ISSN 1188-603X

No. 362 June 8, 2006 Victoria, B.C.
Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2


Adapted from: Turner, Nancy J. [in press] 2006. Adam F. Szczawinski, A Botanical Pioneer in British Columbia. Davidsonia (Upcoming issue.)

Adam Szczawinski was born on October 21, 1913 in Lwow, Poland. He grew up in Lwow, where his father was an estate keeper and forestry specialist. He was especially influenced as a child by his maternal grandmother, Mrs. Pluchtnyak, who rode horses until she was in her 80s. When he turned 12, Adam was given his own horse, Cashtanka ("horse chestnut") as a birthday present from his father. He used to ride far into the forest by himself, through the beech woods, on Cashtanka. One day, he encountered an old woman who was considered the village witch. She was collecting fly agaric mushrooms, and she made Adam climb down from his horse so she could tell his fortune. She wrapped the skin of the mushroom cap on her forehead and her tongue, and then she went into a trance. She held his hand and said, "Oh! I see big fire, huge fire, and you are running away. And you go through the water, plenty water! And the other side, and you are safe there. And then the big war started. You were on the other side, and then you were safe." Adam recounted this story to me in 2002. He laughed at the old woman then, but remarked in hindsight, "More or less, in a few years, I found out that she was right!"

Adam attended the University of Lwow from 1932 to 1937, where he studied botany and medicine. In 1936, he became a lecturer in biology at the Commercial College in Lwow, and in 1937, an instructor at the University of Lwow, until 1939 when World War II broke out. He was forced to flee Poland, and made his way to Hungary and then France, having evaded capture from the Nazis and Gestapo on several occasions, then being captured and imprisoned in Budapest. He managed to escape and after many adventures, he enlisted in the Polish Army in France on January 4, 1940. Arriving in Great Britain by perilous convoy from France, he served as Director of Education, at the Polish Air Force Headquarters in London from 1944 to 1946. He was promoted to the rank of Flight Lieutenant, in the Royal Air Force in 1946. He fell in love with and married Mary, his beautiful Scottish wife, and together they emmigrated to Canada in 1948.

After an unsuccessful effort at farming on Lulu Island - potatoes, strawberries, and cut flowers - and a somewhat disastrous time as a boiler fireman for Aylmer's fruit and vegetable cannery, he decided to go back to university. With the support of many, especially Czech forest ecologist Dr. Vladimir Krajina, he received his Ph.D. through the Department of Botany, at the University of British Columbia, in 1953. He was UBC's first PhD recipient in botany. His doctoral research was undertaken in the Nanaimo River Valley (Nanaimo Lakes area), where he salvaged canopy lichens from the Old Growth trees that were being logged. He stayed for long periods of time in isolation while he did his fieldwork, and recalled once or twice seeing a large cougar crouched in a tree over his head when he went down to get water from the creek. His thesis was entitled Corticolous and lignicolous plant communities in the forest associations of the Douglas-fir forest on Vancouver Island. As a graduate student, he and Mary struggled to make ends meet, and they were often helped out by Professor Krajina and other kindly individuals.

After completing his PhD, he remained as a lecturer in the Department of Botany at UBC until 1955, when he took the position as Curator of Botany and Head of the Botany Division at the British Columbia Provincial Museum [now Royal British Columbia Museum] in Victoria. Mary gave birth to their only child, their son Alan, in 1956. Tragically, in 1968, when Alan was only 12 years old, Mary died suddenly from a heart attack; Adam never remarried. He remained in the position at the Provincial Museum until 1975, serving alongside Dr. Clifford Carl, Wilson Duff, Dr. Charlie Guiguet, Dr. Bristol Foster, and York Edwards, among others. During his time at the Museum, he served as Acting Director on many occasions. He also lectured widely throughout northwestern North America - sometimes speaking six or more times in a single week. He was in large measure responsible for the planning and implementation of the present Museum/Archives complex. Before this structure was built, the Museum was housed in the east wing of the Legislative Buildings.

Together with Dr. V. J. Krajina and others, he conceived and implemented the Ecological Reserves program in British Columbia, incurring considerable annoyance from politicians like Premier W.A.C. Bennett for his outspoken views on the importance of conserving representative ecosystems of the province. He also undertook extensive plant collecting in British Columbia and Yukon; most of his collections are housed at the Royal B.C. Museum herbarium (V) and at the University of British Columbia herbarium (UBC). He helped to found Syesis, a research journal published by the Museum, and was a founding member of Canadian Botanical Association. He saw the Museum's role in biological and ecological research as paramount, and was a key developer and promoter of the Museum's Handbook and Occasional Paper series. As well as recruiting authors for several of the handbooks (T.M.C. Taylor, Wilfred Schofield, Robert Scagel), he personally authored and co-authored several of Handbooks as well as co-authoring the Flora of the Saanich Peninsula (with A. S. Harrison). After his retirement in 1975, he continued to give many public lectures, especially on edible mushrooms and also co-authored five additional books: a set of four volumes on Edible Wild Plants of Canada (with N. J. Turner) and Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America (with N. J. Turner).

Adam Szczawinski passed away peacefully at Victoria General Hospital on June 2, 2006. Until the time he entered the hospital, he lived in his own home, the one he and Mary had purchased when they moved to Victoria, on Viaduct Avenue. He is survived by his son, Alan Szczawinski, daugher-in-law Barbara Lund, and grandchildren Jacob, Maxwell and Kira.

