Liriodendron tulipifera flower

The University of North Carolina
A Department of the North Carolina Botanical Garden


Collectors of the UNC Herbarium
Information compiled by Carol Ann McCormick. 
Special thanks to Sandra Melvin Gray (L.D. Melvin’s daughter),
Bob McKay (L.D. Melvin’s nephew),
and Ken Moore (Curator emeritus, North Carolina Botanical Garden)
for information and photos.

Lionel Dane Melvin, Sr.
(25 March 1907 -- 30 November 1997)


Lionel Dane Melvin ca. 1988 from Remember, Our Melvins and Kin. 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 cultivated plant.

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 Peace."


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 Chapel Hill.

"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 Q. michauxii.

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 honor.

1. I wish to thank Prof. J. Arthur Dunn for this Latin description.

Melvin_Lindera 1953

Lionel Melvin at Lindera melissifolia site in Bladen County, North Carolina on 5 April, 1953.
Image courtesy of Sandra Melvin Gray.

Melvin, Lionel (1954) Notes on some rare North Carolina plants. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 70(2): 312-313.


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.; October 1985).]

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).


Lionel 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, October 2007.
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

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University of North Carolina
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Last Updated: 23 October 2007