Goodspeed, Thomas Harper

views updated


(b. Springfield, Massachusetts, 17 May 1887: d. Calistoga, California, 17 May 1996) Plant genetics, botany.

Goodspeed is remembered by botanists for two achievements. First, he helped to establish and develop the botanical garden of the University of California, which under his direction became one of the leading university botanical gardens in the United States and the source from which numerous ornamental plants native to South America were introduced to the horticulturists and amateur gardeners of California. Second, he was the author of a systematic monograph on the tobacco genus Nicotiana that combined traditional with modern methods.

Goodspeed was the son of George S. Goodspeed, professor of comparative religion and ancient history at the University of Chicago, followed by a year at Gaillard College in Lausanne, Switzerland, he entered Brown University, where he became interested in plant science and graduated with the A.B. degree in 1909.

In the same year, Goodspeed was appointed assistant in the department of botany at the University of California at Berkeley, where he remained until his retirement in 1957, rising to the rank of professor in 1928.

In 1991 Goodspeed married Florence Beman; they had a son and a daughter.

During world war I. Goodspeed took part in a survey of plants that might provide an emergency source of rubber. He also cooperated with the Chairman of the department, the distinguished algologist William A. Setchell. in developing the university’s botanical garden. He was largely instrumental in selecting the present site in Strawberry Canyon, about a mile above the present campus, and establishing a new garden there. Under Goodspeed’s direction, the garden became a valuable source of plant material for teaching and research, a location for testing and propagating previously ignored or unknown species that enriched the gardens of Northern California, and a quiet spot of beauty that attracted many visitors.

When Goodspeed arrived in Berkeley, Setchell had already established a collection of related species, including cultivated tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) and was doing research on them. Goodspeed joined him in this effort, along with Roy E. Clausen, a graduate student who later took his Ph. D. under Setchell. Until 1928 they collaborated in cytogenetic investigations of Nicotiana, becoming the first botanists to demonstrate the origin of a new plant species (N. gluinosa-tabacum) via the combination of interspecific hybridization and doubling of the chromosome number. They also contributed valuable data that led to experimental demonstration of a similar origin for cultivated tobacco itself.

Goodspeed and Clausen then continued separate lines of research. After a brief period of investigations of X-ray-induced mutations and of plants having an extra chromosome (trisomics) in N. Sylvestris, Goodspeed continued his main line of research: the cytogenetics, systematics, and distribution of the approximately sixty species belonging to the genus Nicotiana. With collaborators he wrote a monograph on the genus that was a synthesis of taxonomic, morphological, cytogenetic, and distribution of the evidence that his and other laboratories had obtained. His account of evolution and the origin of species reflected his deep knowledge and wide experience With Nicotiana. Published in 1954, when he was sixty-seven, it was his final important research production.

His desire to see and collect as many species of Nicotiana as possible in their native environment led Goodspeed to organize and lead two botanical collecting and exploring expeditions to the Andes, where the genus is most diverse, the first in 1935– 1936 and the second in 1938–1939. With Mrs. Goodspeed and eleven associates who either accompanied him or went to areas that he did not visit, he gathered for the university’s botanical garden not only a nearly complete collection of living plants and herbarium specimens of Nicotiana species, including five that are described for the first time, but also numerous other ornamentals native to temperate South America that were tested in Berkeley and have enriched the gardens of California. His account of these expeditions, Plant Hunters in the Andes, was of interest both botanically and in its account of climate and vegetation.

Goodspeed was secretary of the Save-the-Red-woods League (1917–1918), a director of the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939–1940), and president of the American-Scandinavian Foundation (1944–1945). He was honored by the Seventh and Eighth International Botanical Congresses with an honorary vice presidency and presidency of the Section on Experimental Taxonomy (Seventh, Stockholm, 1950), and an honorary vice presidency (Eighth, Paris, 1954). He was also president of a section of the International Scientific Tobacco Congress (Paris, 1955), at which he gave the opening address. He received honorary degrees from Brown University (1940), the University of La Plata(Argentina, 1943), and the University of Cuzco (Peru, 1957). Among his other distinctions were election as a foreign member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences and receipt of the Chilean government’s highest decoration, commander of the Order of Merit Bernardo O’Higgins(1953).

Goodspeed was a distinguished botanist and an able botanical garden director, and he did much to promote good relationships between scientists of North and South America.


1.Original Works. Goodspeed’s writings include “Parthenocarpy and Parthenogenesis in Nicotiana,” in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, I (1915), 341–346;“Interspecific Hybridization in Nicotiana, II, A Tetraploid glutinosa-tabacum Hybrid: An Experimental Verification of Winge’s Hypothesis,” in Genetics, 10 (1925), 278–284, written with Roy E. Clausen;“Interspecific Hybridization in Nicotiana, VIII, The sylvestristomentosa-tabacum Triangle and Its Bearing on the Origin of tabacum,” in University of California Publication in Botany, 11 (1928), 245–256, written with Roy E.Clausen; “Nature and Significance of Structural Chromosomal Alterations Induded by X-Rays and Radium,” in Cytologia, 1 (1930), 308–327, written with P.Avery;“Induced Chromosomal Alterations,” in Biological Effects of Radiation, 2 (1936), 1281–1295;“Trisomic and Other Types in Nicotiana sylvestris, in Journal of Genetics, 38 (1939), 381–458, written with P.Avery; Plant Hunters in the Andes (New York, 1941;2nd ed., rev. and enl., Berkeley, 1961):”Cytotaxonomy of Nicotiana, “in Botanical Review, 11 (1945), 533–592;and” The Genus Nicotiana: Origins, Relationships and Evolution of Its Species in the Light Chronica Botanica, 16 (1954), written with H.M. Wheeler and Paul C.Hutchison.

II. Secondary Literature. See In Memoriam (University of California), June 1967.

G. Ledyard Stebbins, JR.

About this article

Goodspeed, Thomas Harper

Updated About content Print Article