Dr Schultes in the Amazon
Dr Schultes collecting plants
with Maku helpers, 1952
Dr Schultes with dancer
Richard Evans Schultes (RES) was born on January 12, 1915 in Boston, Massachusetts. He attended East Boston public schools prior to enrolling as a premed student in 1933 at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. RES originally entered Harvard as a pre-med student but during his junior year of undergraduate study, he fell in love with botany after taking an economic botany course (Biology 104), which was taught by world-renowned orchidologist, Oakes Ames. RES earned his A.B (1937), A.M. (1938), and Ph.D. (1941) from Harvard University. His doctoral dissertation was titled: Economic Aspects of the Flora of Northeastern Oaxaca.
Immediately after receiving his doctorate, RES accepted a position as a research associate of the Harvard Botanical Museum and became a teaching assistant to Biology 104. That same year, RES was named a fellow of the National Research Council (NRC), which provided him with a ten-month grant to travel to Amazon country to find and research curare, a substance with numbing properties that surgeons had become interested in. En route to the Amazon, he stopped in Bogota, Colombia and while walking on the outskirts of the city he came across a new species of orchid, which Oakes Ames later named Pachiphyllum schultesii.
While in the Amazon researching curare, news reached RES of the attack on Pearl Harbor. RES immediately packed his things and traveled back to the American Embassy in Bogota to enlist in the armed services. With the Japanese in control of British and Dutch rubber plantations in Southeast Asia, America lost its supply of rubber that was necessary for the war effort. Government officials believed his botanical expertise and talents could be better served elsewhere and RES was sent him back to the Amazon to find rubber trees and teach local Indians how to extract the rubber. In 1942, RES was hired by the Rubber Development Corporation to perform these tasks and also received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship for ethnobotanical research in the Amazon.
Over the next dozen years, as an employee of the United States Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Plant Industry, RES collected approximately thirty-five hundred specimens of the most important rubber tree genus Hevea. Most of his time in the Amazon was spent with indigenous Indian tribes with whom he learned and experimented with the medicinal properties of plants. He carried very few supplies and food while in the Amazon, relying on the jungle to provide him with much of what he needed. Along with a fifty-three pound canoe, his pack contained one change of clothing, notebooks and pencils, a camera and film, a first-aid kit, a hammock, a thin blanket, clippers, plant collecting paraphernalia, and a few cans of B & M baked beans.
After his return to Massachusetts in 1953, RES made almost annual trips to the Amazon basin. Upon his return and continuing for five years until 1958, RES served as curator of the Orchid Herbarium of Oakes Ames. He then became the Curator of Economic Botany, a job he held from 1958 - 1985, executive director of the Botanical Museum from 1967-1970, and director of the Museum from 1970 - 1985. RES was also on the Harvard University faculty, teaching undergraduate and graduate study in the university's extension program beginning in 1970. He was appointed the Paul C. Mangelsdorf Professor of Natural Sciences in 1973 and Edward C. Jeffrey Professor of Biology in 1980 and Edward C. Jeffrey Professor of Biology Emeritus in 1985.
RES edited the journal Economic Botany from 1962 - 1979, and served as a member of editorial boards of Horticulture, Social Pharmacology, the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, the Journal of Latin American Folklore, and other scientific periodicals. He wrote or co-wrote nine books and scores of academic articles in numerous languages including Latin, French and Spanish.
RES married Dorothy Crawford McNeil on March 26, 1959, a soprano opera singer who sang professionally in Europe and the United States. Dr. and Mrs. Schultes' had three children; Richard Evans Schultes II, Neil Park Schultes, and Alexandra Ames Schultes.
His honors include: Fund (1984); the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (1984); the Lindbergh Award (1991); the Harvard Medal, given for extraordinary service to the university (1992); and the gold medal of the Linnean Society of London, botany's equivalent to a Nobel Prize (1992). In 1986 the government of Colombia named a 2.2 million-acre protected tract of land Sector Schultes. There are three genera and more than 120 species of plants and a large species of Amazonian cockroach that bear, as part of their scientific appellations, the name Schultes.
RES, described as both "the last Victorian explorer" and "the father of Ethobotany," died April 10, 2001, in Boston, Massachusetts.
References:"Richard Evan Schultes", in Current Biography 56(3), March 1995, pp.41-46.
More Dr. Schultes materials are located in these collections:
Some oversized posters are located in the Economic Botany Archives
Photographs of Dr. Schultes are located in the Gray Herbarium Photographic Collection
Main collection of Dr. Schultes materials is located at the Harvard University Archives
Scope and Content:
The Richard Evans Schultes Papers contain correspondence, research notes, unpublished manuscripts, printed material, collection lists, identification and classification lists, maps, photographs, prints, plates, newspaper clippings, first draft copies of writings, and species research. The bulk of the collection is primarily printed material collected by RES in addition to a large amount of research notes on rubber plant species and the use of ethno botanical use of plants.
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