Liriodendron tulipifera flower

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


Collectors of the UNC Herbarium

Jesse Elbert “Bert” O’Connell
(?1926 – 1 January 2011)

Information compiled January 2011 by Carol Ann McCormick,
Assistant Curator of the University of North Carolina Herbarium.

North Carolina State University Herbarium (NCSC) has catalogued about 60 specimens collected by Bert O’Connell.  As both NCSC and NCU continue to database their collections, no doubt more specimens collected by Dr. O’Connell will be found.  All the specimens catalogued so far were collected between 1951 and 1954.  While all are from North Carolina, they were collected across the entire state, with Dare, Jackson, Macon, Montgomery, Moore, Transylvania and Wake Counties being most frequently represented.  The Lake Toxaway (Transylvania Co.) and Tuckaseegee (Jackson Co.) regions were favorite collecting spots.  A frequent co-collector of O’Connell’s was Robert K. Godfrey, who earned his Ph.D. from Duke University in 1952, and who went on to become a well-known figure in botany of the southeastern United States at Florida State University.


Jesse Elbert “Bert” O’Connell, the son of E. Floyd and Blonza A. O’Connell, graduated from Jonesboro High School in Jonesboro, NC in 1943.  He attended Wake Forest University and earned a bachelor of science degree and a master of science degree in 1948 and 1949, respectively.  During World War II he served as a hospital corpsman in the United States Navy. 

O’Connell was head of the science department at Chowan College in 1949, then joined the botany department at North Carolina State University in 1950.  He earned his doctorate degree in botany from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1955 under the direction of Dr. Joseph Edison Adams.  The title of O’Connell’s Ph.D. thesis was “Systematic studies in Sisyrinchium.”

O’Connell briefly joined the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Idaho, but by 1959 had become a staff member of the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C.  In the 1960’s he was in the NSF’s Tokyo, Japan office and worked to promote scientific education and research projects between Japanese and American scientists.  In 1977 he became the head of the Latin America & Pacific Section of the National Science Foundation.  He retired from NSF in 1983 and continued to live in the Washington, D.C. area.  In 199 O’Connell was honored by the Embassy of Japan on behalf of the Japanese Ministry of Education for fostering scientific cooperation between Japan and the United States. 

Dr. O’Connell died on 1 January 2011 and was buried in Buffalo Presbyterian Cemetery in Sanford, North Carolina on 9 January 2011.  He is survived by brother, Dr. Larry O’Connell of Sanford, NC, and sister, Gwendolyn Mitchell of Burlington, NC.  Bert O’Connell’s family requested that memorials be sent to the University of North Carolina Herbarium.  Please contact Charlotte Jones-Roe, Associate Director for Development, North Carolina Botanical Garden ( or 919-962-9458) to make a donation in Bert’s memory.


The UNC Herbarium would appreciate receiving a photograph of
Bert O’Connell. Please contact Carol Ann McCormick, Assistant Curator, by email or by phone at (919) 962-6931.

   Curriculum in Ecology                 North Carolina Botanical Garden               Biology Department
      Curriculum                               North Carolina                                 UNC

         In Ecology                              Botanical Garden                   Biology Department


University of North Carolina Herbarium
CB# 3280, Coker Hall
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3280
phone: (919) 962-6931
fax: (919) 962-6930

Last Updated: 11 January 2011