William Trelease

(1857 - 1945)

William Trelease was a noted taxonomist who studied many vascular plant and fungal groups.  His extensive travels provided him opportunities to study these diverse organisms.  His prolific work and experience were the enviable traits of a distinguished teacher and botanical leader.

William Trelease was born on February 22, 1857 in Mt. Vernon, New York.  He attended Cornell University and received a bachelor's degree in 1880.   He then went to Harvard University to study with Asa Gray and W. G. Farlow from 1880-1881.  Upon finishing his year at Harvard, Trelease obtained a position as instructor of botany at the University of Wisconsin from 1881-1883.  He then became professor of botany until 1885, during which time he received a doctor of science degree from Harvard in 1884.  Trelease left the University of Wisconsin in 1885 to open the Henry Shaw School of Botany at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.   Additionally, Trelease was director of the Missouri Botanical Garden from 1889 until 1912.  In 1913 he accepted a position as head of the Department of Botany at the University of Illinois, and continued in that role until his retirement in 1926.  Emeritus status followed until his death in 1945.

Although Trelease studied a wide range of plants, his early work focused on bateria and fungi.  He taught the first course in bacteriology given at the University of Wisconsin and became one of the country's leading mycologists.  Later Trelease studied the taxonomy of seed plants while at the Missouri Botanical Garden and at the University of Illinois.  He travelled extensively in the United States and overseas to study and collect.  He travelled on the Harriman Expedition to Alaska in 1898, and authored many botanical publications, including several monographs.  In 1913, he published a monograph titled Agaves in the West Indies.  He was also a noted authority on oaks, Phoradendron, and several members of the Piperaceae.  He is believed to have named and described over 2,500 species and varieties.

Trelease was instrumental in the early development of the Missouri Botanical Garden.  As its first director, he encouraged its growth and helped to make it an important botanical center.  He was influential in obtaining several important library collections for the Botanical Garden's library, including those of George Engelmann and Edward Sturtevant.  As director he also developed the Garden's herbarium, museum, and grounds.


For further information please see:

Buchholz, J. T.  1945.  William Trelease, Science vol. 101, no. 2617, pp. 192-193.

[Return to Herbarium History page]

[Return to Herbarium homepage]