ISSN 1188-603X

No. 352 November 17, 2005 Victoria, B.C.
Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2

BEN issues 352 and 353 are dedicated
to the memory of


who died in St. Petersburg
on December 14, 2004


Boris Alexandrovich Yurtsev was born on March 15, 1932 in the very center of Moscow on Arbat Street, now famous for its artists and street vendors. Three institutions that were nearby played essential roles in the life of Boris Yurtsev: his high school, the Geobotanical Department of the Moscow State University, and the Moscow Conservatory of Music. At the Conservatory, young Boris could be found "eight times a week". From that point on, music and poetry were important parts of his life.

During WWII, Boris Alexandrovich was evacuated from Moscow to Kazan, and his first field trips to the outdoors awakened his botanical interests. After his return to Moscow in 1944, Boris Alexandrovich joined the circle of young naturalists who regularly visited the Geobotanical Department of Moscow State University. He helped to set up the exposition that showcased the diversity of the flora of the Soviet Union.

Under the direction of Ivan Serebryakov, Boris Alexandrovich investigated the periodicity of the underground biomass in grassy oak-forests, and this study resulted in his first scientific publication. This was not unusual in the circle of talented students of which he was a part. At that time he also found a tutor in amateur botanist B.M. Kul'kov, with whom he made numerous field trips in the Moscow area.

In 1950 Boris Alexandrovich entered the Faculty of Biology and Soil Science of Moscow State University. There were several other bright students in his class, and Boris Alexandrovich studied with them the ecology of the southern boundary of fir (Abies alba) in the Moscow area. Field trips he made in the early 1950s triggered his interest in phytogeography and florogenesis of larger floristic areas: in 1952 he was in the Crimea, in 1953 in Tjan-Shan, in 1954 in Tadjikistan and Azerbaijan. His degree thesis (a rough equivalent of M.Sc.) dealt with the evolution of certain forms of one section of maples (genus Acer).

In 1955, Prof. T.A. Rabotnov recommended his favourite student to Prof. B.A. Tikhomirov, who at that time was setting up a group to study the Russian Arctic. Yurtsev joined the group that was based in the main botanical institute of the Soviet Union, BIN, in Leningrad, and participated in many field trips to the Russian Arctic. One year later, Prof. A.I. Tolmachev was starting his monumental 10-volume treatise Flora of the Russian Arctic, now partly available in English translation:

B.A. Yurtzev was initially assigned to work on the massive family Leguminosae; however, his role in the project grew, and after the death of A.I. Tolmachev, Yurtzev completed that treatise in 1987. With Prof. Tolmachev, Boris Alexandrovich took part in the botanical and pedological expedition to the lower Lena basin. This expedition greatly contributed to the knowledge of northern flora and the cytotaxonomy of northern plants.

In 1958, Boris Alexandrovich spent the summer in the northern Yakutsk region. This study resulted in his doctoral dissertation Botanical and geographical analysis of the flora and vegetation of Suntar-Khayat Range. This was the first attempt of multidisciplinary analysis of the montane floras of North- Eastern Asia. The principal chapter of this dissertation was later published in 1968, in the classical monograph Flora of Suntar-Khayat: Aspects of the history of high mountain landscapes of North-Eastern Asia.

With B.A. Tolmachev, Boris Alexandrovich wrote an important essay entitled The Evolution of the Arctic flora and its ties to the history of the North Sea (1970). In it, a concept of the early (Pliocene) origin of the Asian taiga flora was further advanced. Later, Yurtzev developed a hypothesis of the existence of dry and cold "tundra-steppe" in the Pleistocene of North-East Asia, backed by the discovery of what he believed were the extant pockets of relic steppe-like grass communities in dry continental portions of Yakutia. Therefore, Yurtzev was among the first biologists who speculated that in the Pleistocene and early Holocene, ecosystems existed that do not have analogs in the modern world. This notion has since been widely supported by paleobotanical data.

Boris Alexandrovich Yurtsev had vast experience with the flora of the Chukotka Peninsula, and he also made many field trips to arctic and subarctic regions of Yakutsia (1974- 1976), northernmost regions of the Ural Mountains (1996-1998) and to Mongolia (1988). Thanks to his close friend Dave Murray (University of Alaska in Fairbanks) he visited Alaska several times (first in 1980). Later he also botanized in the Canadian Arctic regions (1990, 1999), Svalbard (Spitsbergen) and northern Norway (1995), Central Alps (1994), Greenland (1997), and Lapland (1996).

Yurtsev's interest in the northern flora and the flora of the Russian Far East led him to the study of the issue of the Bering Bridge and Beringia and to the idea of the Panarctic Flora, an attempt to deal with the Holarctic region as a whole. This led to the initiation of the Panarctic Flora and his cooperation with David Murray (USA), George Packer (Canada), and Olaf Gjaerevoll (Norway).

Boris Alexandrovich Yurtsev was an excellent field botanist. He described about 170 new species and subspecies of flowering plants, and one new genus Claytoniella (Portulacaceae):

Several taxa were named in his honour. A famous couple of cytotaxomonists, Askell and Doris Love, created a monotypic genus Yurtsevia with one species, Yurtsevia richardsonii (Hook.) A. & D. Love, the segregate of a large collective genus Anemone.

