ISSN 1188-603X

No. 388 January 31, 2008 Victoria, B.C.
Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2

BOTANY BC 2008 - Powell River and Texada Island

BOTANY BC 2008 will take place from Thursday, May 15th through Sunday, May 18th, 2008, based out of Powell River on BC's Sunshine Coast. Field trips will visit sites around Powell River including Texada Island and possibly Savary Island.

BOTANY BC is an annual meeting of botanists and plant enthusiasts of British Columbia and is open to anyone interested in plants regardless. Although BOTANY BC meetings are focused to British Columbia, we welcome all the plant enthusiasts from the neighbouring provinces/states, and from elsewhere in the world.

Botany BC Registration and detailed program are expected to be posted to the Botany BC website by February 29th so please keep checking the website:

To be added to the email list for more information, please contact:

Elizabeth Easton (250) 953-3488


[This is Doris Loeve’s unpublished introduction to her translation of N. I. Vavilov’s book, Five Continents. For reasons that might be surmised, Doris’ introduction was not allowed to be used in the English version published in 1997. Friends of Doris may justly imagine that the shadow of her husband Áskell. was very much on her mind, since he suffered a similar fate.— William A. Weber]

The life, scientific career and fate of Nicolay Ivanovich Vavilov ( pronounced Va-vEE-lov) is briefly outlined in the Foreword by Semyon Reznik, his foremost biographer, and Yuri Vavilov, his son, a physicist in Moscow. Little can be added to it, but since the older generation of scientists who well remember the controversy between Vavilov and the infamous Trofim Lysenko is beginning to die out, it seems proper to add a few more words abnout it.

Trofim Denisovich Lysenko was the son of an uneducated farmer in southern Russia, Denis Lysenko, who relied on ‘folk wisdom’ and superstition in his work. The father was actually the one who practiced the pre-treatment of seeds to make them sprout faster, which later, under the term of ‘vernalization’, was claimed by Trofim himself. The method has its advantages on a small scale but also its limitations. Trofim studied agriculture with the Russian ‘Luther Burbank’, Ivan Michurin, who was a famous orchardist specializing in grafting techniques. Vavilov knew Michurin and admired him for his efforts but did not agree with his interpretation of the results. Michurin has become as much of a folk hero as ever Burbank was in America. It was probably because of his admiration for Michurin that Vavilov accepted Lysenko into his institute.

Lysenko was an ardent communist and politically very active. He won the ear of Stalin, a former theology student but now a mighty man, and convinced him that the ‘wisdom of the broad masses’ could advance agriculture in Russia much faster than the ‘bourgeois’ Mendel-Darwinist ideas promoted by Vavilov. This started already in the late 1920s, when apparently the secret police began to compile a file of ‘evidence’ against Vavilov. But he was still useful and no action was taken against him although several of the people in his institute were arrested and convicted on trumped up charges.

Vavilov tolerated Lysenko to begin with. After acting as interpreter during an interview with Lysenko he remarked to J. D. Harland: “Lysenko is an angry species; all progress in the world has been made by angry men, so let him go on working. . . .He may some day do some good.” In the long run, however, he felt forced to openly criticize Lysenko and argue with him about the merits of Mendelian genetics as understood by scientists everywhere else in the world and by many in the USSR as well, and the falsehood and distortions of scientific facts by the so-called Michurinism (‘acquired characters can be inherited’) promoted by Lysenko. More damaging ‘evidence’ was collected against Vavilov, and his position began to be seriously threatened. Finally the blow fell, and Vavilov was arrested when on an expedition to the Saratov area on 6 August 1940.

It should be emphasized that not only his family but all the western world was kept ignorant of what happened to this eminent and much admired scientist and that it took years of inquiry, especially from scientists in England and the U.S.A., before it was realized that Vavilov had been imprisoned and had died.

