Liriodendron tulipifera flower

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

Weakley's Flora



Collectors of the UNC Herbarium

John W. Thieret
(1 August, 1926 -- 7 December, 2005)

Compiled by Carol Ann McCormick, Asst. Curator, NCU

The University of North Carolina Herbarium (NCU) has catalogued approximately 120 of John Thieret's specimens. With only about 10% of the collection catalogued, no doubt more specimens collected by Thieret will be found.

Most specimens were collected throughout the Southeastern United States, with Louisiana and Kentucky the best represented. The earliest collection found dates from 1962 (Pleopeltis polypodioides ssp. michauxiana from St. Martin Parish in Louisiana. The latest collected databased so far is from 1994 (Euonymus atropurpurea from Pendleton County, Kentucky).


Rabeler, Richard K. (2006) In Memoriam: John W. Thieret, 1926-2005. The American Society of Plant Taxonomists Newsletter 20(1): 3. [July, 2006]

Dr. John W. Thieret, Professor Emeritus of Botany at Northern Kentucky University (NKU), passed away unexpectedly on 7 December 2005. Many of his family, friends, former students, and fellow botanists gathered at NKU to celebrate his life on 26 January 2006.

John was born in Chicago on 1 August 1926. He received his B. S. (1950) and M. S. (1951) degrees from Utah State University where he studied botany under Dr. Arthur Holmgren. He returned from the west to his native Chicago for his Ph.D. studies, completing a Ph.D. in 1953 under Dr. Theodor Just. As we will see, his dissertation, entitled “Gross Morphology of the Seeds of the Scrophulariaceae and Classification of the Family,” reflected only a small portion of his passion for botany. Following graduation, he joined the staff of the Field museum as Assistant Curator of Economic Botany, where he worked until 1961. He moved south to Lafayette, Louisiana, that year, taking a position as Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. In 1973, he joined the faculty at NKU as Professor of Botany and the first chair of the newly formed Biological Sciences Department. After seven years as chair, he continued as a professor in the department until his retirement in 1992.

John had a passion for several things – botany, editing, teaching students about these subject, and NKU. He started the herbarium at NKU in 1973 to provide a resource for teaching and research about the plants he so dearly loved. The herbarium now includes about 35,000 specimens and occupies an excellent facility in the new Natural Science Center, which now bears his name. Many of the collections are from his many field expeditions across the U.S. and Canada; David Brandenburg noted to me that he had traveled over 65,000 miles with John while, and since, he was a student of John’s. John was equally at home in forest, ponds, or railroad yards; his interest in weeds and searching for them enriched my collaboration with John on the southeastern Caryophyllaceae. Looking at his list of publications you will find papers and books bout ferns, grasses, sedges, aquatic plants, trees, wildflowers, as well as floristic fins in Newfoundland, Northwest Territories, Louisiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The Flora of North America project benefited from his involvement both as author and taxon editor from the inception of the modern project in 1987. He edited the treatments of 40 families in the series and his name appears as author or co-author of 37 treatments in seven of the volumes, including nine treatments in the Caryophyllaceae (two additional ones in that family were penned by his students). He was working on several more contributions to the series at the time of his passing; a future volume will be dedicated to him in respect for his contributions.

While he was a prolific writer, he also loved to edit. Besides serving in various editorial capacities for Sida, Economic Botany, and the Transactions of the Kentucky Academy of Science, as well as editing Ron Jones’ Plant Life of Kentucky, John also edited the NKU Academic Catalog well into retirement. He thought proper usage of the English language was important, and rather than just criticizing, he enjoyed teaching others about it.

John loved plants and teaching others, whether students or adults, about them. He was in his element in the classroom, the field, the herbarium, or the library. His legacy lives on in the students and colleagues who knew and loved him.


From the Kentucky Native Plant Society News website

We regret to inform everyone that Dr. John Thieret passed away at his home on December 7, 2005, while working on an editorial project. A memorial program celebrating the life and accomplishments of Dr. Thieret was held January 27, 2006 at Northern Kentucky University.

