Carl Leopold (1919-2009)

Carl was a well-known plant physiologist and his 1964 book, Plant Growth and Development, has become a classic textbook. He was a prominent and eloquent spokesman for his father’s philosophy of a land ethic, incorporating into his own writings, lectures, and work through the Tropical Forestry Initiative and the Finger Lakes Land Trust.

Carl published some 200 scientific papers and five books on plant physiology. He was elected president of the American Society of Plant Physiologists in 1996 and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Agriculture from Purdue University and two awards from the Royal Galician Academy of Science in Spain. Carl took hundreds of photographs with his father’s camera during the family’s years at the shack, a rich photographic archive that visitors still enjoy.

Carl passed away at the age of 89 in November 2009, at his home in Ithaca, New York.

Family Remembrances

Memorial for Carl

by Estella Leopold

I shall always miss my brother Carl. As his kid sister he was a model for me—one I could never live up to. Our many good times were in the country at the shack in Wisconsin. When the snow was crisp and cold, my sister Nina, Carl and I used to play hide and seek in the dark, frolicking among the little pine trees we had planted. Or climb the highest hill and call to the barred owls. Carl was the expert! Owls talked to him!

Carl was a sleuth in the woods, moving gracefully—like a cat he was. When we played “tracking” in the snow. Nina and I would give Carl 30 minutes—then start to follow his tracks. He would do things like climb a tree, go way out on a branch and drop—and then walk backwards. Carl was impossible to follow!

Carl was always inventive. The journals tell me that he suggested to Dad to start keeping phenology records of blooming at the shack—changed Dad’s life!

One day I followed Carl out onto our new prairie that we had built (restored), when he designed little quadrats he marked with oak stakes to map the ever-changing plant succession. What a good idea!

We used to sing in the car on long drives. When Dad got a guitar for Christmas (a present from Mother), Dad said “The first one of you that learns to play it gets the guitar!” After a year of competition brother Luna won the guitar. But it was Carl the real musician, who developed the deft and fancy chords and became virtually a professional classical guitarist, as we know!

Carl was a superb botanist. He made a complete collection of pressed plants at the shack for his spring flora course. He built a fine wooden cabinet to hold these precious sheets. Nina and I think that Carl was Dad’s best friend. The
older boys went away early to grad school, and it was Carl who worked closely with Dad, including at hunting, which was good companionship.

Carl took all the photographs of shack life, and did his own printing and developing in the basement at our house in Madison. He won a prize at the University of Wisconsin for his photos. Yes, he was a model, and a superb entertainer. Aside from being a clown he had a charming personality, kind and thoughtful, yet strong and a person of great integrity.

Carl’s achievements are very great—a leader in plant physiology, he made important discoveries in recent years
about seeds and seed coats. To me the most spectacular was his work with Lynn when they established the first ever
restoration of tropical rain forest at their finca in Costa Rica. All the botanists I know said it could not be done. They said that after clear-cut and 20 years of grazing—no way José! The mycorrizae would be all dead, and the soil leached and shot. But clever Carl Leopold figured it out! It was all about seeds. That forest now—with all native trees—is 100 feet tall, and is a great testimony to his amazing sense of botanical know-how.

I salute you Carl Leopold!


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