Lysenko and his proselytes continued to dominate Soviet ‘science’ throughout the Stalin and Khrushchev eras until 1964, when the latter died. They did enormous harm, but those faithful to Vavilov and true science continued to work in secret, even risking their lives, and the collections of the institute and its gene bank were preserved even through the Second World War. During the siege of Leningrad, several members of the institute died from hunger at their desks rather than take advantage of the stores of seeds, roots, and bulbs around them.

It is only thanks to the information presented and the books published in Russian by Mr. Semyon Reznik, now living and working in the U.S.A., and Vavilov’ son, Dr. Yuri Vavilov, as well as letters supplied by them to the USDA, that I have been able to piece together what actually took place after the arrest of Vavilov.

He was imprisoned in the Buturskaya Prison, Saratov, and after almost a full year, on 9 July 1941, sentenced to capital punishment by the Supreme Court of the USSR for treason and espionage on behalf of foreign interests. The sentence was based on an order from a Military Board.

Apparently an appeal from Vavilov shortly after his conviction to the People’s Commissar, Lavrentiy Beria, whom he seems to have known, resulted in a protest action, which should have led to a reversal of his death sentence on 1 August 1941 At least Vavilov was led to believe so. [Beria himself was sentenced to death in 1953 by the Soviet ruling powers. – Editorial comment, AC]. Elated, Vavilov wrote the following letter to Beria:

To: Lavrentyi Beria, People’s Commissar,
The USSR Department of the Interior
Nicolai Ivanovich Vavilov
ousted Academician, Doctor of Biological and Agronomical Sciences


  1. I could, within half a year, complete the composition of a ‘Practical Manual for Producing Brands of Cultivated Plants, resistant to their main diseases’.
  2. Within the course of six to eight months, I could, by working hard, complete a ‘Practical Manual for Breeding Bread Grains Suitable for the Conditions in Various Parts of the USSR.
  3. I am also familiar with the field of subtropical cultivation of plants, including crops of industrial importance such as tung-oil trees, quinine-producing trees and others, but also plants rich in vitamins. I want to be able to devote to the fullest all my research efforts to the Soviet authorities and to my native country, where I can be of maximum use.

Nicolay Vavilov
8 August 1941, Buturskaya Prison, Cell No. 49.

What actually happened is best revealed in another letter, written more than half a year later, on 25 April 1942.

Comrade L.P. Beria
Nicolay Ivanovich Vavilov,
ousted member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR
Vice President of the V. I. Lenin Agricultural Academy and
Director of the All-Union Institute of Plant Industry and Institute of Genetics


Esteemed Lavrentiy Pavlovich,

On 6 August 1940, I was arrested and put into the Central Prison of the NKVD in Moscow. On 9 July 1941, I was sentenced by the Supreme Court of the USSR to capital punishment based on an order from the Military Board.

Both in respect to the written record of the inquest on the day of sentencing, when I was presented with the original material of evidence concerning the charges against me for treason against our country and espionage (evidence presented by N. M. Tulyakov, M. N. Avdulov, and L. P. Bordakov) and that trial, lasting only a few minutes under conditions of a military situation, it was categorically declared that this evidence was based on false stores, false facts and slander, in no way verified by the investigation.

During the trial, which lasted for 11 months (about 400 cross-examinations requiring 1700 hours; prosecutor A. G. Khvat), I was forced to admit my guilt as a leading scientist, out of touch in my work with the rightful problems of socialistic production and, as president of the Agricultural Academy (1930–1935), in my execution issuing damaging directives for the handling of the agricultural sciences to the Supreme National Commissar of Agriculture of the USSR, Ya. A. Takovlev, who was directly under the command of the Agricultural Academy, owing to: ignorance of the field of research, narrow specialization of the Institute, and arguments leading astray the plans for agriculture.

Facing death as a citizen of the USSR and as a scientist, I consider it my duty to my country to declare, as I have already written to you in August of 1941 shortly after my sentencing, that I have never betrayed my country and never in my thoughts nor actions participated in any form of espionage on behalf of another government. I have never taken part in counter-revolutionary activities, but have devoted myself entirely to scientific work.

