Robert Folger Thorne

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Dr. Robert F. Thorne (b. July 13, 1920) is an American botanist and currently Taxonomist and Curator Emeritus at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden and Professor Emeritus at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. His research has contributed to the understanding of the evolution of flowering plants.


Thorne was born on July 13, 1920 at Spring Lake, New Jersey. He was educated through high school in Gulfport and St. Petersburg, Florida.[1] He graduated summa cum laude in 1941 with a major in botany from Dartmouth College and earned his M.S. degree in Economic Botany in 1942 at Cornell University.[2] He spend about three years serving in the armed forces during World War II, first at Hondo Navigation School, Texas, graduating as a 2nd Lieutenant in Aerial Navigation in 1943. Then, after 7 months in Italy in 1944 as a B-24 bomber navigator with 40 missions over eastern and southern Europe, he served as an instructor and as an examinations officer at Ellington Field, Texas, from 1944 to 1945.[3]

After serving in the armed forces, he earned his Ph.D. in Economic Botany at Cornell University in 1949, studying under professors Walter Muenscher and Arthur Eames.[2] While at Cornell, he met and married Mae Zukel in 1947.[2]

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden[edit]

Dr. Thorne was the Assistant Professor of Botany at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, from 1949 to 1953, Associate Professor from 1954 to 1960, and Professor from 1961 to 1962. He was a Visiting Professor at the University of Minnesota, Lake Itasca Biological Station in the summer of 1962 before moving to California, where he became Taxonomist and Curator for Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden and Professor for Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University) in Claremont, California. He became Taxonomist and Curator Emeritus as well as Professor Emeritus at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden and Claremont Graduate School in 1987. He also became Curator Emeritus of the Pomona College Herbarium in Claremont, California from 1990 to the present.[3]

Other appointments include: Field Botanist, U.S. Public Health Service, Georgia, Summer 1946. Botany Assistant, 1945–1947; Instructor in Botany, 1948-1949; Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. Visiting Associate Professor, University of Virginia, Mountain Lake Biological Station, Summer 1956.[3]

Thorne became a Fulbright Research Scholar in 1959 and spent his time as a National Science Foundation Senior Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia and studying the plant communities of New Caledonia, Australia, and New Guinea.[2] When he moved to California in 1962, he quickly learned the flora of California, which led him to write the essay entitled “The vascular plant communities of California” in 1976.[2] According to Systematic Botany, Thorne has advocated for "the conservation of California’s endangered natural environments; his advocacy and leadership helped result in the conservation of Santa Catalina Island’s biota.”[2]

Thorne gained an international reputation through “his contributions to our understanding of the evolution of flowering plants... and that has culminated recently in two... publications, one outlining his classifications of monocots (Thorne 2000) and the other on the dicotyledons (Thorne 2001).”[2] Furthermore, he has been a guide and teacher for the many staff, students, researchers, and visitors of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden through the years. He is currently working on many projects, one of which is completing “floristic works on both the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains” as well as “his upcoming flora of Sierra San Pedro Martir and... his checklist for the entire Baja peninsula.”[2] He also created a system of plant taxonomy known as the Thorne system.

Fellowships and awards[edit]

Special recognition[edit]

  • 1996. Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, Ensenada. For botanical contributions in Baja California
  • 1998. Santa Catalina Island Conservancy. For botanical contributions to Santa Catalina Island
  • 1999. Southern California Botanists. For botanical contributions in California
  • 1999. Southern California Botanists. Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2000. University Club of Claremont, California
  • 2001. American Society of Plant Taxonomists. Asa Gray Award for outstanding contributions in systematic botany
  • 2003. Third International Conference of the Comparative Biology of Monocotyledons. Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2005. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. Dedication honoring lifetime achievements as systematist and conservationist
  • 2006. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. California Glory Award acknowledging outstanding contributions toward understanding and preservation of California’s native flora
  • 2006. Botanical Society of America. Centennial Award for exemplary services to the plant sciences[3]

Recent publications[edit]

  • 2010. Thorne, R. F, R. V. Moran and R. A. Minnich. 2010. Vascular plants of the high Sierra San Pedro Mártir, Baja California, Mexico: an annotated checklist. Aliso (28): 1–57.
  • In press. Krantz, T. P. and R. F. Thorne. An annotated flora of the vascular plants of the San Bernardino Mountains, San Bernardino Co., CA. Aliso.
  • 2007. Thorne, R. F. and J. L. Reveal. An updated classification of the Class Magnoliopsida (“Angiospermae”). Botanical Review 73(2): 67–182.
  • 2007. Thorne, R. F. et al. Transmontane coniferous vegetation, pp. 575–586. In M. G. Barbour. T. Keeler.-Wolf and A. A. Schoenherr [eds.], Terrestrial Vegetation of California, 3rd ed., University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
  • 2006. Thorne, R. F. A bibliography of floristics in southern California: addendum number 2A. Crossosoma 31(2), Fall–Winter 2005 (issued 2006).
  • 2002. Thorne, R. F. How many species of seed plants are there? Taxon 51: 511–512.
  • 2001. Thorne, R. F. The classification and geography of the flowering plants: dicotyledons of the class Angiospermae (subclasses Magnoliidae, Ranunculidae, Caryophyllidae, Dilleniidae, Rosidae, Asteridae, and Lamiidae). Botanical Revue 66(4): 44l–647.
  • 2000. Thorne, R. F. The classification and geography of the monocotyledon subclasses Alismatidae, Liliidae and Commelinidae, pp. 75–124. In B. Nordenstam, G. E-Ghazaly, and M. Kassas [eds.], Plant Systematics for the 21st Century. Portland Press, London, UK.
  • 1999. Thorne, R. F. Eastern Asia as a living museum for archaic angiosperms and other seed plants. Taiwania 44(4): 413–422.
  • 1995. Thorne, R. F. Vascular plants of Fort DeSoto Park, Pinellas County, Florida. Selbyana 16(1): 100–109.
  • 1986. Thorne, R. F. Antarctic elements in Australasian rainforests. Telopea 2(6): 611–617.[5]

Professional service[edit]

Active via elective and appointed offices in service to several professional societies:[5]

  • President, American Society of Plant Taxonomists, 1968.
  • Secretary, Botanical Society of America, ca. 1958.
  • President, Southern California Botanists, ca. 1966.
  • Second Vice-President, California Botanical Society, ca. 1966.
  • National Treasurer, Gamma Alpha scientific fraternity, 1954–1957.
  • Chairman, Advisory Council of Flora North America Project, which found the project feasible.
  • On the editorial boards of several national botanical journals; international journal Taiwania.
  • Reviewer of manuscripts for various botanical journals and university presses.

See also[edit]

Thorne system (1992)


  1. ^ Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden Library. "Finding Aid for the Robert Folger Thorne Papers 1905-1988" (2009), p. 1.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Hamilton, Clement W. "Robert F. Thorne - Recipient of the 2001 Asa Gray Award", Systematic Botany(2002), 27(1): p. 2.
  3. ^ a b c d e Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden Library. "Finding Aid for the Robert Folger Thorne Papers 1905-1988" (2009), p. 2.
  4. ^ "Author Query for 'Thorne'". International Plant Names Index. 
  5. ^ a b Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden Library. "Finding Aid for the Robert Folger Thorne Papers 1905-1988" (2009), p. 3.