Farlow Reference Library of Cryptogamic Botany




George Knox Merrill was born in Lewiston, Maine, on October 16, 1864, the only child of a rural farmer, John Merrill, and his second wife, Jane Prescott. He attended schools in Lewiston and Boston, and for a brief while attended Harvard University, but did not graduate. As a young man he wrote for the Beverly Citizen and other newspapers, but returned to Westbrook, Maine, to continue his career in journalism and to take up the study of photography.

In his mid-twenties Merrill moved to Rockland, Maine, and established a photography studio at 564 Main Street, where he remained for over thirty years. In 1882 he married Mrs. Rose Nevens Emerson, who died in 1920. In 1923 he married Mrs. Lena Ulmer Daggett, who survived him. He had no children. After closing the photography studio he spent the last ten years of his life involved with his correspondence, botanical studies, and local politics, serving on the Rockland Board of Assessors for seven years.

Merrill's interest in lichens began at the time he moved to Rockland. He became a member of the Sullivant Moss Society in 1903, and the curator of its lichen department from 1905 to 1907. He began using the society's magazine, The Bryologist, to offer lichen specimens for sale or trade in 1904. The next year he published his first paper, "Lichen Notes No.1." in the magazine. In 1906 he held the office of Vice-President of the Society. For several years he was also an active member of the Josselyn Botanical Society of Maine, serving as its president in 1915-16.

Through correspondence with other botanists from all over the country, and many in Europe, Merrill amassed a comprehensive herbarium and a reputation as an authority on lichen identification and taxonomy. His particular interest was Cladoniaceae, and he named many new species, varieties and forms. In 1909 he published his first Lichenes Exsiccati, Fascicle I (25 specimens), and continued to publish at irregular intervals until 1927. A total of 400 specimens were presented in two separate series.

He died at the age of 63 in Rockland, Maine, on October 21, 1927.

Arthur H. Norton, editor of The Maine Naturalist, noted in Merrill's obituary, "Probably his greatest contribution to lichenology has been the critical study of the lichens accumulated by many expeditions and collectors," as well as "the purchase of several classical collections and the acquisition of an extensive library on the subject."


Burnham, Stewart. G.K. Merrill-An Appreciation, The Bryologist, vol.31, no.4 (July) 1928:74.
Norton, Arthur H. Obituary Notices, The Maine Naturalist vol.7, no.4 (December) 1927:161-163.
Plitt, Charles Christian. George Knox Merrill, The Bryologist, vol.31, no.4 (July) 1928:65-71.


There is no record of how Merrill's papers arrived at Harvard, but a death notice states, "..his herbarium which contains a number of ferns, has been bought by the Farlow Herbarium of Harvard University." From The American Fern Journal vol.18, no.1 (Jan.-March) 1928:36.


Series Description:
Series I. Bound Correspondence, 1892-1927.
Series II. Unbound Correspondence and Other Materials, 1891-1927.
Series III. Specimen Lists and Other Materials, 1888-1927.


Scope and Content:
The collection includes bound and unbound correspondence, specimen lists, newspaper clippings, drafts and manuscripts, receipts, notebooks, photographs and specimens relating to the life and work of George Knox Merrill.

SERIES I. Ten bound volumes of 724 letters from botanists, booksellers and acquaintances constitute the major part of the collection. The first five volumes include letters from 113 correspondents, LeRoy Abrams to Alexander Zahlbruckner; the sixth volume contains letters from William Wirt Calkins, an historian and amateur botanist from Chicago; the seventh volume contains 46 letters from Alexander William Evans of the Osborn Botany Laboratory at Yale; the eighth volume contains 49 letters from John Macoun of the Canadian Geological Society and four letters from his son, James Macoun of the Department of Mines in Ottawa; the ninth volume contains 13 letters from Charles Christian Plitt, a physician and amateur botanist from Baltimore; and the tenth volume contains 40 letters from Ludwig Scriba of Germany. With certain exceptions all of the correspondence deals with lichens and their identification, the purchase or exchange of lichen specimens and lists, taxonomy of lichens, or botanical literature. A certain number deal with business matters of the Josselyn Botanical Society, as well as the publishing of his articles in The Bryologist.

Among the letters are several written by Merrill himself, as well as some written by botanists other than the correspondent: in the correspondence of B. Chamberlain there is a draft letter from Merrill, undated; in F.E. Clements there is a copy of an unfavorable letter about Merrill from R.S. Gray, 1907; in C.E. Cummings there is a letter from Frederick Colville to Cummings regarding criticism of Merrill's lichen list, undated; in A.S. Foster there are two letters from Merrill regarding his misnaming lichens and defending himself as the definitive authority in the field, 1914; in F.W. Simmonds there is a copy of a Merrill letter requesting help with Texas lichens, 1906; in A.M. Smith there is a Merrill letter, 1909; in W.W. Calkins there are letters from H. Willey (1894), W. Nylander (1892), and Elmer Drew Merrill (1901) to Calkins, but sent to G.K.M.; in J. Macoun there are five Merrill letters, plant lists, and notes, 1905-07; and in L. Scriba there is one Merrill letter, 1905.

Certain letters are of particular interest: C.E. Cummings of Wellsley College first suggests Professor Farlow's theory of fungal growth on lichens; R.S. Gray, amateur botanist from Oakland, California, includes an eleven page discussion on taxonomy versus morphology with references to many of the current theories of the time; R.H. Howe, master at Middlesex School and friend of Farlow, mentions the controversy with Farlow; B. Lynge, Norwegian botanist, names a new species "G. Merrillii" and mentions Farlow; A.M. Smith, editor of The Bryologist, mentions Farlow; R. Thaxter discusses payment for specimens.

Two boxes house the remainder of the collection.

SERIES II.- Box 1, Folders 1 - 9 contain: unbound correspondence, financial papers, newspaper clippings, library lists, three small scarcely used notebooks, G.K. Merrill manuscripts and notes on lichens, and photographs.

SERIES III.- Box 2, Folders 1 - 8 contain specimen lists, manuscripts and notebooks of other botanists, exsiccatae (mosses), and maps of Maine.

N.B.: Twenty photographs of Maine scenery were removed from the Farlow Herbarium storeroom and added to this collection. Also identified as G.K. Merrill property, but left in the storeroom, are three filecard boxes, a box containing 128 photographs of lichens, and two trays of specimen identification cards.


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