Robert F. Thorne papers

Finding aid created by California Botanic Garden staff using RecordEXPRESS
California Botanic Garden
1500 N College Avenue
Claremont, California 91711
(909) 625-8767

Descriptive Summary

Title: Robert F. Thorne papers
Dates: 1865-2016, undated (bulk 1937-2013)
Collection Number: MS.6
Creator/Collector: Thorne, Robert F.
Extent: 29.3 linear feet (35 boxes, 2 plant presses)
Repository: California Botanic Garden
Claremont, California 91711
Abstract: The collection comprises the professional papers of plant taxonomist Robert F. Thorne (1920-2015), who served as herbarium curator and botany faculty at California Botanic Garden [Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden] and Claremont Graduate University from 1962 until 1987. The collection includes Thorne’s correspondence, manuscripts, species lists, publications, field notes, photographs, teaching and professional society materials, and memorabilia spanning his career and retirement.
Language of Material: English


The collection is open to research, except for Box 9, Folder 26 and Box 32, Folder 20-22, which are restricted. Audiovisual and born digital materials require additional processing before they can be made available. Contact the repository for access.

Publication Rights

Copyright of most materials in this collection is held by the creator. Consult the Librarian for details.

Preferred Citation

Robert F. Thorne papers. California Botanic Garden

Acquisition Information

Robert F. Thorne made the first donation of his papers to California Botanic Garden in 2009. The garden received new accruals in 2013 and 2015.

Biography/Administrative History

Robert Folger Thorne was born in 1920 in Spring Lake, New Jersey and raised in Florida. He obtained his B.A. in botany at Dartmouth College in 1941 and received his M.S. in economic botany from Cornell University in 1942 before joining the U.S. Air Force. He served in Europe during World War II and flew in 40 missions as a navigator. After World War II, he returned to Cornell University to earn his Ph.D. in economic botany with a minor in geomorphology. He married Mae Zukel in 1947 and they had one daughter, Linda. After working for brief periods for the U.S. Public Health Service and Cornell, he joined the faculty at the University of Iowa as an assistant professor of botany in 1949. He soon obtained the rank of associate professor and then full professor by 1960. He did postdoctoral work as a Fulbright Scholar in New Caledonia and Australia in 1959 and was a visiting professor at the University of Virginia (1956) and University of Minnesota (1962). In 1962, he moved to Claremont, California to work at California Botanic Garden [previously Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden] as a taxonomist, herbarium curator, and professor of botany. He was thesis advisor to over 25 graduate students. He retired in 1987 and continued his research as taxonomist, curator, and professor emeritus until his death in 2015. His major research interests included angiosperm phylogeny, biogeography, and the floristics of western North America, especially California and Baja California. He developed the Thorne system of plant classification starting in 1968, which was followed by numerous revisions over the next several decades. He made over 60000 plant collections from all over the globe and published more than 100 scientific papers over the course of his career. In addition to research and teaching, Dr. Thorne was involved in numerous professional societies and organizations. He held leadership positions in the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, Botanical Society of America, Southern California Botanists, California Botanical Society, and Gamma Alpha scientific fraternity. He served as chairman of the Flora North America Advisory Council, the predecessor to the Flora of North America Project. He also was a conservation advocate and promoted efforts to preserve and protect endangered plant species of Iowa and Southern California.

Scope and Content of Collection

The collection documents the professional work of Robert F. Thorne as a plant taxonomist, professor, herbarium curator, and leader or member of multiple professional societies and organizations, including Thorne’s correspondence files, manuscripts and publications, field notes, photographs, memorabilia and ephemera, teaching and research materials, and personal files. The collection covers his undergraduate and graduate student work, research and teaching career, and post-retirement period up to his death in 2015. His work at California Botanic Garden beginning in 1962 is especially well documented.

Indexing Terms

Plant taxonomists
Field notes
Manuscripts (documents)

Additional collection guides