ISSN 1188-603X

No. 396 June 18, 2008 Victoria, B.C.
Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2

B. L. ('BILL') BURTT (27 AUGUST 1913 TO 30 MAY 2008)

From: Quentin Cronk []

Brian Laurence Burtt, always known as Bill to his friends and colleagues, has died aged 94. He was one of the prodigious botanists of the 20th century and along with Peter Davis, was in large part responsible for establishing the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) as a renowned scientific research centre.

BLB's great strength was as a critical observer, a skill that was finely honed when he worked before the Second World War as assistant to the Director, Sir Arthur Hill, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Hill loved oddities of plant structure (as exemplified by Hill's papers of germination of seeds with stony endocarp and resupination in flowers). As Director of Kew, Hill had limited time to seek out nature's curios in the Kew living collections so he engaged BLB as his young assistant to do it for him. Hill encouraged him to go around the living collections and "observe". This early training was formative in developing BLB's taxonomic genius. He picked up from Hill an interest in germination and thought it a pity that a major botanical garden like RBGE, growing annually thousands of plants from seed, did not keep systematic records of seedling morphology and mode of germination.

BLB joined RBGE in 1951, where he developed important research programmes on a variety of plant families but particularly Gesneriaceae ("gesners" - his great love) and Zingiberaceae (in collaboration on Rosemary Smith). The bald facts speak for themselves. He collected 19,102 herbarium specimens, authored 382 papers and described 637 new species, mostly gesners, but also in numerous other families, including Asteraceae, Zingiberaceae, Umbelliferae and Scrophulariaceae (H.N. Noltie, pers. comm.). His essay on the Compositae (Burtt, 1961a) is still a wonderful introduction to that family. In 1964 he formed a professional and personal collaboration with Professor Olive Hilliard of the University of Natal. This collaboration led to large numbers of papers but also to three remarkable illustrated books (Hilliard and Burtt 1971, 1987, 1991).

BLB saw deeper into the plant than most taxonomists and had the intellectual ability to place what he saw in an intellectual framework that allowed the information to be captured, rather than skated over as a puzzling oddity. This is nowhere more evident than in his important observations, and intellectual contributions, on anisocotyly and the unifoliate habit in Streptocarpus (Jong and Burtt 1975). It also informed his taxonomy, making him a big picture taxonomist, able to organize intellectually whole families, not just the genus he was working on (Burtt, 1963, 1972, 1991; Burtt and Smith 1972; Burtt and Wiehler 1995). His interest in plant morphology as part of functional evolution led to a number of thought-provoking contributions, some of which are listed in the references here (Burtt 1961b, 1970, 1974, 1994).

In the Streptocarpus book (Hilliard and Burtt 1971) BLB talks of the pleasures and necessity of dividing time between field, laboratory and herbarium - a clear statement of the importance he placed on the study of the living plant. One of my most abiding memories of BLB was being in the field with him (at age 85) on a visit to Mt Kinabalu. BLB had described the gesners of the 1961 and 1964 Royal Society expeditions to Kinabalu, but had never been there. So he was seeing plants he had described many years ago as new to science, but he was seeing them in the live state for the first time. He greeted them all as old friends and was interested to see what they "really" looked like!


Burtt BL 1972.
General introduction of papers on Zingiberaceae. Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 31: 155-165
Burtt BL and RM Smith 1972.
Tentative keys to the subfamilies, tribes and genera of the Zingiberales. Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 31: 171-176
Burtt, BL 1961a.
Compositae and the study of functional evolution. Trans Bot. Soc. Edinburgh 39: 216–232
Burtt, BL 1961b.
Interpretive morphology. Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 23: 568-572
Burtt, BL 1963.
Studies in the Gesneriaceae of the Old World. XXIV. Tentative keys to the tribes and genera. Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 24: 205-220
Burtt, BL 1970.
Studies in the Gesneriaceae of the Old World. XXXI. Some aspects of functional evolution. Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 30: 1-10
Burtt, BL 1974.
Patterns of structural change in the flowering plants. Trans. Bot. Soc. Edinburgh 42: 133—142
Burtt, BL 1991.
Umbelliferae of southern Africa: an introduction and. annotated check-list. Edinb. J. Bot. 48: 133–282
Burtt, BL 1994.
A commentary on some recurrent forms and changes of form in angiosperms. In: Ingram, D.S. & A. Hudson [eds.] Shape and Form in Plants and Fungi. Academic Press
Burtt, BL and Wiehler, H 1995.
Classification of the family Gesneriaceae. Gesneriana 1: 1-4
Hilliard, O.M. & B.L. Burtt BL 1971.
Streptocarpus: An African Plant Study. University of Natal Press
Hilliard, O.M. & B.L. Burtt. 1987.
The Botany of the Southern Natal Drakensberg. National Botanic Gardens, Cape Town
Hilliard, O.M. & B.L. Burtt. 1991.
Dierama: The hairbells of Africa. Acorn Books (illustrated by Batten, A)
Jong, K. & B.L. Burtt. 1975.
The evolution of morphological novelty exemplified in the growth patterns of some Gesneriaceae. New Phytologist 75: 297-311


From: Chris Pielou, Sharon Niscak and Helen Robinson

This year’s Botany BC was held May 15 – 17, 2008 at Powell River, with trips to Texada Island and additional informal trips to Savary Island on Sunday. Nick Page and Elizabeth Easton skillfully arranged all the details with the guidance of local naturalists, Terry Ludwar and John Dove, and the blessing of perfect weather.

