College of Biological Sciences gives alumni award to botanist

by Josh Linehan

Shirley Tucker remembers being 4 years old and visiting her father, a professor in plant pathology, on the then-fledgling St. Paul campus. In many ways, she never left.
On Tuesday, the College of Biological Sciences awarded Tucker its Outstanding Achievement Award, the highest honor the college bestows on alumni.
“I’m very thrilled to be honored by my alma mater,” Tucker said. “I’ve always been quite proud of the quality of work going on in the Minnesota biology department.”
Robert Elde, dean of the College of Biological Sciences, praised Tucker for her work at the University and elsewhere.
“She has distinguished herself, and she has brought distinction to the University where she began her career,” Elde said before presenting Tucker with the award.
Tucker earned a bachelor’s degree in botany — summa cum laude — from the University in 1949. Two years later she was awarded her master’s degree in botany, also from the University.
She moved to the University of California-Davis, where she received her doctorate in 1956. Tucker embarked on a long career in botany, winning awards and being recognized as an expert in various subdisciplines of plant biology.
Tucker then returned to the University as a research fellow and instructor for five years. Her husband was also an instructor.
Tucker has since distinguished herself in a wide variety of botany-related fields. She currently retains a Boyd professorship emerita from Louisiana State University, the highest professorial rank awarded by that institution. She has also served as president of the Botanical Society of America and the American Society of Plant Taxonomists.
While many botanists spend their entire careers researching a specific discipline, Tucker has worked in floral anatomy and morphology, plant taxonomy and lichenology.
Wide-ranging research is part of what makes Tucker unique in the botanical field, said Iris Charvat, a University professor of plant biology.
“To have the depth of research she has had in so many different fields and be recognized as an expert in each is truly amazing,” Charvat said.
Tucker is currently working to sell a collection of classic plant anatomy texts owned by her former professor, Ernst Abbe. Proceeds from the sale will fund the Ernst C. and Lucy B. Abbe Award, which will be given to an outstanding undergraduate in the plant sciences.
Tucker will also serve as the honorary chair of the Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station’s 90th anniversary celebration, which begins Thursday.
David Biesboer, director of the Itasca field station, said the celebration will be a chance for Tucker’s career to come full circle.
“She worked at the Itasca station as a student and, from what I hear, has quite fond memories. It will be nice to have her on hand for the anniversary celebration,” Biesboer said.

Josh Linehan covers science and technology and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4080 x3212.