Liriodendron tulipifera flower

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


Collectors of the UNC Herbarium

Joab Langston Thomas

(14 February 1933 – 3 March 2014)

Information compiled by Carol Ann McCormick,
Assistant Curator, University of North Carolina Herbarium





The University of North Carolina Herbarium has databased approximately 80 specimens collected by Joab L. Thomas. All were collected in the 1960's in Alabama, most from the Black Belt region. He typically signed his labels as "Joab L. Thomas."

As only about 10% of the University of North Carolina Herbarium's specimens have been catalogued, there are doubtless more specimens collected by Thomas to be found.

Thomas authored of several books on botany and natural history.

Portrait of Joab L. Thomas
by Penn State University Libraries, 1996

Joab L. Thomas was born in Holt, Alabama in 1933, and grew up in Russellville, Alabama. He was educated at Harvard University (B. A. in 1955 and M.S. in 1957), and earned his Ph.D. from that institution in 1959. He stayed at Harvard as a teaching fellow and researcher at the Arnold Arboretum until 1961.

He returned to Alabama to teach biology at the University of Alabama (1961), then became Assistant Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences (1964), Dean for Student Development (1969), and Vice President for Student Affairs (1974) at that institution.

He was the Chancellor of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina from 1975 to 1981. He became President of the University of Alabama in 1981, then served as the President of Pennsylvania State University from 1990 to 1995.

He was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 1983. He married Marly Dukes of Boise, Idaho on December 22, 1954, and they have four children: Catherine, David, Jennifer, and Frances.

In 1994 Pennsylvania State University paleobotanist Dr. Alfred Traverse named Cyrillaceaepollenites joabthomasii in honor of his colleague.1,3  

Joab Thomas died on 3 March 2014 at age 81 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.2  


Found on a weblog, posted by Chris W. on 8/12/2005 concerning University of Alabama football:
In the dark, winless years following the death of Paul Bryant [football coach at the University of Alabama, 1958-1982] there was talk of bringing back The Bear [Paul Bryant's nickname] to restore the team to its legendary greatness. The theory was that if a vegetable could govern the state [Gov. George Wallace], it should be no problem for a dead man to coach a football team. When I arrived for the first semester of graduate school in T-town [Tuscaloosa, Alabama], I was invited by my parents to dinner with a friend of theirs at the Indian River Country Club. I told that joke. Unbeknownst to me, this prominent attorney "friend" as the County Chairman for the re-election of George Corley Wallace. The president of the University of Alabama during those dark days was none other than Joab Thomas. A man who cared more for the academics of Alabama than he did for football, the onerous task of replacing The Bear came during his tenure. Those of you who follow football know what an impossibility that would be. Ray Perkins got the call and Dr. Thomas caught the flack. Ultimately Joab Thomas left Alabama for Penn State. His niece told me the one thing he really worried about was Joe Paterno [football coach 1966-2011, Pennsylvania State University] dying. No one man should ever bear the responsibility of having to replace arguably the two greatest coaches in the history of NCAA.



Whit Gibbons, Robert Haynes, and Joab L. Thomas (1990) Poisonous plants and venomous animals of Alabama and adjoining states. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Noble, Donald R. and Joab L. Thomas, editors. (1976) The Rising South.  University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL.

Blanche E. Dean, Amy Mason, and Joab L. Thomas (1973) Wild flowers of Alabama and adjoining states. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

O’Kelley, Joseph C., Walter R. Herndon, E. Gibbs Patton, Joab L. Thomas and Temd R. Deason (1963)  Plant Biology:  Laboratory Exercises.  Burgess Pub. Co., Minneapolis, MN.

Joab L. Thomas (1959) The Cyrillaceae. Ph.D. Thesis, Biology Department, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.



1.  Leach, Michael (6 September 1994)  University scientist honors Thomas with fossil name.    The Daily Collegian, State College, Pennsylvania.

2.  University mourns loss of President Emeritus Joab Thomas.  Penn State News, Tuesday March 4, 2014.

3.  Traverse, Alfred (1994)  Palynofloral geochronology of the Brandon Lignite of Vermont, USA.  Review of Paleobotany and Palynology 82:  265-297.  [see Plate II, photo #23 and page 286 for protolog] 



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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: 5 March 2014