Lionel Dane Melvin ca. 1988 from Remember, Our Melvins
Image courtesy of Sandra Melvin Gray.
Lionel Melvin was a well known North Carolina nurseryman
who was one of the first to promote the use of native plants in home
landscapes. As a founding member of the North Carolina Wild Flower
Preservation Society, Mr. Melvin led many field trips through the natural
areas across our state. Over the years, he propagated and distributed a
number of unusual forms of our native trees, shrubs and wildflowers.
The University of North Carolina Herbarium has
catalogued approximately 280 specimens collected by Lionel Dane Melvin. As
cataloguing of the collection continues many more will be found. Most of his
specimens in the UNC Herbarium list "Pleasant Garden, NC," the site
of his home and nursery business, as the collecting locality. It was not unusal for him to spot a plant in the wild, then
propagate it in Pleasant Garden, and make herbarium specimens from the
NC Wild Flower Preservation Society was formed
in 1951 by a group of individuals appreciative of native plants throughout
the state and region. Mr. Melvin served as its president 1956-1958. In 2004
the group's name was changed to North
Carolina Native Plant Society as the purpose of the Society is to promote
enjoyment and conservation of native plants and their habitats through education,
protection, and propagation.
Lionel Dane Melvin was born 25 March 1907 in Bladen County, North Carolina to
Leon Dexter Melvin (1875-1948) and Mae Susan Sykes (1882-1971). He was the
eldest of ten children: Lionel Dane, Wilton Henry Lingon,
Earl McKay, Esma, Byron Edward, Edna Mae, Leon
Herman, unnamed, Jean Oswald and Sarah Elizabeth.
Images from Lest We Forget by Lionel Melvin, courtesy of Sandra Melvin Gray
According to Lionel Melvin's daughter, Sandra,
"Dad's education was to attend a one-room school house that his father
built on his land. My grandfather's sisters were the teachers. My family had
a thing about educating the girls and not worrying too much about the boys.
It continued into my father's generation. All my grandfather's sisters had
college degrees, most in education and one in pharmacy. The pharmacist [aunt]
had studied botany, and she influenced Dad as he grew up."
Melvin entered the University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill in 1932, but the financial stress of the Depression and a
severe bout with Red Measles forced him to withdraw. Although Melvin did not
complete an undergraduate degree, he did form a life-long friendship and
scientific collaboration with Dr. Henry Roland Totten of the UNC-CH Botany Department. In the early
1950's Melvin discovered and described Quercus
X totteni, a naturally-occuring
hybrid of Quercus michauxii
and Quercus lyrata,
which he named in honor of his friend and botanical colleague (see below for
complete text). A fine specimen grows outside the Totten
Center of the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill.
Left: Lionel Melvin, 1946.
Right: Lucy Bynum Lambeth, 1942. Images courtesy of
Sandra Melvin Gray.
After withdrawing from UNC-Chapel Hill, Melvin
found a job at Exotic Gardens in Miami, Florida. "Later when he met my
mother, a teacher in Elizabethtown school," says Sandra Melvin Gray,
"he was working as a law enforcement officer. She transferred to
Chincoteague Island and he followed her, [and worked] in the ship yards in
Wilmington, Delaware." In February, 1942 he married Lucy Bynum Lambeth (1907-1995), and they had two children, Sandra
Lynn Melvin (b. 1943) and Lionel Dane Melvin, Jr. (b. 1946). He was drafted
into the US Army in 1942, and was sent to study electronics and radar at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "After WWII he attended a short
study course in Kentucky to learn to repair televisions, which were growing
in popularity at the time. In Elizabethtown he had a record shop/appliance store
in the late forties and fifites and that is where
he collected our extensive collection of classical music on 78 RPM records.
My mother graduated from Greensboro College in 1929 [with a] teacher's
certificate and a Bachelor of Music degree. She was a piano teacher and there
was always music in our house. He was president of the Civitan
club, [a leader in the] American Legion... and was a Justice of the
Lionel Melvin in US Army
uniform, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1944. Image courtesy of
Sandra Melvin Gray.
"He moved the business and family to
Pleasant Garden [Guilford County], North Carolina in 1950. [In the
mid-1950's] he went to work for RCA's down-range missile program...[and] we lived in cramped temporary quarters [in Cape
Canaveral, Florida] a very short time. We all hated Florida. But while we
were there we [went] on frequent field trips into the scrub to 'botanize.' We
brought back [to Pleasant Garden, NC] a panel truck so full of plants that we
barely had room for our clothes. After we returned, Dad changed occupations
and went to work for Gilmore Plant & Bulb Company, and later, the Sears
& Roebuck store as a landscaper. Afer a few
years he started his own nursery... and a beautiful botanical garden on
several acres. Dad was well-known among nursery people for his beautiful
plantings of unusual plants. He had a grove of Yellow Wood [Cladrastis kentukea],
Southern-plume [Elliottia racemosa], and expanse of Oconee Bells [Shortia galacifolia],
and a lane of breathtaking Flame Azaleas [Rhododendron calendulaceum]."
