With great sadness we note the recent passing of Dr. Larry E. Morse, former chief botanist at NatureServe and a legend in plant conservation. After earning his Ph.D. in biology from Harvard University in 1979, Larry immediately started a nearly 30-year career in plant conservation, first with the Maryland Natural Heritage Program. In 1981 he was hired as one of the original natural heritage scientists at The Nature Conservancy (TNC), becoming TNC’s Chief Botanist, and continuing his career at NatureServe until his retirement in 2006.
Larry quickly became a major architect of the emerging natural heritage methodology and the databases that proved so successful in supporting the network of natural heritage programs and the critical conservation work that they perform. His contribution extends beyond the work he did to the numerous interns for whom he opened the door to the field of conservation; his legacy lives on in their continued efforts.
Larry was a master instructor, often weaving together his gentle and illustrative humor with conservation principles (like passing around a jar of blackberry jam before explaining difficulties in blackberry taxonomy). He had a special expertise in and fondness for the flora of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia as well as his native Ohio, and was an active member of The Botanical Society of Washington and the Plant Conservation Alliance.
He will be remembered here at NatureServe as one of the most dedicated conservationists and kind-hearted individuals to have shared office space, cyberspace, and rambles at nearby Roosevelt Island with us. Scores of natural heritage biologists will remember Larry’s one-of-a-kind classes for natural heritage methodology training and his thoroughly enjoyable botany field trips. He was a walking encyclopedia, not only of information about plant identification and conservation, but also of the cultural uses, historical relevance, and ecological contributions of plants.
We encourage those who knew Larry to share their remembrances on the NatureServe Facebook page.
We will miss Larry deeply. Plant conservation has lost a champion.