Issue 67: James Lee Zarucchi PhD, FLS (1952-2019)†

Roger Polhill & Colleagues

Jim Zarucchi sadly died at the relatively young age of 67 on 21 July 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. In his first year at Harvard University he was inspired to take up systematic botany by the legendry economic botanist Richard Evans Schultes and as an undergraduate made the first of many expeditions to remote parts of Colombia. By the end of his life he had made 5,720 plant collections, mainly from that country, but also from Brazil, Ecuador, Madagascar and the United States. He graduated in 1974, continued to work under Schultes at Harvard as a teaching fellow and curator of the Economic Herbarium of Oakes Ames, obtaining his doctorate on Apocynaceae in 1982. He had a postdoctoral fellowship at Kew and the British Museum in 1981-1982, followed by a further postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian in 1982-1983.

In 1984 he was enlisted by Peter Raven to establish a Neotropical Legume Project at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Under the auspices and patronage of the economic botanist Boris Krukoff, Peter Raven had an outreach programme to foster the budding discipline of chemosystematics at Kings College London and Kew. To provide a taxonomic framework to interpret the new findings Jim worked with Kew to foster the first International Legume Conference at Kew in 1978 and the subsequent volumes of Advances in Legume Systematics. The third International Legume Conference was conceived and edited by Charles Stirton, hosted by Jim at the Missouri Botanical Garden in 1986, and the proceedings, Advances in Legume Biology, efficiently seen through the press by Jim in 1989.

In December 1984, at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Peter Raven chaired the memorable inaugural meeting of the International Legume Database and Information Service (ILDIS). This was the brainchild of Frank Bisby from Southampton University in the UK who perceived the potential of personal computers, then only just beginning to become universal, to record and organise botanical information. Under the leadership of Frank Bisby, Jim Zarucchi, and Roger Polhill from Kew agreed to form the Directorate of ILDIS. It was agreed to compile the New World data in Tropicos, then quite newly established, as an information resource, and the Old World information in Alice that had been designed and maintained by Bob Allkin and Peter Winfield to record data in traditional floristic style with a hierarchy of accepted names and synonyms. Over the next three decades Jim conscientiously accumulated an enormous amount of information for Tropicos, but regrettably, due to an increased involvement in other projects, left no permanent record to match the comprehensive set of Old World Legume Checklists published by Kew between 1989 and 2003. Jim was always a most hospitable host for meetings at Missouri.

Jim Zarucchi in 1984 in the herbarium in the Lehmann Building soon after he started his working in the MO herbarium. Photo Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden.

Jim was promoted to Associate Curator in 1990 and played a major part in other Missouri projects, co-editing the Catalogue of the Flowering Plants and Gymnosperms of Peru, published in 1993, managing the Flora of China Checklist and advising on the botanical component of the Phytochemical Dictionary of the Leguminosae published in 1994. The Flora of North America Project was floundering when Jim took it over as Managing Editor and Editorial Director in 1996, going on from strength to strength under his skilled supervision to be the great work it is today. Jim was rewarded as the Anne L Lehmann Curator of North American Botany in 2006, an endowed position he held for the rest of his illustrious life. He is greatly missed by all that knew him as evidenced by the fuller obituaries published in the Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 104: 512-514 (2019) and Taxon 68: 1144-1145 (2019).

Further reading:
Ulloa Ulloa, C., Charron, T., Kuhl J. 2019. In Memoriam: James L. Zarucchi (1952–2019). Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 104(3), 512-514.

Funk, V. 2020. James Lee Zarucchi (1952–2019). TAXON, 68(5): 1143-1144.