and early career scientists, indicating the range of individuals whose careers Dr. Smith has influenced. Among his many scholarly contributions, Dr. Smith’s 2006 Classification for Extant Ferns is notable for providing the first modern classification of living ferns, and his 2004 Pteridophytes of Mexico, co-authored with pteridologist, friend and colleague Dr. John Mickel, is considered one of the best floras ever written, receiving the International Association for Plant Taxonomy’s prestigious Engler Medal in Silver. Sir Peter Crane notes that one of Dr. Smith’s unique contributions to fern taxonomy and evolutionary biology has been “rendering the diversity of ferns and their allies intelligible and approachable in ways that were previously unimagined.” In this way, Dr. Smith has inspired and facilitated research on pteridophytes for generations to come.

Dr. Smith embodies the spirit of Asa Gray himself: As noted by nominator Dr. Christopher Haufler, Alan “is a consummate curator, a floristic genius, a gifted synthesizer of morphology and biogeography, an incredibly generous collaborator, and the authority to whom all those working on ferns look because of his keen insights, his encyclopedic knowledge, and his responsible and thoughtful contributions.” Beyond his constant role as the authority for fern identification and systematics, Dr. Smith’s service to the scientific community includes President of the American Fern Society, Editorial Committee for the Flora of North America North of Mexico project, Section Leader for the Pteridological Section of the Botanical Society of America, Vice President of the California Botanical Society, Associate Editor for Pteridologia, member of the Editorial Committee for Systematic Botany Monographs, and Commission Member for the Organization for Flora Neotropica. His awards, in addition to the Engler Medal in Silver, include the Botanical Society of America’s Centennial Award, Honorary Membership in the British Pteridological Society, and the McBryde Fellowship from the Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden.

As one colleague states, effectively summarizing statements made in all supporting letters, Dr. Alan Smith is “a highly successful researcher and leader. He listens, hears and respects the opinions of others… [he] is a fine scholar, botanist, plant taxonomist, pteridologist, and person.”  For this, the American Society of Plant Taxonomists honors Dr. Alan R. Smith for his talents, insights and unfailing generosity and finds him eminently deserving of the Asa Gray Award.

About the American Society of Plant Taxonomists:

The American Society of Plant Taxonomists promotes the research and teaching of the taxonomy, systematics, and phylogeny of vascular and nonvascular plants. Organized in 1935, the Society has a membership of over 1500 international botanists. The Society publishes several publications, supports funds for a variety of honorary and charitable activities including research and scholarship, and conducts scientific meetings each summer that promote botanical research, training and mentoring. Information on the Society’s 2014 joint meeting with four other botanical societies (Botany 2014) can be found at http://www.botanyconference.org/.  Information on the Society can be found on its website http://www.aspt.net or by following us on Facebook.


Chelsea D. Specht, ASPT Public Relations Committee

American Society of Plant Taxonomists



Tags: Asa Gray, awards
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