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  Monroe Birdsey
From: "Dr. Tom Croat" tcroat at LEHMANN.MOBOT.ORG> on 2000.01.23 at 04:04:57(4019)
Notes on Monroe Birdsey by Tom Croat (1967-1999):

I first learned of Monroe Birdsey back in the late 1960's when I was
commuting back and forth to Panama for work on the Flora of Barro
Colorado Island. I had corresponded with him for for over 30 years
despite the fact that in recent years he prefered to telephone than to
write. In his first letter to me in 1968 he writes "While my time is very
limited due to extensive teaching duties, I will try my best to help in
identifying the aroids." I was naturally asking him for help in determining
the Araceae I was finding on Barro Colorado Island and he was the only
authority known to me at the time.

Having told him that I was working on Barro Colorado Island and in
Panama in general he continued "I hope that you will do a better job than
Standly, especially in respect to illustrations. I am a firm believer in the
old clich? about the value of a picture to many words. What I have in
mind is something like "Plantas Indeasables" of Puerto Rico"

Finally, always on the lookout for another living plant he asks "Are
you in a position to collect living plants of the Araceae (I have a USDA
permit) for my collection?"

We corresponded extensively through the 1970's mostly on
Syngonium, Typhonium and the Schott plates in Vienna. Monroe had an
extensive collection of negatives (numbering
5000) of pictures he had taken in European
herbaria and he eventually contributed these to
the Herbarium of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
His microfiche of his thesis came here as well as
the result of the correspondence.

In 1975 he wrote that his collection
consisted of "50-60 genera and at least 300
species" I wonder if anyone knows of a card file
that he might have kept over the years detailing
his collections.

In December of 1976 he reported that he was
going to go on sabbatical for six months and he
took several trips during this time to foreign
countries. It was also in 1976 that I first
tried to meet him and this was one of the more
memorable events in my involvement with him. On
November 4, 1976 he wrote in a letter "Can you
not manage, in you "comins and goins" to Central
America, to stop over in Miami? I would be more
that willing to share any plants in my collection
with the garden." (Missouri Botanical Garden).
Later on my return from Panama I wrote to him on
December 2, 1976 "I was amused by your comment
that I should come to visit you and to see your
Araceae. The last time I was in Miami, I called
your home one evening in hope that I could make
arrangements to see your collection. You were
apparently out that evening, so I tried it again
the following morning at about 8:00 AM, and when
you answered the phone, I don't believe you that
you were actually awake, because I recall your
conversation was rather unintelligible". Later,
when I mentioned this to Monroe in person he
claims not to remember this incident at all! I
guess it was just too early in the morning. I
finally managed to meet him for the first time
on my way to Panama in 1977 and regularly visited
him almost every year since that time.

In 1980 I sent him a copy of my revision of
Syngonium which I had been somewhat reluctant to
do since in fact Monroe had done a revision of
sorts of most of the species of Syngonium,
stressing anatomical work and I thought he might
be annoyed with me for going ahead with a full
revision of the genus. His thesis was an
excellent peice of work but it was also apparent
that he did not intend to publish it and others
were in need of a revision of the genus. He
gratiously accepted to review my unpublished
manuscript and gave me instructive comments.

Further correspondence throughout the 1980's
dealt with a wide variety of topics and was even
more extensive than in the previous decade and
for the first time I notice that I am not asking
all the questions. We always exchanged a lot of
plants and a lot of information about aroids
throughout my career. In the 1990's we sent a
lot of plants to him and correspondence was
mostly about this, the questions and answers had
pretty much been discontinued. One of my last
letters to him was in September 8th, 1997 when I
wrote asking him if I could bring Pete Boyce to
visit his collection on our whirl-wind tour from
St. Louis through Nashvillle, Atlanta, Tampa,
Sarasota, Alva, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale to
Orlando. My very last letter was an invitation
for him to come to the VIII International Aroid
Conference to give one of the evening lectures.
He did not respond.

Monroe Birdsey was a wonderfull yet an
anomalous individual and one whom I must admit I
never fully understood. He would scold you if you did not
come visit him but scold you again if someone else happened to come
along. At the same time he was generous to a fault with his
plants, often recklessly jerking a plant out of
the ground to give it to you at the slightest
hint that you would like it. Yet, on the other
hand he could scold you like an errant school
child if you step off the path in the wrong way
and threatened to endanger one of his plants.
He was always full of information and his library
was extensive and wonderful. Some of his books I
had otherwise seen only in the rare book room at
the Missouri Botanical Gardens or at Kew. He had
an amazing memory of where his plants came from
and knew them all by heart. Which of us does not
remember his sweeping tours through his back and
front yard (for his modest house is literally
buried within his garden). I for one will truly
miss having those tours and would even put up
with listening to his many puns if I could do it
just once more.

Tom Croat

From: "Julius Boos" ju-bo at email.msn.com> on 2000.01.24 at 05:51:41(4023)
Dear Tom,

Just a quick note to let you know how much I enjoyed this account of your
long friendship with Monroe, I am sure that as I write this I speak for many
if not all of our membership.
It was SO interesting to read of this longstanding relationship that you had
with Monroe (over 30 long and fruitful years!!) and to trace the student
(you) in those long-ago years) and Monroe (the master) slowly exchanging
I was very privilidged to be with you during at least three of your visits
to Monroe`s wonderful garden, and was privy to his sense of humor, his
scoldings, and sometimes 'groaner' puns!!!
Your notes were wonderful material in reminding all of us how very much
Monroe meant to you, to us and to the Aroid Society, and I thank you for
sharing some of your memories and personal moments with 'the great man' with
all of us.


Julius Boos

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