On 1 August 1941, that is, three weeks after the sentencing, I was informed in the Buturskaya Prison by a messenger from your estate about your agitated petition before the Supreme Soviet of the SSR for abolition of my sentence and that I should be granted the right to live.

On 2 October 1941, I was, according to your orders, transferred from Buturskaya Prison to the Central Prison of the NKVD, and between the 5th and the 15th of October I had, upon your authorization, talks about my attitude towards the war and Fascism and about my utilization as a scientist of great experience. On 15 October I was informed that I should be assigned full opportunity for scientific work as an Academician and that this should be settled definitely within two to three days.

On the very same day of 15 October 1941, three hours after the talks, I was, because of an evacuation in stages, transferred back to Saratov and Prison No. 1, where, for lack of covering papers and documents concerning the abolition of the sentence and your petition for its abolition, I was again thrown into a cell for those condemned to death, where I still find myself to this day. The hard conditions of holding prisoners sentenced to death (lack of space, of storage, of soap, and, for the major part of the time deprived of reading material, and so on), I have, in spite of great resistance, already become diseased with scurvy. As declared to me by the superior of the Saratov Prison, my sentence and my situation depend entirely upon the central authorities.

All my thoughts concern the continuation and conclusion of several large and unfinished works, worthy of Soviet doctrine, for use by the Soviet people and my native country. At the time of my stay in the Central Prison of the NKVD, when I had an opportunity to obtain paper and pencil, I wrote a book on the history of worldwide agriculture (Worldwide Resources of Agriculture and Their Utilization), where the main attention was given to the USSR. Before the arrest I had finished a large amount of work that had taken many years, i.e. ‘The Fight Against Plant Disease by Means of Breeding Resistant Strains’ (awarded the Stalin Prize), and the not to be forgotten ‘Field Crops of the USSR’, ‘Worldwide Resources of the Species of Grain Crops and their Utilization for Soviet Pplant Breeding’, ‘The Plant Industry of the Caucasus (Past, Present, and Future)’, and the large book, ‘Centers of Agriculture on Five Continents’ (the result of my expeditions in Asia, Europe, Africa, as well as in North and South America over a period of 25 years).

I am 54 years old and have much experience and knowledge of the specifics within the field of plant industry. I am fluent in the main European languages. I have been fortunate to devote myself to the fullest to my native country and am aching for field work for my country. Being of physically and morally adequate strength, I was happy doing the arduous work for my country using my specialty as a plant breeder and in matters of improving food and technical raw materials.

I beg and implore you to soften my lot, to clear up my future fate, to allow me to work within my specialty even if in a modest manner (as a scientist and a teacher) and to permit me to have contact with my family (my wife and my two sons—one a member of the Young Communist League, and at present in the military service. and my brother, an Academician in physics), of whom I have had no news for more than half a year.

I earnestly beg you to hasten the decision concerning my fate

N. Vavilov
Saratov, Prison No. 1, 25 April, 1942

From this letter it is evident that Vavilov was already seriously ill but had not given up hope of being able to become a free man and again work within his chosen field. The separation from his family was particularly hard on him—and them too—because he was very devoted to his wife, Yelena I. Berulina, and his sons to whom he wrote letters almost daily when the conditions so allowed, during his numerous trips abroad. Apparently no one listened to his pleading. His physical condition continued to deteriorate due to hunger, cold, and general neglect. On 26 January, 1943, at 7 a.m., he died.

The following documents, translated from a book by Semyon Reznik, The Road to the Scaffold, Tret’ya Volna, 1983, pp. 120, 122, Paris, New York (in Russian) speak for themselves.

Building No. 3. Arrested on 6 July, 1940
Cell Block 57. In the Saratov Jail from 29 October 1941
Cell No. 12 Arrived from the Central Prison of the city of Moscow
Home address: Gogol str. No. 2, apt, 13, Leningrad

From the hospital department of the NKVD Saratov Jail, the district of Saratov.
1. Family name, given name, and patronym: L VAVILOV, Nicolay Ivanovich.
2. Born, 1887.
3. Preliminary diagnosis: acute membranous pneumonia.
4. Final diagnosis: acute membranous pneumonia and enteritis.
5. Out-patient treatment on 24 January 1843.
6. Result: died at 7 a.m., 26 January 1943.