On Thursday evening we gathered at the Italian Cultural Centre for delicious appetizers while renewing acquaintances and meeting new botanists. Elsie Paul welcomed Botany BC participants to the Sliammon territory in the spirit of her traditional name, Qaxustala, meaning a welcoming person with a wealth of knowledge who shares her culture. John Dove continued the welcome with a rich presentation depicting the unique botanical, ecological and geological features of Texada Island. The next morning we sailed to Texada with a waterside view of the extensive limestone quarries that have been mined since shortly after settlers arrived. Our first stop was Marshall Point on the north end of the Island to view the Juniperus maritima and the flora that grows along the cliffs. We were delighted to find carpets of Mimulus guttatus, Plectritis congesta, and Cerastium arvense in full bloom, and were intrigued with the sculpted dolomite bowls and (basalt) dyke formations along the shoreline. Vast sweeps of Vaccinium ovatum grow throughout the Island. We stopped to exam the huckleberry-fir rust Pucciniastrum goeppertianum infecting the V. ovatum twigs..

Our next stop was to view Jaumea carnosa at Van Anda Lagoon and then to walk through a carpeted forest rich in Bryophytes and studded with Fritillaria affinis and Calypso bulbosa. Although we could not gain entrance to the area richest in Woodwardia fimbriata we were fortunate to view and photograph a few plants growing near the road.

The next morning our group visited Wildwood Bluffs with Terry Ludwar, and the second group travelled to view the flora of Deer Lake Bog. The cliffs provided niches for the Aspidotis densa, Pentagramma triangularis, and Lomatium nudicaule. A large colony of Zigadenus venenosus was in full bloom. The excitement was the discovery of the minute least moonwort, Botrychium simplex by Ksenja Barton. Early signs of Piperia transversa and Piperia elongate poked through the ground. We were awed by the stands of mature Arbutus menziesii that dwarfed our humble presence. At the sphagnum bog, some of the plants identified by the second group included Myrica gale, Rhododendron groenlandicum, Lonicera involucrata, Kalmia microphylla, Drosera rotundifolia, Viola palustris, Hypericum anagalloides and Oxycoccus oxycoccos.

The next Botany BC is planned for 2009, at Muncho Lake on the Alaska Highway.


From: David Wagner []

I have published (posted) an illustrated key to the Racomitrioideae of Oregon on the web site of the Oregon State University Herbarium:

It covers the four genera of Racomitrium s.l. as treated by Ochyra and Bednarek-Ochyra in the first part of mosses in the Flora of North America (vol. 27, part 1, of FNA). The key also covers all species presently known from California and most of those from Washington state. The key has been written with vegetative characters as the primary characters in each lead, with reproductive structures being secondary, so that sterile material can be identified. I recommend printing out the first part, the Introduction and Explanation, for detailed instructions on the use of the key and a discussion of the group.

This is a standard dichotomous key formatted for web browser navigation. Each page in this key is a couplet with two contrasting leads. The picture above the lead illustrates the primary character. The moss green button at the left of the lead links to the next couplet or to a species page. Each species page gives pertinent synonyms, diagnostic characters and hints for differentiating look alikes, habitat and distribution, additional illustrations, and comments.

All pictures on the key pages and the species pages are thumbnails, low resolution versions of the images for rapid downloading. Click on a thumbnail to see a larger image. These higher resolution images may be be larger than your screen depending on your browser settings. They have been saved at 1000 pixels high to retain reasonably good resolution. Use your back arrow, "Show the previous page," to return to the page on which the thumbnail was located. All images used in the key are repeated on the appropriate species page. Most species pages have many additional illustrations, over 170 photomicrographs are incorporated into this document.

At the top of every key page there is a line of breadcrumbs. This is a series of links to the leads in each couplet taken to arrive at this page. It is a shorthand record of choices made. You can go back to any step in the keying process by clicking on the appropriate phrase in the breadcrumb trail. Clicking on the first breadcrumb will take you back to the start of the key.

The web key works best with a fast, broadband connection, otherwise the full resolution photomicrographs will be slow to load. An alternative to using an internet connection to the web based version is installing the key on your hard drive from a CD, which I'll provide to anybody in the U.S. for a donation to cover costs of copying and mailing (say, $5).

I want to give my sincere thanks to Aaron Liston, Director of the O.S.U. Herbarium, for posting this key. I would appreciate receiving critical comments on this document.

Send submissions to
BEN is archived at