Submitted to: APSnet Resource Center
Publication Type: Review article
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/16/2014
Publication Date: 3/17/2014
Citation: Collins, D.J., Frederick, L., Warren, H., Rossman, A.Y., Dominick, S.B. 2014. Contributions of Dr. George Washington Carver to global food security: historical reflections of Dr. Carver’s fungal plant disease survey in the southeastern United States. APSnet Resource Center. Available: https://www.apsnet.org/publications/apsnetfeatures/pages/Carver.aspx. Interpretive Summary: Dr. George Washington Carver is famous for his research in agriculture that improved the living standards of American farmers especially in the southern United States. He is best known for developing the many uses of peanut and sweet potato. However, he was also very interested in fungi, a group of organisms that cause diseases of crop plants. Both as a student in Iowa and later in life after he retired, Dr. Carver collected fungi and sent them the the U.S. National Fungus Collections in Beltsville, Maryland. Although it is part of the USDA, the U.S. National Fungus Collections is the “Smithsonian” for fungi because the Smithsonian gave all of their free-living fungi to the USDA a long time ago. During his lifetime Dr. Carver sent over 1,100 specimens of fungi to the mycologists at the USDA. He collected so many fungi that he was appointed as an official Collaborator of the Bureau of Plant Industry, USDA, on 1 Aug 1935. Several fungi have been named in honor of Dr. Carver such as Cercospora carveriana and Pestalotia carveri. The specimens collected by George Washington Carver are still preserved in the U.S. National Fungus Collections where they are available to Scientists throughout the world.
Technical Abstract: Dr. George Washington Carver was a world renowned scientist whose research in the agricultural sciences in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was critical for improving the living standards of American farmers especially in the southern United States. Although best known for developing the many uses of peanut and sweet potato, Dr. Carver was also an avid collector of fungi. As a child, Carver was fascinated with nature including all kinds of organisms. As a student at Iowa State College Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, now Iowa State University in Ames, Dr. Carver worked with two professors of botany and came to appreciate the diversity of fungi causing diseases of plants. During his lifetime G.W. Carver sent over 1,100 specimens of fungi to the mycologists at the USDA. These specimens have been deposited in the U.S. National Fungus Collections in Beltsville, Maryland, where they have been accessioned and databased. Although Carver collected a number of specimens as a graduate student at Iowa State in 1896–1897, by far the majority of his specimens were collected when he was in his 70’s with most specimens collected in 1935 and 1936. A majority of the fungi that Dr. Carver collected belong to the Ascomycetes, the group that includes most of the plant pathogenic fungi, although he also collected rust and smut fungi and downy mildews. Most of Dr. Carver’s specimens were collected in Alabama as well as the neighboring states of Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. A number of new species were named for George Washington Carver including Cercospora carveriana, Metasphaeria carveri, Pestalotia carveri, and Taphrina caveri. Type or other specimens are available at the U.S. National Fungus Collections. As a result of his contribution of fungal specimens, Dr. Carver was appointed as a Collaborator, Mycology and Plant Disease Survey, Bureau of Plant Industry, USDA, on 1 August 1935. At the U.S. National Fungus Collections, the specimens collected by Dr. Carver will be maintained in perpetuity and are available for scientists around the world. Considerable correspondence exists between Dr. Carver and the USDA mycologists. These historical archives including the letters of G.W. Carver with these mycologists, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and associated items about G.W. Carver have been deposited at the National Agriculture Library.