Distinguished author

Mary Agnes Chase (1869-1963), sitting at desk with specimens.jpg

Mary Agnes Chase
1869–1963. Standard IPNI form: Chase

Mary Agnes Chase, née Merrill, was an American botanist who worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Smithsonian Institution. She is considered one of the world's outstanding agrostologists and is known for her work on the study of grasses, and also for her work as a suffragist. Chase was born in Iroquois County, Illinois and held no formal education beyond grammar school. That aside, she made significant contributions to the field of botany, authored over 70 scientific publications, and was conferred with an honorary doctorate in science from the University of Illinois. She specialized in the study of grasses and conducted extensive field work in North- as well as and South America. Her Smithsonian Field Books collection from 1897 to 1959 is archived in the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

In 1901, Chase became a botanical assistant at the Field Museum of Natural History under Charles Frederick Millspaugh, where her work was featured in two museum publications: Plantae Utowanae (1900) and Plantae Yucatanae (1904). Two years later, Chase joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a botanical illustrator and eventually became a scientific assistant in systematic agrostology (1907), assistant botanist (1923), and associate botanist (1925), all under Albert Spear Hitchcock. Chase worked with Hitchcock for almost twenty years, collaborating closely and also publishing, for instance The North American Species of Panicum (1910).

Following Hitchcock's death in 1936, Chase succeeded him to become senior botanist in charge of systematic agrostology and custodian of the Section of Grasses, Division of Plants at the United States National Museum (USNM). Chase retired from the USDA in 1939, but continued her work as custodian of the USNM grass herbarium until her death in 1963. She was an Honorary Fellow of the Smithsonian Institution (1959) and Fellow of the Linnean Society of London (1961). Agnesia is named in her honour (a monotypic genus of herbaceous South American bamboo in the grass family).

Chase experienced discrimination based on her gender in the scientific field, for example, being excluded from expeditions to Panama in 1911 and 1912 because the expedition's benefactors feared the presence of women researchers would distract men. During World War I, Chase marched with Alice Paul and was jailed several times for her activities. In 1918, she was arrested at the Silent Sentinels rally picketing the White House; she refused bail and was held for 10 days, where she instigated a hunger-strike and was force-fed. The USDA accused her of "conduct unbecoming a government employee," but Hitchcock helped her keep her job. Chase was also an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

See also: Distinguished authors of previous months.


Species of the month

Australian Green Tree Frog

Litoria caerulea

Litoria caerulea

Some facts on this frog:

Length: 7 to 11.5 cm.

Colour: Depends on the temperature and colour of the environment, ranging from brown to green.

Distribution: Native to northern and eastern regions of Australia and to southern New Guinea. Introduced to the United States and to New Zealand.

Diet: Mainly insects such as moths, locusts, and roaches.

Lifespan: Up to 16 years.

First described: By the English surgeon and botanical collector John White in 1790.


How about replacing your dog with a Litoria caerulea? This frog's docile nature, cartoon-like appearance and long life expectancy make it an attractive choice for exotic-pet owners. The male calls can be heard year round from high tree canopy. When threatened, the Australian green tree frogs emit an ear-piercing distress call. During the dry season they cover themselves in a cocoon of sloughed epidermis and mucus and burrow to keep moist. When the rainy summer season comes they feast for a few days before starting to breed. The breeding often takes place in very moist places, such as drainage systems, water tanks, or grassy semi-permanent water systems. The female ejects her eggs with such a force that they pass through the male's deposited sperm cloud, stopping up to half a meter away. A clutch contains from 150 to 300 eggs. Once fertilized, the eggs sink to the bottom substrate and about 28 to 36 hours later hatching begins. Metamorphosis occurs in two to three weeks given good conditions. Litoria caerulea shares the genus Litoria with dozens of other frog species endemic to Australasia. One old common names of the species, "White's tree frog", is in honor of John White's first description in 1790. It was the first Australian frog to be scientifically classified.

See also: Species of previous months


Read in another language