Boris Alexandrovich Yurtsev died in St. Petersburg on December 14, 2004, after a long fight with cancer. He is survived by his wife Tamara Polozova, daughter Marina, and granddaughter Masha.

(This biography is an abbreviated version of the materials sent to BEN by Andrey K. Sytin [] and Sergey A. Balandin [].)


From: David F. Murray []

I first met Boris at the International Botanical Congress in 1969 (Seattle). Askell Loeve brought us together, saying that Boris was the next Tolmachev, someone I should meet. We chatted briefly and agreed to exchanges of reprints, books, and specimens and eventually of ourselves to the other's country. Reprints and specimens were exchanged immediately, but the exchange of people finally happened in 1981 when Barbara and I visited the Komarov Botanical Institute for the first time. It was a memorable visit, and it set the stage, for me, for the next two decades of study. 1981 was also the first trip for Boris to Alaska, and he published a series of four papers in Botanicheskij Zhurnal of his observations.

More trips in the late 1980's led finally to our launching of the Panarctic Flora Project. Boris was the primary force behind that initiative, drawing upon his Komarov Botanical Institute workforce and experience gained by the just completed Arctic Flora of the USSR for which he and his co-workers received a State Prize. Boris not only took over editorship of the Arctic Flora after the death of A.I. Tolmachev but also contributed significant portions of Rosaceae and Fabaceae.

We joined forces and got the Panarctic Flora project started in the early 1990s, but it was not until we had Scandinavian representation and significant support from Reidar Elven that we really were successful. The annotated checklist is nearly ready for web presentation. Whereas our aim was to provide a unified taxonomy, that has not always been possible, and we have preserved differences, the principal ones being between Boris, the Russian tradition, and Reidar and me. When it came to scientific issues he was a good (stubborn) opponent.

In the early 1990s Boris made more trips to Alaska, to the Seward Peninsula under he aegis of the National Park Service Beringian program and one with me to Ellesmere Island as guests of Sylvia Edlund, then of the Geological Survey of Canada. We lived at Tanquary Fiord but Sylvia's work meant we got to helicopter about northernmost Ellesemere, to collect from several sites on the shores of the Arctic Ocean and to revel in the spectacular scenery. Boris was constantly filling notebooks with his observations and impressions.

In later life he became a poet and turned out handwritten verse at the drop of a hat, which he often left behind. I recall one on the bulletin board at the Polar Continental Shelf Project operations center at Resolute and we had several in the Herbarium in Fairbanks commemorating collecting trips around Alaska. Ultimately he published a volume of his poems, which, alas, I have not yet seen. He was also a lover of classical music, no surprise for a Russian, and I cherish the times we went to hear choirs or the Philharmonic in St. Petersburg.

In the late 1990s Boris was able to become more visible internationally and participated regularly representing Russia at meetings on rare plants (Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna), geobotany (Circumpolar Arctic Vegetation Map), and arctic flora.

He fought his final illness with the same steadfastness and determination that he botanized. In the field he required very little, mostly he wanted to look at the plants and bemoaned the "permanent shortage of time."

He will be missed by his family, his friends, and the world botanical community.


Flora of the Russian Arctic. A critical review of the vascular plants occurring in the arctic region of the former Soviet Union.
Tolmachev, A. L.; Packer, J. G.; Griffiths, Graham C. D. 3-443-50024-2
English transl. of Arkticheskaya Flora SSSR: V+VI
Ed.: Tolmachev, A. L.; Packer, J. G.; Griffiths, Graham C. D. 2000.
xxxv+472 p., 5 tables, 166 maps, ISBN 3-443-50024-2 bound, EUR 127.00

Available from:
E.Schweizerbart'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung
Science Publishers
Johannesstr. 3A
D-70176 Stuttgart, Germany

English-language flora of the Russian Arctic (Norwegian Frontier to the Bering Strait).

Volume III of the Flora of the Russian Arctic includes treatments of the following nine families: Salicaceae, Betulaceae, Urticaceae, Polygonaceae, Chenopodiaceae, Portulacaceae, Caryophyllaceae, Paeoniaceae and Ranunculaceae. The discussions are illustrated with 166 distribution maps.

Once completed, the six volumes of the series will treat about 360 genera, 1650 species and 220 infraspecific taxa. Keys to all genera and species, as well as extensive morphological, ecological and geographical discussions of species characteristic of the Arctic are included. The comprehensive content and accomplished scholarship of the Flora of the Russian Arctic make it an essential part of the libraries of all botanists and botanical institutions concerned with research into northern plants.

The Russian Arctic spans 160 degrees of longitude, from the Norwegian frontier to the Bering Strait, thus accounting for about half the circumpolar land mass at arctic latitudes. It is no longer necessary for western botanists to give inadequate consideration to the flora of this vast expanse on account of linguistic difficulties.

Flora of the Russian Arctic is a translation of Arkticheskaya Flora SSSR (Flora Arctica URSS), the authoritative work of botanists of the Komarov Botanical Institute prepared under the editorship of A. I. Tolmachev and B. A. Yurtsev. This unabridged translation was prepared by distinguished systematist G. C. D. Griffiths under the editorship of J. G. Packer, Professor Emeritus of Botany at the University of Alberta.

Volumes I and II are still available from the University of Alberta Press.

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