S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Worsdell, Wilson C (botany)

Born: 15 September 1867, Altoona, Pennsylvania, United States of America.
Died: 29 October 1957, Twickenham, England.

Wilson C. Worsdell, British botanist, moved to England with his parents at the age of four. He was trained as a horticulturalist in Holland and England, but subsequently studied botany at the Royal College of Science in London and was employed at the Jodrell Laboratory at Kew, near London. Later he became demonstrator in botany at University College, London. He was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1898. His studies of the anatomy of an Indian genus of parasitic plants was published as "On the development of the ovule of Christisonia, a genus of Orobanchaceae" (Journal of the Linnean Society, Botany, 1895). It was followed by "The comparative anatomy of certain species of Encephalartos Lehm." (Transactions of the Linnean Society, 1900), "Contributions to the comparative anatomy of the Cycadaceae" (Ibid, 1901), and a number of other papers on plant anatomy published in the Annals of Botany.

Worsdell came to Cape Town in February 1909 to lecture in botany at the South African College during the absence of Professor H.H.W. Pearson* on a year's leave. During this visit he had an opportunity to study Welwitschia plants in their natural environment at Welwitsch Station, German South West Africa (now Namibia) and collected two species of fungi from their dried leaves. One of these was named Sphaerulina worsdellii after him. In the Karoo he collected some wingless locusts, which he presented to the South African Museum. In 1912-1913 he similarly stood in for Miss A.V. Duthie at Victoria College, Stellenbosch. During both visits he acted as an examiner in botany for the University of the Cape of Good Hope, at the MA level in 1909 and the second examination of the BSc Agriculture degree in 1912.

After his return to England Worsdell was again employed at the Jodrell Laboratory, where he studied plant anatomy. His publications included a substantial book, The principles of plant teratology (London, 1915-1916, 2 vols); a paper on "Welwitschia and other plants of Damaraland" (Gardener's Chronicle, 1927); and a supplement to O. Stapf's Index Londinensis to illustrations of flowering plants, ferns and fern allies (Oxford, 1929-1931), covering the years 1921-1935 (Oxford, 1941, 2 vols). The species Pilea worsdellii was named after him by N.E. Brown*.

List of sources:
Bullock, A.A. Bibliography of South African botany (up to 1951). Pretoria: Department of Agricultural Technical Services, 1978.

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the trustees of the South African Museum, 1909.

Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: 1968-1980.

Ritchie, W. The history of the South African College, 1829-1918. Cape Town: T. Maskew Miller, 1918.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

University of the Cape of Good Hope. Calendar, 1910/1, 1913/4.

Compiled by: C. Plug