Lionel Melvin was a founding member of the North
Carolina Wild Flower Preservation Society [NCWFPS]. "I think Dad was
known for his efforts to save rare plants," says Sandra Melvin Gray.
"There was a rare Pixie Moss [Pyxidanthera]
that, as president of the NCWFPS, he worked hard to save from loggers. One
night, around midnight he heard on television that there was a forest fire
burning in an area where that moss and another rare plant grew in South
Carolina. He jumped into his ancient pickup truck and took off in the middle
of the night on a five hour trip to find and possibly rescue those plants
from the fire."
Lionel Melvin (2nd from right) and Dr. B. W. Wells (foreground,
holding file) at a
North Carolina Wild Flower Preservation Society meeting ca. 1960.
Image courtesy of Sandra Melvin Gray.
Sandra Melvin Gray, remembers, "Dad was a
great admirer of Dr. B. W. Wells for his research on the Burgaw Savannah.
They shared the pain of seeing it drained and developed."
While the University of North Carolina Herbarium
(NCU) was his primary repository, Melvin's herbarium specimens can also be
found in the Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium at Florida State University (FSU),
Murray State University Herbarium (MUR), and the Steere
Herbarium of the New York Botanical Garden (NY). "He had a cabinet full
of [plant specimens] at his home. I remember him putting them between
blotters and strapping them to press them. I remember visiting Chapel Hill as
a child when Dad went down there. I played in the arboretum with my younger
brother while Dad visited the Herbarium and Davie Hall. That would have been
in the 1950's."
Lionel Dane Melvin died 30 November, 1997, and his funeral was held at the
United Methodist Church in Pleasant Grove in December of that year. Ken
Moore, long-time curator at the North Carolina Botanical Garden of the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, delivered a eulogy. Lionel Dane
Melvin is buried in the Melvin Family Cemetery in Faytetteville,
North Carolina. "When he died, I and my brother, Lionel Dane Melvin Jr, donated all his rare and unusual specimens growing on
his 14 acres in Pleasant Garden to the North Carolina Botanical
Gardens." Lionel Dane Melvin's personal and
professional papers are preserved in the Manuscripts Department, Southern
Historical Collection of the Library of the University of North Carolina at
"Lionel Melvin may not have been an
academic in the strict sense of the word, but he was a perpetual student all
his life and eventually became an expert on plant identification. Plants were
his life. He studied them every day he lived. He believed in preserving
nature like it was a religion."
PUBLICATIONS (incomplete list)
Melvin, Lionel Dane (1988?) Remember our Melvins and kin. Compiled and edited by Lionel Dane
Melvin. Charlotte, NC: H. Eaton Historical Publications.
Melvin, Lionel Dane (1979) Lest we forget: our Melvins and kin. Greensboro, NC: Media, Inc.
Melvin, Lionel (1975?) Letter to the Editor: An
abundance of brave colonial women. The Greensboro Daily News, October ?, 1975?.
Melvin, Lionel (1956) Nestronia,
parasitic on roots of Pinus. Journal of
the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 72(1): 137-138.
Melvin, Lionel (1956) A new hybrid oak from the
Piedmont of North Carolina. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society
72: 346-347. [transcribed, below]
Melvin, Lionel (1954) Notes on some rare North
Carolina plants. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 70(2):
312-313. [transcribed, below]
Melvin, Lionel (1956) A new hybrid oak
from the Piedmont of North Carolina. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell
Scientific Society 72: 346-347.
Three seasons of observation and study of an oak
found in the swamp of Buffalo Creek near Greensboro in Guilford County, N.C.,
has led to the conclusion that it is a hybrid of Quercus
lyrata Walt. by Q.
michauxii Nutt. At first, I was under the
impression that I had found Quercus
bicolor Willd. but
from a study of collected specimens (Melvin 2001 and subsequent collections
of September 24 and 26, 1954; and October 9 and 26, 1954) Dr. H. R. Totten pointed out the lack of soft, downy, pubescence
beneath the leaves and the absence of the long fruiting peduncle
characteristic of that species. He further suggested that I had found a
hybrid. Quercus michauxii
was unquestionably one of the parents since no other species with
chestnut-like leaves occurred in the vicinity. Quercus
alba and Q. stellata were lacking in
the immediate area, but Q. lyrata of the
form viridis Trel.
was abundant. The fruit offers further proof that
only Q. lyrata could have been the other
parent, for the acorn cup bears the blunt and rugged lower scales that are
found only in that species of the white oak group native to our piedmont. In
addition, the cup encloses from one-half to two-thirds of the acorn,
approaching the sometimes fully enclosed acorn of Q. lyrata.
