Burton V. Barnes

Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient 2013


Burt was born in Bloomington, Indiana, and both his Bachelor’s and Doctorate degrees were in Forestry from the University of Michigan, the latter in 1959. Burt was a faculty member of the University of Michigan from 1963 to 2006, and an internationally renowned scientist. He was author of a number of books and book chapters, most especially Michigan Trees (2 editions) and Forest Ecology (3 editions) and his long chapter “Deciduous Forests of North America” in the encyclopedic Deciduous Forests of the World reference book, as well as over 100 papers. He was mentor to 94 graduate stu- dents, many of whom hold positions in academia, national land management agencies, The Nature Conservancy, and other conservation organizations. Burt was a staunch con-servationist, who worked with The Nature Conservancy on landscape ecology, and al- ways supported causes with precise, strong letters and commentary, and was a great champion of Michigan’s Natural Heritage.

Burt was Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus of Forestry, and Forest Botanist for the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical


Burt’s teaching was strongly field-based and whenever his name is mentioned, the famous “woody plants” course co-taught by Burt and Herb Wagner invariably comes to mind. It is likely that this course, taught by Burt for over 40 years, has inspired more non-botanists than any other plant oriented course at the University. Even today, when I talk to people around Ann Arbor – dentists, doctors, teachers – it’s not uncommon for them to volunteer that they took woody plants and how much that influenced their lives, no matter what their current careers. Surely no teacher could want a greater honor. So it is no surprise that Burt received the highly esteemed U-M Golden Apple Award in 2001, as well as several other teaching awards.

Lifetime Achievement presentation by Tony Reznicek

"Burt’s influence on Michigan botany over his long career has been tremendous. His teaching, with Herb Wagner for many years, of the famous “Woody Plants” course at the University of Michigan is legendary, and influenced the lives of many hundreds of people. It’s not uncommon, even to this day, when I am talking to people in other fields in Ann Arbor (lawyers, doctors, dentists, and more) and they find out I am a botanist at the University of Michigan, they mention that they took “Woody Plants”, and tell me how that course altered their lives and made them look at the natural world around them differently.

Perhaps even more influential is Michigan Trees, co-authored with Herb Wagner, a model for an information filled natural history book. Not simply a compilation of trees and how to identify them (itself a valuable contribution), this book places trees into their historical and ecological contexts with readable, fact- filled chapters interesting to a very broad range of people. If people interested in the outdoors in Michigan have only one plant book, it will be Michigan Trees!

But this was by no means Burt’s only contribution to dendrology books. More tuned to the professional, Burt was a primary author on the highly regarded book Forest Ecology. This book is now into a fourth edition! And Burt is continuing, even well into retirement, to contribute in a huge way to Michigan botany. He is actively working on – and getting close to finishing – a much needed book on Michigan shrubs.

Though I don’t want (or need) to delve into Burt’s numerous scientific papers published in a range of highly regarded journals, suffice it to say that in these works we find immense contributions to understanding Michigan landscapes, natural areas, and rare organisms. Burt has authored or co-authored papers on the Jack Pine ecosystems unique to northern Lower Michigan – and their relationship to Michigan’s most famous bird, the Kirtland’s Warbler. He has extensively surveyed other Michigan ecosystems, from floodplains to dry oak forests. He has published on using the landscape ecology approach in conservation as well as forest ecology. His output in scientific papers alone is over 100.

Burt’s contribution has also been in training generations of graduate students, many of whom have stayed in Michigan to further his ideals, whether working for the State, in a University setting, or in the private sector. It sometimes seems like all the people at the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) are Burt Barnes’ students!

Burt has freely given of his knowledge by way of a number of programs to the Michigan Botanical Club; every one that I have attended has been fascinating. He has been most helpful to other University resources as well – plant specimens to the University Herbarium, help with committees and reviewing at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. Very recently, Burt gave powerful and cogent testimony to the legislature about the so-called “anti-biodiversity” bill.

Burt is one of the giants of Michigan botany, and it is hard to think of anyone more deserving of this recognition."