Patient’s complaints: Fever, chest pains, cough, shortness of breath, diarrhoea three times a day, lack of appetite, very weak. He had been ill for three days. Objective symptoms of the illness: tongue coated, stomach soft, condition miserable, patient very weak and exhausted, skin pallid. In simple words: in the lower part of the lungs the respiration had a bronchial rale, the tone of the heart had a murmur. The patient suffered from malaria in the past.

External Report
The corpse of the male had the look of one 65 years of age; his stature was of average height but very undernourished. The skin was pallid, subdermal (fat) cells absent, muscles very weakly developed, the skeleton regular; temperature: the corpse was cold.

1. The death of VAVILOV was due to lobar pneumonia, which was indicated by: the presence of a congested lower left lobe and an unevenly congested upper right lobe of the lungs, with a dark red color on sections with grayish, slightly ecdemic islands which, when touched, produced a watery fluid. Presence of cloudy and bloody individual parts intersected by constricted, hyperemic and mucilaginous tracheas and bronchials.

Forensic Medical Expert


From: Adolf Ceska []
Royer, France & Richard Dickinson. 2007.
Plants of Alberta: Trees, Shrubs, Ferns, Aquatic Plants & Grasses. Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton, Alberta. 528 p. ISBN 978-1-55105-283-0 [soft cover] Price: CDN$29.95

Available from:
Lone Pine Publishing at

This book marks another important milestone for Lone Pine Publishers. This guide is impressive in its scope and brilliant photography. It contains over 700 “primary” species and illustrates or mention over 300 “secondary” species. The photography is outstanding. The fact that all the photos were taken by the same photographer is clearly visible on the final product: all photographs match each other and make this collection of the uniform, high quality.

The book is divided into several sections which correspond to the plant types listed in the subtitle of the book (and adds a section on wildflowers). Each section has a pictorial key in which the thumbnail pictures are arranged in groups by the position of leaves and colour of the flowers. This is a clever way to do a fast identification; however, the first plant that I noticed, Xanthium strumarium, was said to have opposite leaves and in reality has alternate leaves. In this case, the key would take the reader in the wrong direction.

There are quite a few other misidentifications in the book. Saxifraga caespitose is presented as Saxifraga tricuspidata, the photo of Utricularia minor is obviously Utricularia macrorhiza, Elodea bifoliata is in fact Najas flexilis. After I encountered several obvious mistakes, I gave up on digging deeper. I am sure that the book will go through numerous further printings and the errors should be corrected before the book is reprinted.

Publishing a guide like this is a very commendable act. These guides fill a gap that our Canadian educational system created when the study of plants was removed from most curricula. Is it true that the dandelion is the only plant that requires mention in the Canadian school curriculum for elementary school? In the case of Plants of Alberta, everyone interested in botany should also carry Packer’s revision of Moss’ Flora of Alberta, if not in the rucksack, then at least in the car. While I can give high praise to guides like Plants of Alberta, I also have to stress the need for more advanced treatments that can lead the guide users to higher taxonomic levels.


A.I. Pyak, A.I., S.C. Shaw, A.L. Ebel, A.A. Zverev, J.G. Hodgson, B.D. Wheeler, K.J. Gaston, M.O. Morenko, A.S. Revushkin, Y.A. Kotukhov & D. Oyunchimeg. 2008.
Endemic plants of the Altai Mountain region. WILDGuides Ltd., Maidenhead, UK. 268 p. ISBN: 978-1-903657-22-5 [soft cover] Price: Pounds 29.95 + mailing.

Available from:
WILDGuides Ltd., PO Box 680, Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 9ST (Tel.: 01628 529297) Email:

[BEN editor: Check the WILGuides web site for other titles. You might be surprised! - AC]

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