Adam F. Szczawinski publications:

Bandoni, R.J. and A. F. Szczawinski. 1976.
Mushrooms of British Columbia. British Columbia Provincial Museum Handbook Number 24, Victoria.
Szczawinski, A. F. 1959.
The Orchids of British Columbia. British Columbia Provincial Museum Handbook Number 16, Victoria.
Szczawinski, A. F. 1962.
The Heather Family (Ericaceae) of British Columbia. British Columbia Provincial Museum Handbook Number 19, Victoria.
Szczawinski, A. F. & G.A. Hardy. 1975.
Guide to Common Edible Plants of British Columbia. British Columbia Provincial Museum Handbook Number 20, Victoria.
Szczawinski, A. F. & G.A. Hardy. 1975.
Guide to Common Edible Plants of British Columbia. British Columbia Provincial Museum Handbook Number 20, Victoria.
Szczawinski, A. F. & A. S. Harrison. 1973.
Flora of the Saanich Peninsula. Occasional Papers of the British Columbia Provincial Museum No. 16
Szczawinski, Adam F. & Nancy J. Turner. 1978.
Edible Garden Weeds of Canada. Edible Wild Plants of Canada No. 1. National Museum of Natural Sciences, National Museums of Canada, Ottawa.
Szczawinski, Adam F. & Nancy J. Turner. 1980.
Wild Green Vegetables of Canada. Edible Wild Plants of Canada No. 4. National Museum of Natural Sciences, National Museums of Canada, Ottawa.
Turner, Nancy J. & Adam F. Szczawinski. 1979.
Edible Wild Fruits and Nuts of Canada. Edible Wild Plants of Canada No. 3. National Museum of Natural Sciences, National Museums of Canada, Ottawa.
Turner, Nancy J. & Adam F. Szczawinski. 1978.
Wild Coffee and Tea Substitutes of Canada. Edible Wild Plants of Canada No. 2. National Museum of Natural Sciences, National Museums of Canada, Ottawa.
Turner, Nancy J. & Adam F. Szczawinski. 1991.
Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon. (Paperback edition published in February 1995) [American Library Association awards: Outstanding Reference Source 1991; and Outstanding Academic Books and Nonprint Materials 1991, from Choice magazine, the journal of academic libraries.]


The 2005 Biodiversity Awareness Award is posthumous awarded to Phil Caswell (October 8, 1932 - November 12, 2005). His death at his home in upstate New York surprised and saddened the botany community in the Yukon and beyond.

From summer 2000 to 2005, Phil volunteered thousands of hours to Kluane National Park Reserve, much of it at his own expense, investigating, collecting and identifying plants from the Park and surrounding areas. He also volunteered briefly in Vuntut National Park and Asi Keyi (proposed Territorial Park). Furthermore, he volunteered thousands of hours to search through herbaria in Alaska, Yukon, British Columbia, Ottawa, and others to ensure that the list of known plants for Kluane was complete.

Phil's work greatly contributed to our understanding of the flora of Kluane, which (after the southeast Yukon) is the second-most biologically diverse area in the Yukon. In total, he discovered 13 new taxa for the Yukon: 3 introduced and 10 native plant species. Perhaps his two greatest discoveries were Rumex beringensis, a species new to Canada and the rediscovery of Draba yukonensis, Canada's rarest plant (see BEN # 357). Phil's work also provided valuable information about the plant ecosystems in the Park.

Phil had a dedicated love affair with plants in Kluane. Whenever Phil was contacted in the winter, he would always remind us how many days he had until he was on the road back to Kluane. The countdown usually started in the fall, the day after he left us. The return of spring was marked by his return to the Yukon. He would drive up each year and, upon arrival, quietly settle into the work he enjoyed doing.

Phil's enthusiasm was contagious; he always saw himself as a student, though for others he was always a teacher. He had a gift for exciting anyone, especially those with no background in botany, to seek out rare and elusive plants. Acknowledging contributions was important to Phil; the number and diversity of people that assisted him is represented by the lists of "collectors" on the herbarium labels on his specimens.

Phil was a unique character and talented storyteller. Phil and his wife once cared for a `pet' coatamundi and a cougar, among many other exotic creatures. He had a distinguished career in the US military. He received a Gallantry Cross for his role in initiating the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam II Corps' highly successful counterattacks during the TET Offensive in 1968. After his military career he became a botanist. He studied plants for 20 years in Alaska and the Yukon. He was thus exceptionally talented in his field, but exceedingly humble. He preferred to call himself a `plant chaser', fearing that the term botanist sounded too professional.

Phil's energy was inspiring and unending. Even in his last days of life, his concern was to ensure that his work at Kluane would continue. To those in the Yukon who had the pleasure to know him, he will be missed, but not forgotten.


The new scientific journal Pacific Northwest Fungi is now online. First discussed at a meeting of the region's mycologists nearly four years ago, the new journal is part of the Pacific Northwest Fungi Project, an ongoing effort to develop a complete inventory of the fungi of the region. Pacific Northwest Fungi is designed specifically for the World Wide Web and benefits from the speed, broad distribution, and low costs inherent in internet publishing.

The journal publishes papers on all aspects of fungal natural history, ranging from ecology and biogeography to taxonomy, morphology and phylogeny. Article categories include Notes, Brief Reports, Full-Length Research Articles, and Reviews.

Features of interest to authors include:

  1. All manuscripts are subject to anonymous peer review before acceptance.
  2. Publication is unusually rapid; papers are published individually on an ongoing basis rather than in collections (such as journal volumes).
  3. Papers are assigned DOI codes (Digital Object Identifiers). DOI's function as perpetual web addresses that are part of a global system for permanent archiving and retrieval of digitized information (such as government documents and scientific journal articles).
  4. Any reader with access to a computer and an internet search engine can find and download articles.
  5. The journal publishes color photographs.
  6. There are no page charges.

The journal welcomes submissions. Please see the journal website for information on submitting manuscripts for review.

Send submissions to
BEN is archived at