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Natalie Whitford Uhl, L. H. Bailey Hortorium Professor Emerita and palm authority, dies at 98

L. H. Bailey Hortorium Professor Emerita and world renowned expert in the Palms, Natalie Uhl, died died on March 28 at the age of 98 years.

Natalie Whitford Uhl was born in 1919 and educated at Rhode Island State College and at Cornell University, where she worked with Arthur J. Eames. She received an M.S. in 1943 and a Ph.D in 1947 with a dissertation on the floral morphology and anatomy of the Helobiae. In 1963, she began working as a Research Associate for Harold E. Moore at the Bailey Hortorium at Cornell. They published numerous papers on palm anatomy and morphology. After Moore’s death in 1980, Uhl continued their work on Genera Palmarum, a comprehensive review of the taxonomy, morphology and anatomy of all genera of palms, with the collaboration of John Dransfield. The work was finally published in 1987. Uhl formally retired in 1987, but maintained her activities in instruction, graduate student supervision, curation, and research. She undertook the first family-level cladistic analysis of the palms, the first study to use molecular data to study higher-level relationships in the palms. She also co-edited the journal Principes (now Palms) from 1979 to 2000. In 1981, she was appointed as Associate Professor at Cornell and taught Applied Plant Anatomy for many years. In 2002, she was awarded the Asa Gray Award by the American Society of Plant Taxonomists in recognition of her outstanding accomplishments. (See Guide to the Natalie W. Uhl Papers, [ca. 1940-2005])

Natalie Uhl was married to Charles H. Uhl, professor of plant biology and a well-recognized expert on the cytogenetics of the stonecrop family (Crassulaceae — a family of succulent, fleshy herbs and shrubs). Charles Uhl earned his Ph.D. from Cornell in 1947, after which he joined the Cornell faculty and taught here for 50 years. Charles died in 2010 at the age of 92.

In the words of Bill Crepet, Plant Biology Section Chair, “Natalie was elegance personified and her work on palms with former Cornell Professor and Hortorium Director Hal Moore set a standard that has seldom been matched.”

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