Collectors of the UNC Herbarium
John Nathaniel Couch
Couch was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia on October 12,
1896 to John Henry Couch, a Baptist minister, and Sally Love Terry
Couch, a schoolteacher. In 1914 he entered Trinity College (now
Duke University) in Durham, North Carolina. After three years
at Trinity, he transferred to UNC to study medicine, but almost
immediately changed to botany, under the influence of William
Chambers Coker, then Chairman of the Botany Department.
While still an undergraduate,
he had a brief tour of duty in France and received his bachelor's
degree in absentia through the University of Nancy. Upon
returning to the United States, he completed both an M.S. and
a Ph.D. under Dr. Coker and joined the faculty at UNC as an assistant
professor in 1922.
During this time he also
taught science classes at Chapel Hill High School. He also taught
botany at the University while working on his Ph.D. and retained
a very active interest in teaching throughout his career, guiding
the studies of 27 master's and 15 Ph.D. students.
In 1927 he married Else
Dorothy Ruprecht of Brooklyn. His wife was very strong in languages
and aided both Couch and his students in translations of French
and German literature. They had two children: John Phillip Couch
and Sally Louise Couch Gooder.
Upon the retirement of
Dr. Coker in 1944, Couch became the Chairman of the Botany Department,
a position he held until 1960. In 1945 he was awarded a Kenan
chair. He retired in 1968, but remained active in the department.
He was deeply opposed
to the 1982 merger of the botany and zoology departments and
was involved in unsuccessful attempts to prevent that action.
Dr. Couch died in Chapel Hill on December 16, 1986. The Biology
Library at UNC bears his name.
Dr. Couch followed the interests of his
mentor, Dr. Coker, in his research on fungi. He co-authored
a work on the gastromycetes of the eastern United States with
Coker, a work which remains unsurpassed.
During a brief period of study in Jamaica,
Couch became interested in the genus Septobasidium, a
fungus which exists symbiotically on the trunks of tropical
trees with scale insects and which became the focus of his life's
His 1938 monograph on the genus earned
him the Walker Prize of the Boston Society of Natural History.
Other fungal genera on which he worked were Actinoplanes,
which he discovered and believed to be a possible link between
fungi and bacteria; Coelomomyces, a fungus which parasitizes
mosquito larvae; and (briefly) the green alga Vaucheria,
in which he studied gametogenesis.
1937: Jefferson Medal from the North
Carolina Academy of Sciences.
1937-1939: Associate editor of Mycologia.
1943: President of the Mycological Society
1946-1947: President of the North Carolina
Academy of Sciences.
1946-1961: Editor of the Journal of
the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society.
1955: Meritorious Teaching Award from
the Association of Southeastern Biologists.
1964: Vice-President of Botanical Society
1964: First recipient of the Gold Medal
Science Award of the State of North Carolina.
One of the best sources for biographical
information about Couch is a piece written by Leland Shanor in
the Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society,
vol. 84, pp. 1-7, from which much of the material here presented
is drawn. This article also lists Couch's publications.
Another important source is an article
by UNC Biology Librarian William R. Burk and former Couch student
Charles E. Bland which appeared in Mycologia vol. 81, pp.
181-189. In addition to an extensive bibliography, this article
includes a list of Couch's graduate students with the titles of
their theses and some personal remembrances of Couch by Dr. Bland.
Mr. Burk has also assembled a complete
listing of Couch's publications. A few especially important
works are listed below.
are held both at the Southern Historical Collection,
Manuscript Department, Wilson Library, and in the archives of
the UNC Herbarium. Relevant materials can also be located in among
of the Botany Department in the University Archives.
Coker, William Chambers &
John Nathaniel Couch. 1928. The Gasteromycetes of the Eastern
United States and Canada. Chapel Hill: University of North
Couch, John Nathaniel. 1937.
"A new fungus intermediate between the rusts and Septobasidium."
Mycologia 29(6): 665-673.
Couch, John Nathaniel. 1938.
The genus Septobasidium. Chapel Hill: University of North
This page was constructed by Ron
Gilmour with the assistance of Mr. Bill Burk, Mrs. Mary Felton,
Dr. Jim Massey, and Mr. Jim Murphy. Additional information and
corrections are welcome.
Curriculum North Carolina UNC
In Ecology Botanical Garden Biology Department
University of North Carolina
CB# 3280, Coker Hall
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3280
phone: (919) 962-6931
fax: (919) 962-6930
Last Updated: 7 June