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William Alphonso Murrill (1869-1957)

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Records of the Herbarium (RG4)
2.6 linear feet (4 boxes)


William Alphonso Murrill (1869-1957) was a mycologist, taxonomist, writer, and authority on the fleshy fungi (Basidiomycetes). Born October 13, 1869, near Lynchburg, Virginia, he gained a B.S. degree (1887) from the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College; B.S. (1889), B.A. (1890), and M.A. (1891) degrees from Randolph Macon College; and a Ph.D. (1897) from Cornell University. He taught biology for four years at DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City and in 1904 began his career with The New York Botanical Garden as Assistant Curator, succeeding Franklin S. Earle as staff mycologist. From 1909 to 1919 he acted as Assistant Director and became Curator and Supervisor of Public Instruction from 1919 to 1924.

Murrill collected over 70,000 specimens of fungi in North and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean, of which The New York Botanical Garden Cryptogamic Herbarium holds about 14,000 specimens, including more than 1,700 type specimens. Using the American Code of nomenclature Murrill identified and described many new genera and species and made nomenclatural revisions of existing taxa that were variously criticized and praised by American mycologists. On at least four occasions, Murrill traveled to England, France, Italy, Germany, and Sweden to study type specimens in European herbaria. He identified the pathogenic fungus Diaporthe [Cryphonectria] parasitica that causes Chestnut blight.

Murrill published important monographs on hymenomycetes, and over five hundred scientific articles on a wide range of botanical subjects. His major works include a series on the Polyporaceae in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club (1902-06), and five monographs on the Boletaceae and Polyporaceae in 1914-15. He lectured widely and wrote autobiographical pieces and popular books on natural science for young adults. Murrill founded and served as editor of Mycologia (1909-1924) and the Journal of the NYBG (1906-1908), and was a contributor to North American Flora. In 1924 he retired both from the Garden and from professional life altogether. During the 1930's he became associated with the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he resumed mycological study and publication until his death in 1957.


The William A. Murrill collection consists of correspondence, notebooks, research papers, photographs, negatives, and watercolor illustrations of mushrooms covering portions of his career at the Garden and at the University of Florida. The artwork has been separated and removed to the New York Botanical Garden Art and Illustration Collection.


Series 1: Correspondence
Series 2: Research Papers
Series 3: Notebooks
Series 4: Photographs
Series 5: University of Florida
Series 6: Artwork

Series 1    Correspondence, 1908-1957
                  0.3 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.

There are 34 files of correspondence, including that with Luther Burbank on Opuntias, Calvin H. Kauffman on a key to the genus Inocybe, Elmer Drew Merrill on Philippine polypores, Margaret McKenny on specimen collection, and Cornelius Shear on Pyrenomycetes.

Series 2    Research Papers, 1904-1925
                  0.1 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.

There are 16 files of indices, lists, dichotomous keys, and notes on the Agarics and Basidiomycetes of Florida; the Polyporaceae of North America, the Philippines, and Japan; and the trees of Alachua County, Florida, among others.

Series 3    Notebooks, 1903-1942
                  0.3 lin. ft. Arranged by subject.

There are 26 notebooks (files) of handwritten data on European herbarium specimens in Trento, Berlin, Paris, Upsala, Stockholm, and Kew, England. Several notebooks contain remarks on Giacomo Bresadola, Elias Magnus Fries, Paul Hennings, George Massee, Christiaan Hendrik Persoon, and Lars Romell. Some files pertain to specimen exchanges and distribution of fungi.

Series 4    Photographs, 1903-1955
                  0.1 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.

There are 3 files of photos and 1 of negatives. Subjects include portraits (one with Giacomo Bresadola) and a tropical polypore, Amauroderma brittonii, collected in Puerto Rico.

Series 5    University of Florida, 1927-1964
                  0.1 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.

This series contains biographic material on Murrill collected by George F. Weber at the University of Florida (see Provenance, page 6). It includes Murrill's will, a financial account of the 'William A. Murrill Fund,' and photocopies of correspondence with John Kunkel Small.

Series 6    Artwork, 1908-1919
                  1.7 lin. ft. Arranged by subject.

The artwork consists of two sequences of watercolor illustrations both of which are located in the Botanical Art and Illustration Collection, Number 44. First are original works by Edward C. Volkert and Mary E. Eaton for the series "Illustrations of Fungi," published with accompanying descriptions by Murrill in Mycologia (1909-22). There are 10 plates (1910-15) by Edward C. Volkert, 7 (1916-19) by Mary E. Eaton, and 4 (1909-10) of uncertain origin (possibly Mrs. Murrill). The latter are watercolor treatments of photographs taken by F. C. Berte. For detailed information see "Index to Illustrations of Fungi I-XXII"  Mycologia 8(1) 1908: 47-51, and "Subject Index," Mycologia Index, Vols 1-58, 1909-1966, p. 977. There are 4 additional plates by Mary Eaton, 1 for the Reference Handbook for the Medical Sciences.

Second, are 8 folders of watercolor illustrations (approximately 300 items) of American, Mexican, and Caribbean fungi composed by (1) Edna Lee Lutrell Murrill, wife of W. A. Murrill; (2) Esther J. Skehan Earle, wife of Franklin S. Earle; and (3) Bertha Fanning Taylor, wife of Norman Taylor. Murrill and Earle collected fungi in the Caribbean from 1902 to 1910. On one occasion, in 1905, the two mycologists collected together in Cuba. One packet of watercolors labeled "Mrs. Taylor" is the result of a collecting expedition made by the Taylors to the Dominican Republic in 1909 (see Journal of the NYBG, 1910, 11:3-15).


Research Papers and Notebooks were transferred from The New York Botanical Garden Herbarium by William R. Buck, Curator, Institute of Systematic Botany, The New York Botanical Garden in November 1999. The University of Florida materials were donated by Professor James Kimbrough, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Florida, in January 2000.


The New York Botanical Garden

PP     Norman Taylor Papers

RG4    Nathaniel Lord Britton Records

RG4    Franklin Sumner Earle Records

ART    Collection # 44

National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Field Notes, Florida, 1939-1940

University of South Carolina, South Caroliniana Library

William Chambers Coker Papers

Processed December 1999 by David Rose under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) PA-23141-98 and a grant from the Harriet Ford Dickenson Foundation.

For more information and a complete description contact:
Susan Fraser, NYBG Archivist
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
(718) 817-8879

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