, Volume 60, Issue 2, pp 197-257

The role of botanists during World War II in the Pacific theatre

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During World War II some professional botanists and graduate students who were drafted, enlisted, or commissioned in the armed forces were fortunate to be able to use their training directly or indirectly. This was especially true for the Pacific theatre. Others served their country as civilians. The roles of botanists in the military ranged from teaching or research to participation in combat or support operations. A few botanists in uniform, in spite of their occupational obligations, were able to collect botanical specimens and were encouraged to do so by civilian museum personnel. The best known projects for botanists as civilians involved the search for native supplies of strategic raw materials, particularlyCinchona andHevea, whileCryptostegia and Guayule, as possible sources of latex, were grown on plantations and studied in detail.

Tropical problems of fungal deterioration of fabrics and optical equipment involved primarily civilian botanists in both military and academic laboratories. Some older botanists and those deferred for marital, dependent, or physical reasons served as instructors in regular academic programs or the special college programs for military personnel.

This paper is a summary of the contributions of botanists from the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to the war effort in the Pacific theatre during World War II.


Durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial algunos botánicos profesionales y estudiantes graduados que fueron reclutados, enlistados, o comisionados en las fuerzas armadas fueron afortunados en poder utilizar su entrenamiento directamente o indirectamente. Esto fue especialmente cierto en el teatro del Pacífico. Otros sirvieron a su pais como civiles. El papel de botánicos en las fuerzas militares incluyó desde la enseñanza o la investigación hasta la participación en combates o en operaciones de apoyo. Unos pocos botánicos uniformados, a pesar de sus obligaciones militares, pudieron colectar espécimenes botánicos y fueron alentados a hacerlo por las autoridades civiles de museos. Los proyectos mejor conocidos de botánicos trabajando como civiles involucraron la búsqueda de fuentes nativas de materias primas estratégicas, particularmenteCinchona y Hevea, mientras queCryptostegia y guayule, posibles fuentes de látex, fueron cultivados en plantaciones y estudiados detalladamente.

Problemas con el deterioro por hongos de telas e instrumentos ópticos en los trópicos involucraron principalmente botánicos civiles tanto en laboratorios académicos como militares. Algunos botánicos de mayor edad y aquellos diferidos por razones de estado marital, por tener dependientes, o por razones físicas sirvieron como instructores en programas académicos regulares o en programas universitarios especiales para personal militar. Este trabajo es un sumario de las contribuciones de botánicos de América, Canadá, Australia, y Nueva Zelandia a la guerra en el teatro del Pacífico durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial.

The following material has been assembled from personal experiences, recollections and records (pers. recoil.), and through recent correspondence (pers. comm., dated) and telephone calls or interviews (pers. conv.) with botanical colleagues who were graduate students or professional botanists at the beginning of World War II and who served their country in various ways. The majority of the data pertains to United States citizens, but some information is supplied regarding Canadian, New Zealand, Australian, Dutch, and British botanists and their activities. This subject matter will be retained as an open file to be on deposit at the library of the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University, 22 Divinity Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138 USA. Any additions or corrections will be appreciated.