Submitted to: Crop Science Society of America
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/13/2018
Publication Date: 9/20/2018
Citation: Coyne, C.J. 2018. Frank N. Meyer, Plant Explorer. Crop Science Society of America. https://sustainable-secure-food-blog.com/2018/09/21/frank-meyer-and-early-plant-explorer/.
Interpretive Summary: none
Technical Abstract: Food is one of the ultimate delights in life. Surprisingly, many of the foods we enjoy in the U.S. today are not native to North America and are plant introductions. How did they get here? A little known branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture started collecting plant introductions in earnest back in the 1880’s before the invention of modern conveniences. Imagine your equipment list for an international trip to collect plants and seeds in Central Asia and China circa 1905: sphagnum moss, copper labels, oiled paper, twine, seed bags, burlap, donkey and cart. Such was the list for USDA explorer Frank N. Meyer. Meyer was a Dutch immigrant to the U.S. with extensive botanic and nursery experience, ideal for a plant explorer. He studied for seven years at the Hortus Botanicus (botanic garden) in Amsterdam as an assistant of the famous plant geneticist Hugo de Vries. Plus Meyer had great physical stamina and wanderlust demonstrated by extensive walks across many countries in Europe prior to his 1901 U.S. arrival. On foot and by donkey cart, Meyer completed four plant explorations over 13 years collecting and introducing over 2,500 plants of hundreds of new species of crops, trees and ornamental plants that impact U.S. agriculture to this day.But what a rich legacy this person has left us, here are a few examples. The juicy and delicious “Meyer” lemon, a dwarf Citrus hybrid (PI 23028) discovered on his first expedition. Another notable fruit we enjoy in the U.S. today, large persimmons with few seed that became the mainstay for U.S. production. Meyer was the first to introduce this species Diospyros kaki to U.S. agriculture. Meyer’s plant introduction heritage lives on in many plant improvement programs to this day. His introductions were imediately put to use by U.S. plant scientists and breeders. Examples include multidisease-resistant spinach, winter-hardy and drought resistant wheats, barleys, sorghums, alfalfas, clovers and the first oil-bearing soybeans in the U.S.all have genetic roots in Meyer’s plant introductions. Meyer died mysteriously on his fourth expedition and begueathed his money to his colleagues at the USDA. In 1920, David Fairchild, his supervisor and colleagues used his legacy to establish the Frank N. Meyer Medal for Plant Genetic Resources to honor his service to U.S. agriculture. The award is given annually to outstandings contributors to the conservation of plant diversity for humanity’s future.