Skip to main content

Gwynne-Vaughan, David Thomas

Gwynne-Vaughan, David Thomas

(b. Llandovery, Wales, 12 March 1871; d. Reading, England, 4 September 1915)


Gwynne-Vaughan was the eldest child of Henry Thomas Gwynne-Vaughan and Elizabeth Thomas. He was educated at Monmouth Grammar School and Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he held a scholarship and graduated with a first class in part I of the natural sciences tripos in 1893. He left Cambridge without taking part II and taught science for a year until, in 1894, he was invited to work at the Jodrell Laboratory, Kew, under D. H. Scott. There, using plants cultivated at Kew, he began to specialize in microscopic studies of plant anatomy, particularly the arrangement of vessels in the stem.

At the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in 1896 he read a paper on “The Arrangement of the Vascular Bundles in Certain Nymphaeaceae,” and on the strength of this, Frederick Bower offered him a post in his laboratory in Glasgow. He held this post from 1897 to 1907, working mainly on the anatomy of Pteridophyta, while also lecturing and writing a book on practical botany with Bower.

Before settling in Glasgow, Gwynne-Vaughan was able to make two expeditions. During 1897 and 1898 he went up the Amazon and Purus rivers to report on rubber production for a commercial syndicate. Although he was fascinated by the wealth of plant life, this trip offered little opportunity for collection. After another short period at Kew he spent most of 1899 in the Malay Peninsula, collecting and observing with W. W. Skeat.

From 1907 to 1909 Gwynne-Vaughan was head of the department of botany at Birkbeck College, London, and then in 1909 moved, as professor of botany, to the Queen’s University of Belfast where he stayed until 1914. He then assumed the chair of botany at University College, Reading, a position he held, in spite of illness, until his death in 1915. In 1911 he married Helen C. I. Fraser, a cytologist who had succeeded him at Birkbeck College and who continued to work there.

Gwynne-Vaughan was active in the British Association beginning with the formation of its botanical section in 1895, and was secretary and recorder of the section for some years. He was also a member of the Royal Irish Academy, a fellow of the Linnean Society of London, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

His first research, published as “On a New Case of Polystely in Dicotyledons” (Annals of Botany [1896]), reported a complete series of transitions between polystely and astely within the Nymphaeaceae. This was expanded and illustrated in a paper to the Linnean Society in 1897 which gave details of the morphology of the leaf and showed how the ontogeny of the individual leaf repeats the successive forms of the seedling leaves. His work on polystely in Primula (1897) showed that in this genus the gametostelic condition is more primitive than the dialystelic condition, and the apical region is not simplified. These new examples and interpretations extended the basic work that had been done on polystely by P. E. Van Tieghem.

Next Gwynne-Vaughan moved to an extensive work, “Observations on the Anatomy of Solenostelic Ferns” (1901–1903), in which he showed that the apparent segmentation of the stele is late development rather than a primitive feature, and he named broken-up portions of the central stele “meristeles.” Development of the dictyostele in both young plants and lateral shoots are illustrated to show that they are similar and that the structure of the dictyostele is due to overlapping leaf gaps.

He also worked briefly on the morphology of Equisetum. He studied some of the Marattiales (tree ferns) and Algae and in 1908 he published his view that the xylem vessels of ferns had openings in the vertical walls. But work by F. Halft (1910) and N. Bancroft (1911) did not support this.

Gwynne-Vaughan’s interest in the ontogeny of fern vessels was now extended to the study of the phylogeny of the fossil Osmundaceae, undertaken in a fruitful collaboration with the paleontologist Robert Kidston of Stirling. Through their research the structure of specimens from all over the world was traced back to the Permian. The sequence was sufficiently complete to show how anatomic changes correlated with successive geological strata, with progression from the protostele to the solenostele. This work, “On the Fossil Osmundaceae” (1907–1914), was published in a series of five papers by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which awarded the MacDougall-Brisbane Medal to Gwynne-Vaughan in 1910.


I. Original Works. Gwynnevaughan’s first paper,”On a New Case of Polystely in Dicotyledons,” is in Annals of Botany, 10 (1896), 288–291; the expanded version, “On Some Points in the Morphology and Anatomy of the Nymphaeaceae,” is in Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, 2nd ser., 5 (1897), 287–229. Other works include “On Polystely in the Genus Primula,” in Annals of Botany, 11 (1897), 307–325; and “Observations on the Anatomy of Solenostelic Ferns,” ibid., 14 (1901), 71–98; 17 (1903), 689–742.

Practical Botany for Beginners (London–New York, 1902), written with F. O. Bower, is Gwynne-Vaughan’s only book. The classic series of papers “On the Fossil Osmundaceae,” written with R. Kídston, is in Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 45 (1907), 759–780; 46 (1908), 213–232; 46 (1909), 651–667; 47 (1910), 455–477; 50 (1914), 469–480.

II.Secondary Literature. The most useful obituaries are F. O. Bower in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 36 (1916), 334–339; and D. H. Scott in Annals of Botany, 30 (1916), i–xxiv. Gwynne-Vaughan’s collection of anatomical slides is held in the botany department of the University of Glasgow, and a typescript catalogue (1920) of the collection is in the library of the British Museum (Natural History).

Diana M. Simpkins

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Gwynne-Vaughan, David Thomas." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . 15 Dec. 2018 <>.

"Gwynne-Vaughan, David Thomas." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . (December 15, 2018).

"Gwynne-Vaughan, David Thomas." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Retrieved December 15, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.