Maire, René-Charles-Joseph-Ernest

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(b.Lons-le-Saunier, France, 29 May 1878; d. Algiers, Algeria, 24 November 1949)


The son of a forest ranger, Maire displayed a precocious interest in botany and at the age of fifteen published his first observations on the vegetation of the Jura. A student at the Faculties of Science and Medicine at Nancy, he was encouraged by the botanists George Le Monnier and Paul Vuillemin. By the age of twenty he had published about twenty papers. His interest led him to fieldwork as well as to laboratory observations. His favorite objects of study apart from the phanerogams were the fungi.

His doctoral dissertation on the cytology of the Basidiomycetes, which he defended in Paris at the age of twenty-four, is still a basic work. In it he explained why previous authors believed, wrongly, in the existence of acaryotic stages and he specified the nature of the metachromatic corpuscles. In addition he outlined the nuclear evolution of the Ustilaginales (smuts) and the Uredinales and defined the synkaryon. The latter, which is found among the fleshy Basidiomycetes, is a caryologic unit formed from two morphologically distinct but intimately related nuclei. Finally, he demonstrated that among the Ustilaginales the budding basidiospores or sporidia have a structure identical to that of the true blastosporous fungi, such as the Saccharomyces.

Maire supported the observations of Pierre-Auguste Dangeard on the cytological characteristics that originate in the spores and the mycelium of these Ascomycetes, and he agreed with Dangeard that among the fungi, fertilization, which is proper to the higher plants, is replaced by the fusion of two nuclei in the mother cell of the basidium and of the ascus.

At age thirty-three, after serving as a maître de conférences at the Faculty of Sciences of Caen, Maire was named to the chair of botany at Algiers. He held this post at the French University of North Africa for nearly forty years.

On several voyages in the Mediterranean basin, Maire studied the phanerogams and fungi of Corsica (1902–1904), the Balearic Islands (1905), the Olympus Mountains, and the Taurus Mountains. He demonstrated the phytogeographical heterogeneity of Thessaly and Epirus and identified six stages of vegetation in that region. Maire first went to Africa in 1902. From Tangier he traversed the area south of Oran and the mountains of Tlemcen, visiting Tunisia in 1909. Permanently settled in Algiers, he explored the Djuradjura and Babor mountains, South Oran, Mount Daya and the Tlemcen Mountains. Stationed in Thessaloniki during World War I, he spent his leaves on the island of Skíros and in Pilos. With Braun-Blanquet, who influenced his work, he published a phytogeograpahical sketch of Morocco (1925), after having climbed the High and Middle Atlas in 1921.

From 1931 to 1936 Maire made twenty-seven trips to Morocco. He described in detail the Mediterranean character of the Sous and examined the flora of the Moroccan coast, the Rif, Mount Zaian, Mount Tichchoukt, the summits of the High Atlas, the fir and oak forests of Tauzin, Ceuta and the Anti-Atlas, the high Dra River, the Tafilalet, and the plateau of the Lakes District. Maire held that the origins of the Moroccan flora and its autonomous evolution since the Pliocene, in conjunction with the penetration of the arcto-Tertiary floral element, explain the Iberian character of this vegetation. Maire was also active in these years in Algeria, notably in the Aurès Mountains, the phytogeographical map of which he helped to establish. From 1932 to 1935 he explored the Western Sahara as far as Tindouf, as well as the Tefedest, the Hoggar, and the Tassili N’s Ajjer Mountains; he described three stages of tropical and Mediterranean vegetation in this region. The results of these gigantic botanical labors were set forth in Contributions à I’étude de la flore de l’Afrique du Nord; three volumes were prepared before Maire’s death, the remaining were completed by his successors.

A first-rate mycologist endowed with an exceptional memory, Maire studied various fungi of Europe and the Maghreb: Laboulbeniales, rusts, Pezizales, Gasteromycetes, and especially the fleshy agarics. In 1908, while traveling in Sweden, Maire encountered the work of Elias Fries, which left a lasting impression on his own work. In his study of the Russula, Maire introduced the Ariadne’s thread that permitted the discovery of the exact value of the characteristics of this difficult genus. His contributions to the mycology of the cedars of the Atlas Mountains and of Catalonia as well as to toxicology and to phytopathology are also important, and his account of the biology of the Uredinales is a model of clarity.

Maire became correspondent of the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1923 and nonresident member in 1946. He was also honorary president of the Société Mycologique de France, an organization in which he retained a lively interest.

A scientist whose devotion to work consumed all his energy, Maire was egocentric and severe about keeping to a regular schedule. There was no room in his life for anything besides his research. His personality bore the mark of his native Lorraine; he was even-tempered, rigorous, objective, easy to approach, indulgent, and accommodating—traits that made him universally popular.


I. Original Works. Maire’s writings include his diss., “Recherces cytologiques at taxonomiques sur les basidiomycètes,” in Bulletin de la Société mycologique de France, 18 (1902), 1–209, with 8 plates; “Les bases de la classification dans le genre Russula,” ibid., 26 (1910), 49–125, with figures; “La biologie des urédinales,” in Progressus rei botanicae, 4 (1911), 109–162; “études sur la végétation et la flore du Grand Atlas et du Moyen Atlas Marocains,” which is Mémories de la Société des sciences naturelles et physique du Maroc, no. 7 (1924), with 16 plates; and “études sur la Végétation et la flore marocaines,” ibid., no. 8 (1925), with map, plates, and figures.

II. Secondary Literature. Articles devoted to Maire include L. Emberger, G. Malençon, and C. Sauvage, “Hammage à René Maire. I. L’Homme, II. Le Mycologue. III. Le Phanérogamiste,”in Bulletin de la Société des sciences naturelles du Maroc, 1 (1950), 9; J. Feldmann, “René Maire,” in Revue générale de botanique, 58 (1951), 65; “René Maire. Sa vie et son oeuvre,” written with P. Guinier, in Bulletin de Société d’histoire naturelle de l’Afrique du Nord, 41 (1952), contains a complete bibliography; B. P. G. Hochreutiner, “Un grand Systématicien et mycologue français, René Maire,” in Mémoires de la Société botanique de France (1950–1951), 132–136; F. Jelenc, “René Maire (1878–1949),” in Revue bryologique et lichénologique, n.s. 19 (1950), 5; and R. Kuhner, “René Maire (1878–1949),” in Bulletin de la Société mycologique de France, 49 (1953), 1–49.

Roger Heim