A natural seedling of the hybrid which I transplanted to my grounds in
Pleasant Garden produces leaves that occasionally show a sinus separating the
shorter basal lobes from the larger apical lobes, approaching the leaf form
of Q. lyrata. This characteristic was found
to exist in the parent, but less pronounced. Collection 2002, July 2, 1955,
shows this separation of lobes by the sinus in the leaves of the seedling.
Seeds of the hybrid were planted in the spring of 1955. Six plants were
obtained and four of these survived. Two of these resemble very closely Q.
michauxii while the other two are almost
indistinguishable from seedlings of Q. lyrata.
Quercus X totteni hybr. nov.
Hybrida naturalis inter Quercum lyratam et Quercum michauxii. Cortice trunci parum squamato, non argenteo ut in Quercu michauxii; ramulis flexuosis ut in Quercus lyrata; foliis inversum ovatis, in basi acutis, singulis detatis, altius sectis et dispositis minus ordinate quam in Quercu
michauxii, lobis inferioribus nonnumquam separatis sinu e superioribus ut in Quercu lyrata, superficie infra viridi ut in forma viridis Quercus lyratae vicine praevalentis; fructu sessili aut cum brevibus pediculis ut in parentibus ambobus; calyce tam alto quam glande querno parte dimidia aut parties trientibus duobus, inferis scamis horridis ut in Quercu lyrata, glandibus quernis ovatis ut in Quercu michauxii. 1
A natural hybrid between Quercus
lyrata and Quercus
michauxii. Trunk with slightly flaky, light
gray bark, not silvery as in Q. michauxii;
twigs flexuous as in Q. lyrata; leaves obovate, acute at the base, severally dentate, more
deeply cut and less regularly arranged than in Q. michauxii,
the basal lobes sometimes separated from the upper by a sinus as in Q. lyrata, surface beneath green as in the form viridis of Q. lyrata
prevalent in the area; fruit sessile or short-peduncled
as in both parents; cup one-half to two-thirds as high as acorn, low scales
rugged as in Q. lyrata; acorns ovoid as in
TYPE LOCALITY: Swamp of Buffalo Creek, Guilford
County, N.C., 1954.
TYPE SPECIMEN: Melvin 2001 (type: NCU)
So far as I have been able to learn, no hybrid
of Quercus michauxii
by Q. lyrata has been recorded and it
pleases me to name it Quercus X totteni in honor of Henry Roland Totten who first recognized the tree as a hybrid. Dr. Totten has spent a lifetime in the study of the trees of
the southeastern states and I know of no one more deserving of this small
1. I wish to thank Prof. J. Arthur Dunn for this
Lionel Melvin at Lindera melissifolia site in Bladen County, North Carolina on 5
Image courtesy of Sandra Melvin Gray.
Melvin, Lionel (1954) Notes on some rare
North Carolina plants. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society
PRESENTED BEFORE THE BOTANY SECTION OF THE 51st
ANNUAL MEETING OF THE N.C. ACADEMY OF SCIENCE AT GREENVILLE, MAY 7-8, 1954.
This paper is a record of some rarer plants that
I have collected in this state. My identifications have been checked by Dr.
H. R. Totten or by Dr. A. E. Radford of the
University of North Carolina [at Chapel Hill], and collections placed in the
Herbarium of the University at Chapel Hill [NCU].
Lindera melissaefolium (Walt.) Blume (= Benzoin melissaefolium (Walt.) Nees).
Bladen Co., near White Oak. July 2, 1939. The habitat is like that described
by Thomas Walter, who discovered the plant. It is growing on the margin of a
pond subject to drying up in seasons, but where the roots are at times submerged.
There is no evidence that the plants are reseeding themselves, although they
bear fruits. Reproduction is by stolons, a
characteristic not common in the more abundant plant, L. Benzoin.
I believe that this Bladen County location is
the only one known to exist in North Carolina. The New York Botanical Garden
has, besides a duplicate of my 1939 collection, a very old collection
received from the Princeton University Herbarium marked “Chapel Hill.
Professor Mitchell”; and an old collection from the Torrey Herbarium marked
“North Carolina. Schweinitz.” I have also examined
from the U.S. National Herbarium the following C. L. Boynton collections from
swamps near Home Mills, Cumberland Co., N.C: Benzoin
reticulatum No. 967154 (Biltmore Herb. No.
14949a), No. 1435572 (Biltmore Herb. No 14949a), No. 1435573 (Biltmore Herb.
