Dr. William L. Stern #311HL Posted 05-15-2017 by Jim Ciesla #9275

Arthur Lee

Dr. William L. Stern was born on September 10, 1926, in Paterson, New Jersey, where he spent his childhood. He graduated in 1944 from the agricultural curriculum at Paterson Central High School and immediately enlisted in the U.S. Navy where he saw duty during WWII on Guam. Following his discharge in 1946, he enrolled through the GI Bill in what was and is called The National Farm School and Junior College, now Delaware Valley College. After a year, he enrolled in Rutgers University and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in botany in 1950. He was accepted as a graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of Illinois in September, 1950, and received the Master’s degree in 1951, and the PhD degree in 1953, both in botany. His first professional position was an instructor in the School of Forestry, Yale University. While there, he conducted studies in wood anatomy as related to the phylogeny of angiosperms, and taught courses in wood anatomy and identification, tropical forestry, and plant microtechnique. He also edited the journal “Tropical Woods” and curated what was then the world’s largest collection of wood. In 1960, he was invited to join the Smithsonian Institution as its curator in the new Division of Woods, later changed to Plant Anatomy. He currently lives in the city of Hallandale Beach, Florida. His wife Lois has a Doctorate of Education degree and now volunteers as Docent Instructor with the Museum of Art, Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. His daughter Susan holds a BS in Horticulture and his son Paul has a law degree. 

Dr. Stern is continuing orchid studies at Florida International University. His research is all on orchid plant structure using light and electron microscopes. He recently published the book Orchidaceae which is volume X in the series entitled Anatomy of the Monocotyledons, Oxford University Press, 2014, the only modern book of its kind. 

As to how he got interested in wood, he studied botany in college and his doctoral dissertation was on the wood anatomy of the laurel family, Lauraceae. While studying for his PhD, he was influenced by his advisor who had just published material on wood anatomy. Later, William was advisor to the Philippines Forest Products Research Institute and also collected wood samples in the northern town of Baguio on the island of Luzon and elsewhere in the Philippines. 

He joined IWCS in the late 1950s. His most memorable IWCS experience was a meeting at the Baptist Center (Lake Yale) in Florida just south of Gainesville where he had lived for several years. It was where he had met many of the wood enthusiast people of IWCS. Dr. William Stern has contributed to IWCS over the years by providing articles to the World of Wood. He was awarded Honorary Life Membership for his services. Since his career has been mostly academic in universities he’s lost touch with most IWCS members over the years.  

Dr. Stern does not have a personal wood collection but was curator of wood collections at Yale University and the Smithsonian Institution for ten or eleven years. While at the Smithsonian, he retrieved Archie Wilson’s collection comprising thousands of wood specimens and a related extensive library after Wilson died. That material is now at the Smithsonian. 

He doesn’t really have a favorite wood. He does have a least favorite wood, Florida poison wood, Metopium toxiferum, from his first encounter collecting wood specimens in Florida for Yale University so many years ago. He was carrying the newly cut specimens in the crook of his arms, and this was soon followed by blistering pustules and a flaming red rash that laid him up for quite a while until he got rid of the disease.  

His thoughts on how to get people involved in writing articles are the following: ask the editor to touch base with some of the professional forest products organizations, such as the ones in Madison, Wisconsin, Australia, and the Philippines that have sections limited to different areas of wood study. These are places where there are people active in different phases of wood studies. There are published directories of institutional wood collections that he drew up, with staff people who may be interested in doing articles for WoW. 

As to what he sees as the future for IWCS, it all depends on the people who are attracted to IWCS and our willingness to expand interests to communicate with these people on a personal basis using the information in the wood directories as a start. One way to go is if the editor aggressively pursues institutional wood collection directories in securing articles. 

Editor’s Note: Index Xylariorum. Institutional Wood Collections of the World. 3. IAWA Journal 9(3): 203-252, 1988 (Index Xylariorum 3 – Addendum, IAWA J. 12(1): 99, 1991. A link to the latest edition, Index Xylariorum 4, an online resource compiled by Anna H. Lynch and Peter E. Gasson, is found at: http://www.kew.org/kew-science/collections/economic-botany/explore-collection/wood-collection-xylarium