Natalie Uhl, renowned palm expert, dies at 97

Natalie Uhl

Natalie Uhl, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium Professor Emerita and expert in palms, died March 28 in Georgia. She was 97.

Uhl received her master’s in 1943 and doctorate in 1947 from Cornell with a dissertation on the floral morphology and anatomy plant order then known as the Helobiae. Uhl left the field to start a family with Charles H. Uhl, Ph.D. ’47, but returned to the laboratory in 1964.

She began working as a research associate for Harold E. Moore at the Bailey Hortorium where she became a leading expert in the anatomy of palms. Moore traveled to the tropics and sent back samples to Ithaca where Uhl undertook the meticulous study and categorization of the specimens. The two published numerous papers on palm anatomy and morphology.

“Natalie was elegance personified, and her work on palms with Hal Moore set a standard that has seldom been matched,” said Bill Crepet, professor and chair of the Plant Biology Section in the School of Integrative Plant Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

In 1979, she became co-editor of the journal Principes (now Palms), a role she held until 2000.

After Moore’s death in 1980, Uhl continued their work on genera palmarum. She published a comprehensive review of the taxonomy, morphology and anatomy of all genera of palms in a 1987 collaboration with John Dransfield of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

In 1981, she was appointed associate professor and taught applied plant anatomy until her formal retirement in 1987. In retirement, she maintained many teaching duties, including instruction and graduate student supervision, and she continued her research into palms.

In 2002, she was awarded the Asa Gray Award by the American Society of Plant Taxonomists in recognition of her outstanding accomplishments.

Her husband, Charles, was a Cornell professor of plant biology and a well-recognized expert on the cytogenetics of the stonecrop family. He died in 2010 at the age of 92.

Matt Hayes is managing editor and social media officer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Magdalen Lindeberg is assistant director at the School of Integrative Plant Science and senior research associate in the Section of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology.

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Melissa Osgood