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Jepson, Willis Linn (1867-1946) | University and Jepson Herbaria Archives, University of California, Berkeley

Name: Jepson, Willis Linn (1867-1946)

Historical Note:

Willis Linn Jepson, University of California professor of Botany and noted expert on the flora of California, was born on August 19, 1867 near Vacaville, California. He grew up on his family's Solano County ranch, Little Oak, where he developed an early interest in flowering plants.  He attended the Normal and Scientific School in Vacaville and at the age of 12 was inspired by a visit to the California Academy of Sciences where he met noted botanists Alfred Kellogg and Edward Lee Greene. He went on to attend the University of California and study botany with Greene. Jepson received his undergraduate degree in 1889 and his Ph.D. in 1899. He began working for the Botany department in 1891 as an instructor and retired in 1937 as Professor of Botany.

Jepson devoted his life to the study of the California flora, as evidenced by his botanical collections (25,761 numbered plant specimens) and his authoritative works on the subject, A manual of the flowering plants of California (1923-1925) and his multi-volume Flora of California (1909-1940, with an additional volume published posthumously by Lauramay Dempster in 1979).  He collected primarily in California, but also made expeditions to Alaska, Europe, and Palestine.  He carefully documented his collecting activities with detailed field notes which contain not only data on specific plants but observations on habitats, landscapes, people, places, industries, and historical events. He photographed many of the plants and areas he visited and collected photographs of California trees and plants from others.

In addition to his research on the California flora, he was interested in botanical history, redwoods, conservation, forestry, and street trees, and among other subjects. He gave lectures to a variety of groups on and off campus and published over 200 articles. He helped establish the California Botanical Society, the Sierra Club, the Save-the-Redwoods league, and the journal Madroño.

He was a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Science, Royal Society of Arts, and the American Geographical Society, and a member of the American Genetic Association, American Society of Plant Taxonomists, Botanical Society of America, Society of Foresters, Washington Academy of Sciences, Western Society of Naturalists, Commonwealth Club of California, Phi Beta Kappa, and Sigma Xi.

He passed away in Berkeley on November 7, 1946.  His will established the Jepson Herbarium and Library at the University of California at Berkeley.


August 19, 1867                    Born near Vacaville, California.

1889                                    Graduated from the University of California, Berkeley

1891                                    Hired as Botany Assistant, began graduate study in Botany

1893-1900                            Editor of Erythea                 

1894                                    Hired as Instructor in Botany

1899                                    Expedition to Alaska

1899                                    Received Ph. D. in Botany. Thesis: Flora of Western Middle California; promoted to Assistant Professor in Botany

1901                                    Flora of western middle California first published

1905-1906                            Sabbatical to Europe including Kew Gardens

1910                                    Silva of California published

1911                                    Promoted to Associate Professor

1912                                    Trip to Barstow

1913-1915                            Founder and President of the California Botanical Society

1916-1933                          Founder and editor of Madrono

1918                                    Save-the-Redwoods league founded

1918                                    Promoted to Professor

1919-1929                            President of the California Botanical Society

1923-1925                            A manual of the flowering plants of California published

1926                                    Trip to Palestine and Syria

1937                                    Retires from the University after breaking ankle doing field work

November 7, 1946                Passed away in Berkeley, California.

For more information, see this article written by Dr. Richard G. Beidleman:

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