Sunday, April 7, 2013

Alice F. Tryon (1920 – 2009)

Alice F. Tryon was a botanist and an eminent expert on ferns and their spore morphology.

Alice was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1920. She graduated from the Milwaukee State Teacher's College, now the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, in 1941. After several years teaching in public schools, she went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison where she met Rolla M. Tryon Jr. and married him on March 16, 1945. This initiated a happy and enduring domestic partnership and a research synergism whose productivity has nourished pteridologists throughout the world. Also in 1945, she completed her master's thesis at Wisconsin, began her doctoral studies there under Rolla's direction, and moved with him to the University of Minnesota where Rolla served briefly as an Assistant Professor. The couple moved to the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis in 1947 where Alice completed her doctoral degree at Washington University in 1952.

Several species of Pellaea
Alice's life work was the study of fern diversity. During her career, she published nearly 50 contributions to the literature on ferns, including three full-length books. Spores have always been prominent in Alice's work, beginning with her master's thesis, which addressed the taxonomic utility of spore characters in the spikemoss genus Selaginella. Her doctoral dissertation analyzed the diversity and taxonomy of the New World species of Pellaea, a genus of xerically adapted ferns of the Pteridaceae, a family that remained central to her work during the first half of her career. Her time in St. Louis was followed by a year at the University of California at Berkeley where Rolla was a Research Associate during 1957. In 1958, she and Rolla joined the staff of the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University, where her next major focus was a monograph (1962) of the Andean alpine gymnogrammoid genus Jamesonia. Following this, she monographed the closely related Andean-centered gymnogrammoid genus Eriosorus (1970). To these revisions, she added papers on reproductive biology and biogeography of the Pteridaceae, notably studies of apogamy in Pellaea (1968, 1972), and of incipient heterospory in Platyzoma (1964, 1967).

Fern spores were the central focus of Alice's interests in the second half of her career, resuming an interest in spores first expressed in her master's research on the spores of Selaginella (1945, 1949). At Harvard, she played a central role in introducing the scanning electron microscope as a research and teaching tool, pioneering its use in the study of fern spores. Prominent among her contributions on spores are her works on evolutionary and ecological trends in spore features (1964, 1973, 1986, 1990), including her study of the specialized spore surfaces of the myrmecophytic ferns (1985). Her book with Bernard Lugardon, Spores of the Pteridophyta (1991), is likely to remain the authoritative reference on spore morphology for decades to come.
Selaginella canaliculata

Alice's professional and personal history is inextricably tied to that of her husband, Rolla M. Tryon, Jr. (1916-2001). Their jointly published work most notably includes Ferns and Allied Plants with Special Reference to Tropical America (1982), an in-depth survey of fern diversity with emphasis on the New World tropics. This monumental book, containing numerous photographs by Walter H. Hedge, continues to provide many taxonomic hypotheses that are testable by today's molecular techniques. Together, Alice and Rolla mentored a group of graduate students who have gone on to be prominent in pteridology (see discussion in Gastony et al., 2002). They organized and taught their Fern Biology in Mexico course with Ramon Riba, one of their students, five times between 1971 and 1981. This stimulating opportunity to do science with ferns in the field was a formative experience for all participating students.

Alice and Rolla had a lifelong investment in creating venues in which scientists could interact in the kinds of informal, relaxed settings that lead to the development of new insights about the botanical world, especially the ferns, but in much broader contexts as well. Prominent among these is the Missouri Botanical Garden's annual Systematics Symposium, initiated by Rolla and Alice during their time in St. Louis, and the New England Fern Conference, which Rolla and Alice inaugurated in 1970.

Following her arrival in New England in 1958, Alice was deeply involved in the New England Botanical Club. She was elected its first woman member in 1968. After serving as recording secretary and vice president, Alice was elected the club's first woman president in 1978. During her time as president, the club inaugurated several successful programs, including a focus on New England's rare and endangered species in the 1979 symposium Rare and Endangered Plant Species in New England, the proceedings of which were published in 1980. Her interest in New England and long-time residence there led Alice to develop her last book, The Ferns and Allied Plants of New England (1997), coauthored with Robbin Moran. This book is notable for its images of the plants, including both the classic photographs of Robert L. Coffin and the more recent work of noted botanist and photographer Walter H. Hodge. For this book, Alice included spore images for each of the New England pteridophytes, a fortunate inclusion for students of New England Pleistocene biogeography who find this resource invaluable in their analyses of palynological cores.

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