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George Ledyard Stebbins

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For his outstanding contributions to the synthesis of an evolutionary theory, particularly as it applies to plants.

George Ledyard Stebbins has been called the father of evolutionary botany. A botanist, geneticist and one of the leading evolutionary biologists of his era, Stebbins wrote one of the core manuals of modern evolutionary synthesis.

That book, Variation and Evolution in Plants, was published in 1950. The book provided a guide for the study of the evolution of plants, and, The New York Times said in Stebbins’ 2000 obituary, “remains the dominant theory.’’

The same year the book was published Stebbins joined the staff at the University of California, Davis. Stebbins helped create the university’s Department of Genetics and served as its chairman for several years.

Stebbins entered Harvard University with the intention of studying law. But he was swayed by a botanist there and embarked on a lifetime of plant studies. He received his Ph.D in botany from Harvard in 1931.

A champion of the study of evolution, Stebbins served a stint as president of the Society for the Study of Evolution and pushed for it to be taught in public schools.

Stebbins wrote several other books and taught at Colgate University and the University of California, Berkeley.

By Robert Warren