California plants

California in bloom – we were fortunate to see it after a winter and spring of such heavy rain as we haven’t seen in years.

“peace to all, goodwill to the earth” as Dr. Iltis would say

How much can a person do in a lifetime? He was a fighter. Hugh fled Czechoslovakia as a teenager, he came to America, a refugee from the Nazis. Hugh returned, in the US Army, to Europe as an artillery gunner in WWII. If you spent any amount of time with Hugh, you knew he had a bad ear, since he had lost his hearing on the battlefield. And after the war, since he was fluent in German, they put him in a warehouse full of Nazi documents and he combed through and found evidence of their war crimes that was used at Nuremberg. That was a prologue to the real fight of his life. He was a fighter for conservation, biodiversity, and nature, for surely he knew more than most of us that our lives depended on it. He started early studying the plant family Capparaceae, which he worked on from the 1950’s to the 2010’s (that’s over 60 years!) He opened entire fields of inquiry and sank accepted theories of long standing in biogeography. He collected far and wide, and in Mexico he was instrumental to the discovery of the wild ancestor of corn, and the protection of the biosphere reserve where it was discovered. He taught and inspired generations of students, including me, as an undergrad, long after he was retired. He would come into the herbarium where us students were prepping plant specimens, and tell us how to do it, how much glue to use (MORE!) or some notable thing about the collector (from 1964 or something, he knew EVERYBODY); but most of all his passion and his intellect stoked a lot of fires. He will be dearly remembered, and his influence will live on. His fight, also.

UW News obit

Journal Sentinel obit

Hugh Iltis in pictures