Remembering Elsie Quarterman
by Paul Somers, Ph.D.
Retired State Botanist, Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program
and former botanist, Tennessee Natural Heritage Program
Not wanting to miss a chance to pay tribute to my friend, the 103+
year old Dr. Elsie Quarterman, I’m sitting down to reflect on my
remembrances of this wonderful woman who befriended me and many
other botanical and conservation colleagues. It was the summer of
1976 when I moved to Nashville to join the young staff of the
Tennessee Heritage Program as its first botanist. The program, now
well established with the State Department of Environment and
Conservation, benefited greatly from the prior work of Dr.
Quarterman (Elsie) and many of her graduate students at Vanderbilt
University who had done vegetation and rare plant studies in the
Central Basin of Tennessee.
For help with understanding and
conserving the best examples of cedar glades and their many endemic,
nearly endemic, or otherwise rare Tennessee plant species, I and
other colleagues frequently turned to Elsie and her Continue reading →
After years of hard work and the support of many dedicated individuals,
an iconic flower is once again thriving in Tennessee. On August 4, 2011,
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the removal of the Tennessee
coneflower from the Endangered Species List, marking an extraordinary
recovery from the brink of extinction. The story of the coneflower
exemplifies the power of conservation.
In 1968, Vanderbilt biology professor Elsie Quarterman and graduate
student Barbara Turner accidentally discovered the fuschia-colored
coneflowers at Mount View Cedar Glade. The plant had been thought
extinct until the rediscovery. In time, three other coneflower sites
were discovered in Davidson and Wilson counties. In 1979, the Tennessee
coneflower became one of the first plants to be recorded on the Endangered
Quarterman subsequently became a trustee of the Tennesee Chapter of The
Nature Conservancy and urged the protection of the cedar glade habitats
where the Tennessee coneflower and other rare plants have adapted to
live in harsh, stony conditions.