AUSTIN, Texas, Dec. 11, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Jim Duke, PhD, an esteemed ethnobotanist, author, and a co-founder of the American Botanical Council (ABC), died at his home last evening. He was 88 and had been in declining health.
"He was a brilliant, dedicated, funny, and humble man, who earned the admiration, respect, and love of thousands of scientists and herbal enthusiasts," said Mark Blumenthal, ABC's founder and executive director. "Jim's huge body of work, love of plants and people, sense of humor, and generosity of spirit are positive examples for all of us."
Duke authored hundreds of articles and an estimated three dozen books, both popular and technical. He compiled botanical data from all types of sources for his "Father Nature's Farmacy" database, and was a humble botanist who preferred to walk barefoot in his extensive medicinal plant garden, or, when possible, the Amazonian rainforest.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, on April 4, 1929, Duke studied botany at the University of North Carolina, where he received his undergraduate and doctoral degrees in 1955 and 1961, respectively. Postgraduate work took him to Washington University and the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. It was there where he developed what was, as he put it, "my overriding interest: neotropical ethnobotany."
Early in Duke's career with Missouri Botanical Garden, his work took him to Panama, where he penned painstaking technical descriptions of plants in 11 plants families for the Flora of Panama project published in the Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. He also studied the ethnobotany of the Choco and Cuna native groups, which culminated in his first book: Isthmian Ethnobotanical Dictionary, a 96-page handbook describing medicinal plants of the Central American isthmus.
In 1963, Jim Duke took a position with the USDA in Beltsville, Maryland. From 1965 to 1971, he worked on ecological and ethnological research in Panama and Colombia for Battelle Memorial Institute. Duke returned to USDA in 1971, where he worked on crop diversification and created a database called the "Crop Diversification Matrix" with extensive biological, ecological, and economic data on thousands of cultivated crops.
His interest in medicinal plants never waned. In 1977, he became chief of the Medicinal Plant Laboratory at USDA's Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, and then chief of USDA's Economic Botany Laboratory. At the time, USDA was under contract with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to collect plant materials from all over the world for screening for anti-cancer activity. After the program ended in 1981, Jim Duke continued his work at the Germplasm Resources Laboratory. Duke served on the board of the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research (ACEER) in the early 1990s, and the nonprofit created a fund in his honor to support its educational programs in 2007. Duke also received the ACEER Legacy Award in 2013.
Duke established the Green Farmacy Garden in Fulton, Maryland, in 1997 as a teaching garden with approximately 300 species of medicinal plants. For several years, Duke hosted the AHPA-ABC HerbWalk as a part of Natural Products Expo East.
"His impact and inspiration for the last three generations of all aspects of the herbal community cannot be overstated," said Steven Foster, an author, photographer, and collaborator with Duke on multiple books. "He was a renaissance man in the broadest sense."
Duke is survived by his wife Peggy, daughter Cissy, and son John.
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SOURCE American Botanical Council