F. Raymond Fosberg, botanist: born Spokane, Washington State 20 May 1908; assistant botanist, Department of Agriculture, Washington DC 1937-41; served US Foreign Economic Administration 1941-45; US Geological Survey 1951-65; Special Adviser in Tropical Botany, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution 1966- 78 (botanist emeritus); married twice (four daughters); died Falls Church, Virginia 25 September 1993.
RAYMOND FOSBERG was one of the first people to campaign for environmental conservation and was probably the most travelled botanist in history.
Conservation is now an integral part of the ideology of most of the political movements of the world. It is concerned not only with endangered species but also with whole ecosystems, the natural vegetation, associated animals, soil, natural water resources and the atmosphere. Its relevance is world-wide; the preservation of a stable environment in Antarctica, say, is as important to inhabitants of the northern hemisphere as it is to those of the southern hemisphere.
What is now taken for granted as an integral part of our social philosophy was not always so; awareness of our environment by the majority rather than the minority has grown only in the last 50 years. Ray Fosberg understood the importance of conservation at a time when most people had scarcely heard of the term, let alone appreciated its global significance. He was amongst the first people to start raising public and official awareness of the value of understanding and respect for the environment.
Fosberg was born near Spokane, Washington state, in 1908. As a child he was interested in islands, an interest which remained central to his work for the rest of his life. He graduated from Pomona College, California, which he had entered in 1926, and in 1935, after studying under the notable Pacific plant specialist Harold St John, received a masters degree from the University of Hawaii. In 1937 he gained a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, after which he started his first job with the United States government as an assistant botanist in the Department of Agriculture. He spent the rest of his life based in Washington.
During the Second World War Fosberg travelled in South America as part of the US Foreign Economic Administration. At that time there were difficulties in obtaining quinine to combat malaria amongst American troops, as the Asian sources of the drug were cut off by the hostilities. Fosberg was the senior botanist on the Colombian Cinchona Mission, which was responsible for locating sources of wild Cinchona, the bark of which is a source of quinine and other antimalarial alkaloids. His trip to Colombia was successful and helped to revive the local quinine industry, which had been inactive for 75 years. It was also an effective demonstration of the practical use of ecology.
After the war Fosberg spent six months preparing an economic survey of Micronesia, the islands of the Marianas, Caroline and Marshall Archipelagos in the western Pacific, travelling around the islands studying and collecting plants. In 1951 he was hired by the Geological Survey in its Military Geology Programme to work on the Pacific Vegetation Project with Dr Marie-Helene Sachet, and he remained with the Survey until 1965. …