Gertrude Simmons Burlingham

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Gertrude Simmons Burlingham (April 21, 1872 – January 11, 1952) was an early 20th-century mycologist best known for her work on American Russula and Lactarius and pioneering the use of microscopic spore features and iodine staining for species identification.[1][2] Her life outside scientific research has been little documented with the exception of the most basic biographical information.


Gertrude S. Burlingham was born in Mexico, New York on April 21, 1872. Her life prior to obtaining a Master of Science degree from Syracuse University in 1898 she was a teacher of biology and grade adviser at Eastern High School, Brooklyn. While a student at Syracuse, she became a member of Kappa Alpha Theta.[3] From 1898 to her retirement in 1934, she taught high-school biology in Binghamton and Brooklyn, but despite earning a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1908, never taught at college level.[1][2][4] She was never married.[5]

As a postgraduate, she worked primarily at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) under an agreement between that institution and Columbia University for doctoral studies, the first woman to gain a Ph.D. from the program.[4] At the garden, she collaborated with William A. Murrill (she would eventually name Russula murrillii after him). Soon after starting her scientific career, she began spending a lot of time in Vermont, where she owned a secondary home in Newfane, Windham County, an area that was the topic of her very first scientific publication.[1][6]

Tribe Lactarieae, formed of the genera Lactarius (which she called Lactaria) and Russula, was her specialty[1][7] and the topic of both her doctoral thesis (published in the Memoirs of the Torrey Botanical Club) as well as the majority of her publications, such as the 1910 treatment of the tribe for the North American Flora.[2] Russula specialist Ray Fatto credited Burlingham with noting the importance of spore ornamentation in separating the species of this notoriously troublesome genus. Although some authors, like Michael Kuo,[8] have disputed the usefulness of that criterion, it has remained of great importance in the absence of genetic research to clarify the status of many species.[2][9] In his obituary, Fred J. Seaver says that "[s]he had a wide knowledge of the fungi in general and having grown up on a farm she was an all-round naturalist."[1]

After she retired from teaching in 1934, she moved to Florida, joining there several other retired mycologists, and collaborated primarily with Henry Curtis Beardslee (she would also name a Russula after him, and write his obituary).[1][2] She collected primarily in the Northeast and Florida, but also the Pacific Northwest and on one occasion, traveled to Scandinavia where she worked with Lars Romell, Seth Lundell and Jakob Lange.[1][10] She died in her Winter Park, Florida home on January 11, 1952 from an unspecified illness and was buried on Newfane Hill at her own request.[1]

Her papers, personal library (including some rare early works) and 10,000 specimens herbarium were bequeathed to the NYBG,[1][11] where she funded a fellowship to allow for students of mycology to use the garden's facilities.[4][7] This fellowship was granted to 27 students between 1956 and 1994.[4] Her papers at the library include a large correspondence covering 40 years, research papers and manuscripts, field notes, several hundred pictures and glass negatives (mostly of specimens), as well as some 60 watercolor illustrations by fellow mycologist Ann Hibbard.[10]

Selected publications[edit]

For a more complete list, see Seaver's obituary.[1]

Eponymous species[edit]

Three species of fungi have been named in honor of Gertrude Burlingham:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Seaver, Fred J. (January–February 1953). "Gertrude Simmons Burlingham: 1872–1952". Mycologia. 45 (1): 136–138. JSTOR 4547677.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Gertrude Simmons Burlingham (1872 – 1952)". Historical Biographies of Mycologists. Mushroom the Journal. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  3. ^ "Notable Thetas - Heritage - Kappa Alpha Theta". Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  4. ^ a b c d Lentz, David L.; Marlene Bellengi (July–September 1996). "A Brief History of the Graduate Studies Program at The New York Botanical Garden" (PDF). Brittonia. 48 (3): 404–412. doi:10.1007/BF02805310. JSTOR 2807806. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 14, 2010. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  5. ^ In his obituary, Seaver calls her "Miss".
  6. ^ Burlingham, Gertrude Simmons (February 1907). "Some Lactarii from Windham County, Vermont". Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 34 (2): 85–95. doi:10.2307/2478917. JSTOR 2478917.
  7. ^ a b Rogerson, Clark T.; Gary J. Samuels (July–September 1996). "Mycology at The New York Botanical Garden, 1895–1995". Brittonia. 48 (3): 389–398. doi:10.1007/BF02805308. JSTOR 2807804.
  8. ^ Kuo, Michael. "The Genus Russula". Mushroom Observer. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  9. ^ Woo, Benjamin. "Trial field key to the species of Russula in the Pacific Northwest". Pacific Northwest Key Council. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  10. ^ a b "Gertrude Simmons Burlingham Papers (PP)". Archives & Manuscripts. LuEsther T. Mertz Library, New York Botanical Garden. Archived from the original on July 12, 2010. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  11. ^ Callery, Bernadette G. (January–March 1995). "Collecting Collections: Building the Library of the New York Botanical Garden". Brittonia. 47 (1): 44–56. doi:10.2307/2807247. JSTOR 2807247.
  12. ^ Murrill WA. (1917). "Agaricaceae subtribe Pluteanae". North American Flora. 10 (2): 77–144 (see p.&nbsp, 119).
  13. ^ Singer R. (1938). "Contribution à l'étude des Russules (1) - 3. Quelques Russules américaines et asiatiques". Bulletin de la Société Mycologique de France (in French). 54: 132–177 (see p.&nbsp, 134).
  14. ^ Smith AH, Zeller SM. (1966). A Preliminary Account of the North American Species of Rhizopogon. Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden. 14. p. 121.
  15. ^ IPNI.  Burl.

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