No. 8000), No. 1435574 (Biltmore Herb. No. 8000), and No. 1435575 (Biltmore
Herb. No. 8903); these collections are not Lindera
melissaefolium, but belong to the pubescent
form or variety of Lindera Benzoin to which Palmer and Steyermark
have given the varietal name of pubescens.
Of this variety they say (Annals Mo. Bot. Gard. 22:
545. 1935): “The occurrence of this undescribed
pubescent variety has been the cause of considerable confusion and has been
responsible for the wide range given in manuals to Benzoin
melissaefolium (Walt) Nees
which has been credited to Missouri, but which appears to be a rare species
confined to coastal plain and piedmont regions of the southeastern states.” I
find that the pubescent form or variety of Lindera
Benzoin is not uncommon, and from the amount
of winter-kill of L. melissaefolium in the
Bladen County plants in the coastal plain I doubt its existence farther north
or even in the Piedmont of North Carolina; and I think that the notation
“Chapel Hill” on the Mitchell plant meant only that it was sent by Professor
Mitchell who was teaching at Chapel Hill over a hundred years ago. [NOTE by
Carol Ann McCormick, NCU, 2007: The spelling of the specific epithet
has been changed to "melissifolia," and
the plant has since been documented in Cumberland, NC.]
Litsea aestivalis (L.) Fern. – July 2, 1939, in the same location as Lindera melissaefolium.
This is the only North Carolina collection in the Herbarium of the University
of N.C. [at Chapel Hill], though there are other collections from South
Carolina and from Florida. In the New York Botanical Garden there are
specimens from North Carolina as follows: Loomis, 1834; Wilmington (no date);
Beyrich (113), Carolina, in nemoribus
arenosis, 1836. Fernald (Rhodora
47: 140-142, 1945) says: “So far as we know Litsea
aestivalis has not been found in Virginia
since Pursh collected it in Southampton County.”
Bladen County, N.C. is probably the most northern known location of Litsea at present. [NOTE by Carol Ann McCormick,
NCU, 2007: Litsea aestivalis
has since been documented in Brunswick, Carteret, Cumberland, Hoke, New Hanover, Onslow and Wayne Counties, NC.]
Carya laciniosa (Michx.) Loud. – Guilford Co.,
summer and fall, 1953, along the swamp of South Buffalo Creek, near
Greensboro. This hickory was reported from Beaver Swamp, Guilford Co., by
E.H. Hall, September 10, 1931. No other locations east of the mountains are
known except Cameron Park, Hillsboro, Orange Co., N.C., where H.R. Totten collected specimens from two trees in 1947. He
thinks that these two trees may be of the original planting made before the
Civil War. [NOTE by Carol Ann McCormick, NCU, 2007: Carya
laciniosa has since been documented from
Bertie County, NC (NCU Accession # 567864; Peet
#6863; July 2002) and Halifax County, NC (NCU Accession #550830; Peet #6792 and Lynch s.n.;
Cornus alternifolia L.f. – I have made collections
as follows: Alamance Co., at the junction of two streams about two miles
northeast of Kimesville, Aug. 15, 1953; Randolph
Co., at the foot of the north slope of Carraway
Mountain, April 11, 1954; Guilford Co., along a stream in the eastern section
of the county near the Alamance County line, May 2, 1954. The University of N.C.
Herbarium [NCU] has specimens of this species from Crabtree Recreational Park
in Wake County, collected by others, from probably the most eastern known
location of the species in the states.
Pyrola rotundifolia var. americana
(Sweet) Fern. – Guilford Co., just east of Jamestown, under pines on a
north-facing slope, on land once in cultivation, March 7, 1954; same county,
along Reedy Fork Creek, about two miles east of Summerfield, under hardwoods,
on a north-facing slope, April 15, 1954; Rockingham Co., about 10 miles south
of Madison, under hardwoods, on a north-facing slope, April 15, 1954. In the
Piedmont of North Carolina I also know of two locations in Randolph County,
on the Smithwin Farm, near Liberty; and the
Herbarium of the University of North Carolina has specimens from Orange
County (Howells Spring, Chapel Hill, J.N. Couch, June 26, 1920; Tenney’s Meadow, Chapel Hill, W. C. Coker, 1939); and
from Durham County (H.L. Blomquist and D. D. Correll, May 8, 1938).
Melvin (left) and Spicer Williams (right) at Litsea
aestivalis site in Bladen County, NC in 1953.
Image courtesy of Sandra Melvin Gray.
Information for this webpage compiled by Carol Ann McCormick,
Quotes in text are by Sandra Melvin Gray, daughter of L.D. Melvin.
Ken Moore of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, and Bob McKay,
nephew of L.D. Melvin, provided information, with additional information
obtained from Ancestry.com