Beryl B. Simpson

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Beryl Simpson
Born (1942-04-28) April 28, 1942 (age 76)
Austin, Texas
ResidenceUnited States
Alma mater
  • Harvard University
  • Radcliffe College
Spouse(s)Jack Neff
ChildrenJonathan, Meghan
AwardsGreenman Award (1970), Cooley Award (1971), Asa Gray Award (2003), José Cuatrecasas Medal for Excellence in Tropical Botany (2010)
Scientific career
FieldsTropical Botany
Author abbrev. (botany)BB Simpson

Beryl Brintnall Simpson (born April 28, 1942)[1] is a professor emeritus in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin. Previously she was an associate curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the Department of Botany. She studies tropical botany, focusing on angiosperms found in the American Southwest, Mexico, and Central and South America. She was awarded the José Cuatrecasas Medal for Excellence in Tropical Botany for her decades of work on the subject.

Life and career[edit]

Simpson graduated with an AB, magna cum laude, from Radcliffe College in 1964. She received her MA in 1967 and her Ph.D. in 1968 from Harvard University. She stayed at Harvard as a postdoctoral fellow until 1970 when she accepted a position as an Assistant Curator of the Gray Herbarium at Harvard. She then moved to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany,  as an Associate Curator from 1972–1977 and in 1977 was promoted to Curator. In 1978 she moved to the University of Texas at Austin as a professor. In 1994 she became the C. L. Lundell Professor of Systematic Botany.[2]

During grade school Simpson was already interested in botany. She would cut seeds and try to create hybrids by pushing two ends together. During high school her interest in plants continued, and her science fair project on "The Economic Aspects of the Rose" resulted in her working for Richard Howard at the Botanical Museum at Harvard during her junior year. Her first year at Radcliffe she took a graduate horticulture class taught by Howard and her undergraduate advisors included Howard, Richard Schultes, Paul Manglesdorf, and Elso Barghorn.[3]

She did not originally think of going to graduate school, as she thought it cost too much money, but when she found out otherwise she changed her mind. Because of her excellent undergraduate record she was accepted at Harvard and her first advisor was Otto Solbrig, but he moved to Michigan. Her next advisor was Reed Rollins. She accepted a postdoc at Harvard with Otto Solbrig after her graduation.[3]

She co-authored a textbook, Plants in our World: Economic Botany with Molly Conner-Ogorzaly which was originally published in 1986. Its fourth edition was published in 2014.[4]

She is married to Jack Neff, an expert on bees native to the American Southwest and South America. Together they have two children Jonathan and Meghan.[3]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2010 Simpson was the ninth recipient of the José Cuatrecasas Medal for Excellence in Tropical Botany from the Department of Botany and the United States National Herbarium of the Smithsonian Institution. She was recognized for her contributions to the study of tropical botany through her monograph of Krameriaceae and revisions of Andean genera and other tropical groups of plants, her mentorship of many students, and as the director of the University of Texas herbaria.[5]

Simpson won the Asa Gray Award of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT) in 2003. This award is a life-time achievement award given by the ASPT to individuals for outstanding accomplishments in research and mentoring.[6]

Simpson is a member of many societies and has served in a number of committees and positions. She has been the President of: In 2001 the Society for Economic Botany, from 1993-1994 the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, 1990-1992 the Botanical Society of America, 1984-1986 the Society for the Study of Evolution, and the Co-President of the III International Congress of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology. She has been a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1994 and the American Society of Naturalists since 1981. From 1993-1995 she was on the Board of Directors for the American Institute of Biological Sciences. She was on the Board of Governors of the US-Mexico Foundation for Science from 1992-2003 and the chairman of the US Committee to the International Union of Biological Sciences from 1986-1988.[2]

Select publications[edit]

  • BB Simpson, M Conner-Ogorzaly. 1986. Economic Botany. McGraw-Hill
  • JA Tate, BB Simpson. Paraphyly of Tarasa (Malvaceae) and diverse origins of the polyploid species. Systematic Botany, 723-737.
  • BB Simpson. 1983. Evolution and diversity of floral rewards. Handbook of experimental pollination biology, 142-159.
  • BB Simpson. 1975. Pleistocene changes in the flora of the high tropical Andes. Paleobiology 1 (3), 273-294.
  • BB Simpson, JL Neff. 1981. Floral rewards: alternatives to pollen and nectar. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 301-322.
  • BB Simpson, J Haffer. 1978. Speciation patterns in the Amazonian forest biota. Annual review of ecology and systematics 9 (1), 497-518.
  • OT Solbrig, BB Simpson. 1974. Components of regulation of a population of dandelions in Michigan. The Journal of Ecology, 473-486.
  • JL Neff, BB Simpson. 1981. Oil-collecting structures in the Anthophoridae (Hymenoptera): morphology, function, and use in systematics. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society, 95-123.
  • A Weeks, DC Daly, BB Simpson. 2005. The phylogenetic history and biogeography of the frankincense and myrrh family (Burseraceae) based on nuclear and chloroplast sequence data. Molecular phylogenetics and evolution 35 (1), 85-101.
  • BB Simpson. 1979. Quaternary biogeography of the high montane regions of South America. The South American herpetofauna: its origin, evolution, and dispersal 157, 188.


  1. ^ Texas, Birth Index, 1903-1997 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005.