Dr. Theiret has worked extensively with the KNPS [Kentucky Native Plant Society]. Most recently, we have been blessed to have Dr. Thieret involved with the Native Plant Studies Certification Program. He has taught several of the courses, including a class on the Grasses of Kentucky which was very ably taught and thoroughly enjoyed by all who participated. He will be missed immensely by all of us.

For those who wish to contribute, NKU has established a John W. Thieret Research Award for students. Send checks to: John W. Thieret Research Award, Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Kentucky University, 204D Herrmann Science Center, Highland Heights, KY 41099. Checks can be made out to Northern Kentucky University, with a note indicating they go to the Thieret award.


Hansel, Mark (2005) Obituary: John Thieret, botanist, cornerstone at NKU. The Kentucky Post. Issue of 10 December, 2005.

Dr. John Thieret was an internationally known botanist, author and lecturer who developed the herbarium at Northern Kentucky University into one of the finest in the country. Dr. Thieret, 79, died Wednesday after suffering an aneurysm at his Alexandria home.

He came to NKU as Chairman of the Biological Sciences Department in 1973 and served in that capacity until 1980. He has been Professor Emeritus of Botany at the university since 1992.

His friends and colleagues said he was as well known for his sense of humor as his skills as an educator and botanist. His daughter, Nancy Thieret, of Minneapolis, recalled an incident when a student fell asleep during one of her father's lectures. "Dad signaled the rest of the class to be quiet, and he moved the whole class to a different room, leaving the sleeping student to wake up with nobody there, " she said.

Friends said Dr. Thieret also loved to go on field trips and traveled extensively to Cuba, Canada and Mexico, as well as throughout the United States researching and collecting plants. Varieties of several plants bear his name. He had also communicated recently with scientists from Iran and Soviet bloc countries on international botanical projects. "He had an enthusiasm for plants and could get that across to people," said Mildred Thieret, his wife of 55 years. "He was very popular and became a campus character."

When he arrived the school was still known as Northern Kentucky State College and collegues say one of his greatest joys was watching it flourish. They described him as as a cornerstone of the university. "He say NKU as an opportunity, and he came and stayed and grew with it," said Jim Claypool, Proferessor Emeritus of History at the school. Dr. Thieret had been working with Claypool on editing the Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky. Claypool said Dr. Thieret was as fine an editor as he was a scientist. "He was a grammarian and a wordsmith," said Claypool. "He said he enjoyed the project as well as anything he had ever done."

Renowned Northern Kentucky author Ron Ellis, also a former colleague at NKU, agreed. "What I know today, I learned from him," said Ellis. "He was a wonderfuly funny guy and a caring, great, educator."

Dr. Thieret's crowning achievement at NKU, in addition to the accomplishments of his students, is probably the herbarium. A herbarium is a collection of dried plants housed in cabinets. Mildred Thieret said her husband placed great emphasis on the identification of the plants in the school's collection. "You have to be able to identify each specific type of plant to understand it and know where to find it," she explained. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Thieret, students from acoss the state now utilize the school's facility.

The Chicago area native who overcame polio as a child, received degrees from Utah State University and the University of Chicago. Dr. Thieret served as Curator a of Economic Botany at the Field Museum in Chicago from 1954 to 1961. He also taught at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette for several years before coming to NKU. He has been an advisor for numerous publications in his field, including a 25-year stint as editor with Economic Botany. He has been a visiting lecturer at universities throughout the United Staes.

He belonged to several professional societies, including the Society of Economic Botany and the Kentucky Academy for Science. He recieved the 2005 Academic Service Award from the Kentucky Academy of Science. He also has a long list of published works, theses and dissertations and grant studies.

Other suvivors include sons Jeffrey Thieret, of Minneapolis, Robert Thieret of Winona, Minn., and Richard Thieret, currently on a teaching assignment in China; and a daughter, Jennifer Westermeyer of Highland Heights; seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Services are private at the convenience of the family. Northern Kentucky University will schedule a public memorial service when classes resume in January.

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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: 26July 2006