Walter C. Muenscher

(1891 - 1963)

Walter Conrad Muenscher was a noted expert on weeds, and his breadth of botanical knowledge gave rise to a study of a wide range of plants.  As a teacher, Muenscher maintained a rapport with students which sought to encourage them not only as scientists but also as friends. 

Walter C. Muenscher was born on May 30, 1891 in Fischbach, Germany.  His family moved to America when he was young and eventually settled in Washington.  He attended the State College of Washington and graduated with an A.B. in 1914.   He received his M.S. in taxonomy and ecology from the University of Nebraska in 1915.  In 1916, Muenscher took a position as instructor of botany at Cornell University, where he spent the rest of his career.  He went on to acquire his doctorate degree in plant physiology in 1921 from Cornell after spending 1918-1919 in the Army.  Muenscher was appointed Assistant Professor in 1923 and Professor in 1937.  In addition to his work at Cornell, Muenscher was a consultant for the USDA, the Tennesee Valley Authority, and the New York State Biological Survey.

Being an expert on weeds gave rise to a publication aptly named Weeds, that was published in 1935.   Muenscher's teaching of taxonomy resulted in his work Keys to Woody Plants as an aid for his class, but it became widely popular and much in demand.  His interests in other plants took him into the area of aquatics, which resulted in a work called Aquatic Plants of the United States.  Muenscher was also interested in poisonous flora and produced Poisonous Plants of the United States.   After studying herbs, he later helped to write Garden Spice and Wild Pot-Herbs, illustrated with woodcuts by Elfriede Abbe.

Having always had an interest in Whatcom County, Washington, where he grew up, Muenscher published The Flora of Whatcom County in 1941.  Being the most northwesterly county in the US, the area supported a variety of plants, due to the mountainous regions in close association with the Pacific Ocean.  In addition to his taxonomic endeavors, Muenscher was also instrumental in helping to establish the Bergen Swamp Preservation Society.  Its role is to preserve the Bergen Swamp area west of Rochester, NY because of its unique calciphilic flora.


For further information please see:

Clovis, Jesse F.  1958.  The "Wizard of Weeds" - A Tribute, Castanea 23 (1), pp. 22-24.

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