Shepherd of the Cherry Trees

#OTD On this day Paul George Russell was born in 1889 in Liverpool, New York.

His family moved to DC in 1902 and this became Russell's lifelong home. Russell received his advanced degrees from George Washington University. He got his first job at the National Herbarium; Russell would end up working for the government as a botanist for 50 years. Early on, Russell 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 type of prickly pear -was also named for him.

Back in the States, Russell was a vital part of the team dedicated to creating the living architecture of Japanese cherries around the Washington Tidal Basin. As the consulting botanist, Russell oversaw the planting of all the cherry trees and he authored a 72-page USDA circular called Oriental Flowering Cherries in March 1934. It was Russell's most impressive work and it provided facts on cultivation and historical details about varieties of ornamental cherries grown in the United States, introducing visitors to the magnificent cherry trees growing around the tidal basin in Washington, D.C.

A compiler of over 40,000 seed vials during his career, Russell honed a unique and rare skill: he could identify plant species by seed alone.

After retiring, Russell began working on a history of USDA seed collection. Sadly, he never finished this endeavor. Russell died at the age of 73 from a fatal heart attack April 3, 1963. The following day, April 4th, Russell had made plans with his daughter to see his beloved cherry blossom trees in bloom around the tidal basin.


This post was featured on
The Daily Gardener podcast:

helping gardeners find their roots,
one story at a time
Paul George Russell
Paul George Russell