Julian Alfred Steyermark, son of Leo and Mamie (Isaacs) Steyermark, was born on 27 January 1909 in St. Louis. The family lived at 3646 Russell Avenue in 1910. Leo was a “superintendent” in a department store. By 1920, they had moved into the Central West End and were living at 5795 Kingsbury. Leo was in “gents’ furnishings.” In 1930, they were living in an apartment building at 6412 Enright. By this time, Julian was twenty-one and Leo was the owner of a gents’ furnishings store.

Julian enrolled in the Henry Shaw School of Botany in 1925 after graduating from Soldan High School. In this cooperative program between the Missouri Botanical Garden and Washington University, he received his B.A. (1929), M.S. (1930), and Ph.D. (1933) degrees. In September 1931, he received a graduate awards scholarship from Harvard University, where he earned an M.A. degree that same year.

Julian Steyermark began a long association with the Missouri Botanical Garden while he was still a student, painting watercolors of Missouri’s native plants and collecting specimens as he traveled the state. In 1934, he went on his first tropical expedition to Panama. He taught for two years and then became an assistant curator at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. There, he initiated collecting programs in Venezuela and Ecuador and donated his specimens to the museum.

He married Cora Shoop, a science teacher from southwest Missouri who shared his love of the outdoors, in 1937, and they had a long, happy partnership as travelers, writers, and collectors.

For twenty-one years, Julian and Cora journeyed throughout Missouri, seeking plants to include in his books, Spring Flora of Missouri and Flora of Missouri. During World War II, Julian served in South America, looking for new plant sources of quinine. After the war, he taught college classes in botany, and then he and Cora moved to South America, where he worked at the Instituto Botanico in Caracas, Venezuela. He traveled to remote locations collecting specimens of plants and wrote The Flora of Guatemala.

Julian Steyermark’s masterpiece, often called the “botanical bible of Missouri,” was The Flora of Missouri, published by the Missouri Botanical Garden in 1963.

After Cora Steyermark died in 1984, Julian returned to the Missouri Botanical Garden, where he worked on completing his last book, Flora of Venezuelan Guayana. He died from pneumonia on 15 October 1988. His body was cremated; he and Cora had no children.

During his lifetime, Julian Steyermark collected more than 132,000 plants, placing him in the 1988 Guinness Book of World Records. He also described more than 1,000 new species of plants.

Julian was honored by Washington University, receiving a “Distinguished Alumni Award” in 1955, the first year of the program. He went on to receive awards and citations from the governments of Venezuela and Guatemala, as well as the Sierra Club, the Missouri Department of Conservation, and the Missouri Botanical Garden.

(Sources include death records, magazine and newspaper articles, obituaries, and U.S. federal census records)

Written by Ilene Kanfer Murray
February 2017 (excerpted from a longer essay originally written in 2009)

© 2017, St. Louis Genealogical Society

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Last Modified: 26-Oct-2018 11:35