The Cherry Tree Expert
April 24, 1889
Today is the birthday of the botanist Paul George Russell who was born in Liverpool, New York.
Paul's family moved to DC in 1902, and this became Paul's lifelong home.
Paul received his advanced degrees from George Washington University.
Paul got his first job at the National Herbarium; Paul would end up working for the government as a botanist for 50 years.
Early on, Paul went on collecting trips in northern Mexico with botanists Joseph Nelson Rose and Paul Carpenter Standley.
In 1910, during a trip to Mexico, the Verbena russellii - a woody flowering plant - was named for Paul George Russell. Later, he accompanied Rose to Argentina, where the Opuntia russellii - a prickly pear -was also named for him.
Back in the States, Paul was a vital part of the team dedicated to creating the Japanese cherries' living architecture around the Washington Tidal Basin.
As the lead consulting botanist, Paul oversaw the planting of all the cherry trees, and he authored a 72-page USDA circular called Oriental Flowering Cherries in March 1934. This booklet on cherries was Paul's most impressive work.
By providing facts on cultivation and historical details about varieties of ornamental cherries grown in the United States, Paul helped people appreciate cherry trees as a wonderful fruit tree to grow on their property.
Paul's circular, in addition to images of the magnificent cherry trees growing around the tidal basin in Washington, D.C., lead to an increased demand for cherry trees across the county.
A compiler of over 40,000 seed vials during his career, Paul honed a unique and rare skill: he could identify plant species by seed alone.
After retiring, Paul began working on a history of USDA seed collection. Sadly, he never finished this endeavor. Paul died at the age of 73 from a fatal heart attack on April 3, 1963.
The following day, April 4th, Paul had made plans with his daughter to see his beloved cherry blossom trees in bloom around the tidal basin.