2016 Elizabeth Ann Bartholomew Award Recipient — Lytton John Musselman


Michael J. Baranski

Additional Authors:


Sept 2016



The Southern Appalachian Botanical Society (SABS) annually presents the Elizabeth Ann Bartholomew Award to deserving individuals in memory of her untiring service to the public, to plant systematics, and to this organization. It is presented to individuals who have distinguished themselves in professional and public service that advances our knowledge and appreciation of the world of plants and their scientific, cultural, and aesthetic values, and/or to individuals who have rendered exceptional service to the Society. Elizabeth Ann Bartholomew served as Secretary of the Southern Appalachian Botanical Club from 1946 to 1981. Her life was devoted to plants, and she enthusiastically transferred her interest in plants and nature to others.

Dr. Lytton John Musselman was the 2016 recipient of the Bartholomew Award, receiving it at the Society’s spring meeting in Concord, North Carolina. Dr. Musselman exemplifies the dedication to service, botany, and the public demonstrated by Elizabeth Bartholomew. His career spans more than 40 yr as a biology faculty member and has been characterized by his positive influence on countless students and a long and impressive list of achievements at Old Dominion University (ODU), internationally, with SABS, and to the field of botany.

Dr. Musselman was born in southern Wisconsin and graduated from Beloit College in 1965 where he was greatly encouraged by the botany professor, Elizabeth Souter. Under her tutelage, he surveyed remnants of the tall grass prairie and also became fascinated with parasitic angiosperms. Continuing his interest in prairie ecology, he went to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for an M.S. in botany in 1968. From there, he accepted an appointment at a 2-yr campus of the University of Wisconsin for 3 yr, teaching botany and zoology in, he says, one of the best teaching environments of his career. While an undergraduate, he received a research award to study at the University of Virginia’s Mountain Lake Biological Station, where he fell madly in love with the botany of the Southern Appalachians—an enduring love. At Mountain Lake, he had the privilege of meeting and working with the irrepressible C. Ritchie Bell from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC). In 1970, he joined the UNC botany Ph.D. program, where he studied with the late William C. Dickison on the development and structure of the haustorium, the invasive, vascular organ of parasitic members of Scrophulariaceae. As a result, he earned a degree from a department that no longer exists (botany was subsumed into biology) working on a taxonomic family that is rapidly disintegrating (genera moved to Orobanchaceae, Plantaginaceae, and other families). By this time, he was a Yankee, at home with grits for breakfast. He was hired at ODU in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1973, where he has remained as a faculty member. He has served as a full professor at ODU since August of 1985 and was designated an ODU Eminent Scholar in 1993.

His work on parasitic angiosperms naturally led him to research parasites causing crop damage, especially the genera Striga (the witchweeds) and Orobanche (the broomrapes). To learn more about these, in 1980, he spent a research leave at the Weed Research Organization, a branch of the UK Agricultural Research Service, in Oxford, England, where he could grow with abandon parasites that are quarantined from the United States. That research was sponsored, in part, by the US Department of Agriculture. This laboratory and glasshouse work stimulated his interest in how these plants behave in the field and natural grasslands—which led him to Africa.

He was awarded his first Fulbright Scholar award at the College of Agriculture of the University of Khartoum, in Khartoum, Sudan, where he taught a diversity of courses and directed graduate students from 1982 to 1984. With funding from the International Sorghum and Millet Collaborative Research Support Program, he established extensive crossing experiments with Striga hermonthica (Delile) Benth., a major constraint on sorghum culture, in a country where sorghum is a subsistence crop. By this time, he had four young children and endured the vicissitudes of extensive power outages, shortages of water and cooking gas, bouts of malaria, lack of transportation, heat, and dust storms—and ended up loving the people and the country.

He found the experience so enriching that he accepted a second Fulbright Scholar award for An Najah University in Nablus on the West Bank of Palestine from 1986 to 1987. This was during the first Palestinian intifada; the university and the children’s school were frequently closed; on which occasions, he and his family would drive to the Dead Sea for extensive hikes and botanizing or to visit Palestinian friends in villages in Galilee, where they hiked and collected wild capers and other native plants. He bought a set of Flora Palaestina and learned the flora. A third Fulbright Scholar award came in 1997 to 1998 in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of Jordan in Amman, where he taught plant morphology and plant taxonomy and worked with the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. This, in turn, led to an invitation from the Queen of Jordan to write the text for a book of collections of exquisite watercolors of native plants that was published in Jordan. Because Amman is an easy drive from Damascus, his wife and daughter went there and traveled throughout Syria by public bus. He followed shortly thereafter and established links with the universities in Damascus and in Aleppo, where he spent several summers as a Visiting Professor. Supported by the Cultural Attach´e at the American Embassy in Damascus, he presented yearly public lectures on a variety of botanical topics. Most memorable of those was a talk on fire ecology after which the audience expressed shock that prescribed burns could be good. The other occasion was more tense—one of the audience members accused him of being an Israeli agent! He also reestablished his link with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) located south of Aleppo. ICARDA is one of the international agricultural research centers and had research projects on Orobanche spp. Dr. Musselman rues the loss of the Syria that he and his family once knew.

