Barbara Thiers

Barbara Thiers

I grew up in San Francisco, California, where my father was a mycologist and founder of the San Francisco State University Herbarium. Although his main interest was the macrofungi of California, he maintained a lifelong interest in bryophytes, sparked by a course he took in bryology taught by Dr. Margaret Fulford. He frequently said he wished he had more time, and better skills, to identify liverworts. Never one to miss an opportunity to beat my dad at something, I started to collect and study them as a college undergraduate. Although I too found them very hard to identify, I was captivated by their mystery and beauty under the microscope and I wanted to learn more.

I attended the University of Massachusetts for graduate school, where I studied with Dr. Rudolf Schuster. This choice of graduate mentor was ill-advised. Rudy had an enormous ego, was impatient and dismissive, and ultimately had very little interest in training me. However, I am grateful that he introduced me to the Lejeuneaceae, that vast and glorious family of mostly tropical hepatics that was the focus of my research interest for many years.

After completing my Ph.D. I accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at the New York Botanical Garden, where my project was to curate the William Mitten bryophyte herbarium. This gem of a collection (probably 50,000 specimens) contained specimens collected by just about every famous botanical collector and engendered in me a deep interest in the history of botanical exploration. I was able to stay on at the Garden when my postdoc ended, and gradually worked my way up through the administration of the herbarium. In the early years at NYBG I had the opportunity for quite a bit of tropical fieldwork, including collecting Lejeuneaceae in Australia, Papua New Guinea and South America. Later my duties as Director of the Herbarium, as well as motherhood, pushed hepatics to a lower priority in my life, but I never lost interest in them. I kept my hand in through a few projects, such as the treatment of the Lejeuneaceae and Pleuroziaceae for Flora of North America. My main priority in those years was the development of a collections digitization program at NYBG, and furthering such efforts on a national and international level. I also took the time to summarize the information I had compiled for herbarium tours and presentations over the years into a book about herbaria geared for the general public.

My career at The New York Botanical Garden surpassed my wildest expectations in opportunities as well as challenges, and l am so grateful for my years there. However, the pandemic pause gave me the opportunity to think more deeply about the future, and I realized that I wanted to substitute administration for more direct work with plants. My husband, a mycologist, also retired from NYBG, and I now live in the Denver, Colorado metropolitan area, where we are Research Adjuncts at the Denver Botanic Gardens. My project there is to create a reference collection of Colorado bryophytes for botanists, land managers and the interested public. I am finding great pleasure in reacquainting myself with western North American bryophytes after a 40-year hiatus. The joy I feel in setting off into the mountains for a day of collecting and discovery in a new but familiar and beautiful landscape has more than affirmed my decision to change my life. I’ll still struggle with identifications, I’m sure, but now have the time I need to devote to this work.

Selected References:

1984. Branch characters significant to subfamilial classification of Lejeuneaceae (Hepaticae). Syst. Bot. 9: 33-41.

1992. A Re-evaluation of Cheilolejeunea subgenus and Xenolejeunea. Tropical Bryology 5: 11-21.

1992. (with S. Emory). The history of bryology in California. Bryologist 95: 68-78.

1983 Index to the genera and species of Hepaticae described by William Mitten. Brittonia 35: 271-300.

1993.  A monograph of Pleurozia (Hepaticae, Pleuroziaceae). The Bryologist 96: 517-554.

1997.  Cheilolejeunea in Australia: Description of new taxa and key. J. Hattori Bot. Lab. 82: 321-328.

2016. With M. Tulig and K. Watson. Digitization of The New York Botanical Garden Herbarium. Brittonia 68: 324-333.

2020. With J. Collins, S. Pomponi, A. Bentley, R. Borchelt, K. Boundy-Mills, J. Cook, L. Dierking, S. Edwards, M. H. Hazbón, T. Karim, G. Matsumoto, P. Soltis.

Biological Collections: Ensuring Critical Research and Education for the 21st Century. National Academy of Sciences Press. 210 pages.

2020. Herbarium: The quest to preserve and classify the world’s plants. Timber Press. Portland, OR, 304 p. Publication date: 24 November 2020.

In press. Lejeuneaceae. Flora of North America. Vol. 22 Bryophytes part 2.  Submitted 2010, revised 2013.

In press. Pleuroziaceae. Flora of North America. Vol. 22 Bryophytes part 2.Submitted 2012.