In 2002, he was a Visiting Professor of Biology at the American University of Beirut (AUB), where he says he had perhaps the best-qualified and motivated students in his career. One of his favorite projects was to study the life and botanical activities of one of the founders of the AUB, George Edward Post (1838–1909), who wrote the first modern flora of the Middle East but who was also a physician, dentist, theologian, Arabist, and architect—a great role model.

During those years, his research centered on the taxonomy of parasitic plants, determining host ranges, testing germination against crops bred for tolerance/resistance, and conducting field surveys. Living in the Middle East gave him the opportunity to pursue his love of plants of the Bible and Qur’an, resulting in several books, of which he considers A Dictionary of Bible Plants (Cambridge University Press, 2011) to be his magnum opus.

After returning from Lebanon, he was appointed Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at ODU for two terms from 2002 to 2008. A few years earlier, much to his surprise, he had been appointed the Mary Payne Hogan Distinguished Professorship of Botany.

He continued working in the Middle East as Visiting Professor at the American University of Iraq– Sulaimani for 3 yr, teaching a month-long course each spring. His fourth Fulbright award was a Fulbright Specialist award at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam for one month each in 2014 and 2015, where he continued research on the parasitic plants of Borneo and had an appointment as a Visiting Professor.

Outside ODU, Dr. Musselman enjoys teaching each summer at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Cranberry Lake Biological Station, in the Adirondack Mountains; he also taught several summers at Mountain Lake Biological Station and Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies in Michigan. He says that field courses represent his only claim to teaching prowess.

He thinks of himself as more of a teacher than a researcher. He has taught a wide range of plant courses—plant anatomy, microtechnique, ethnobotany, but mostly, field-oriented identification courses like wetland plants, field botany, and dendrology. During his tenure, he has directed 25 M.S. students and four Ph.D. students.

In 1984, he established the Blackwater Ecological Preserve, the northernmost longleaf pine (Pinus palustris Mill.) community and an area of great botanical interest visited several times by Merritt Lyndon Fernald. He considers the establishment of the Preserve and the maintenance and restoration of longleaf pine as one of his most important contributions; he is the current Manager of the Preserve. He is Acting Program Coordinator for the M.S. Program in Wetland Biology and is Director of the ODU Herbarium. He has hosted three Fulbright scholars to his laboratory. Dr. Musselman has served SABS as President, Editor of Castanea, and contributor of numerous feature articles in Chinquapin on native parasitic plants. He has made great contributions to southeastern and Southern Appalachian botany, particularly in the field of parasitic plants and the enigmatic fern-ally Isoetes spp.

Dr. Musselman’s publication record includes six books, six monographs, 11 edited volumes, and 198 refereed papers, invited contributions and chapters, and popular articles and notes. He is a writer of books and articles on plants of the Bible and the flora of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. He is the leading authority on the biology of parasitic plants, laying the foundations that directed international research on parasitic plants. He has organized many international parasitic weed conferences and other conferences. He founded the newsletter Haustorium, circulated to an international audience. He is an elected Fellow of the Linnaean Society of London.

All his life, Dr. Musselman has been intrigued by the way humans use plants—in other words, ethnobotany. Being a trencherman and melding that with botany explains his fascination with edible plants, thus resulting in the publication, with a former student, of Quick Guide to Edible Plants (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013). A current project is preparing a book on cordials and aperitifs from native plants.

His favorite plant may be Hydnora spp., an angiosperm so bizarre, it was first described as a fungus. He first saw Hydnora sp. in the 1980s, when he was invited on an extensive field trip across South Africa and Namibia by the late Johann Visser (who was also interested in parasitic plants). At that time, Dr. Visser told him of his efforts to locate the most peculiar of this genus—Hydnora triceps Dr`ege, which flowers underground. Tragically, Dr. Visser died shortly after he excitedly sent him pictures of the plant. Dr. Musselman returned a few years later and has been studying the group ever since, and one new species has been described.

One of the most unusual jobs in his career has been working for his old friend Garrison Keillor (who described Lytton in print as a ‘‘passionate botanist’’) as a member of the education team on ‘‘A Prairie Home Companion Cruises.’’ Dr. Musselman asks you to imagine a classroom full of devoted National Public Radio listeners attending a plant lecture. In addition to lectures, he also does shore excursions that have allowed him to mire in a bog in Estonia; visit Linnaeus’ garden in Uppsala, Sweden; and help with a tour of strand vegetation near Nice, France. During his long botanical career, he says he has come from prairie ecology to ‘‘A Prairie Home Companion.’’

Above all, Dr. Musselman loves plants and has an overflowing thanksgiving for a loving and supportive wife, children, grandchildren, students, colleagues, and collaborators who share and encourage this passion. A couple of quotes from the nomination letters written on his behalf attest to that passion. ‘‘In addition to training students to be good observers, he simultaneously instills a joy of natural diversity that sustains them for a lifetime. His teaching is so effective because it is replete with natural history and economic botany sprinkled with wit and humor.’’ ‘‘He is the most enthusiastic botanist I have had the pleasure to meet. His passion for plants, active commitment to natural history, and role in fostering the communication of botanical knowledge are evident in his life work.’’

—Michael J. Baranski, Emeritus Professor of Biology, Catawba College