Herbarium Named for Long-Time Curator Dr. Ronald Jones

Published on May 12, 2015

His persistent efforts as its long-time curator made the Eastern Kentucky University Herbarium one of the largest and most diverse in the region.

His groundbreaking book, “Plant Life of Kentucky,” earned raves nationally and will serve botanists and the public for years to come.

And now the name of Dr. Ronald L. Jones will grace the EKU Herbarium. Shortly after the University’s Board of Regents approved naming the facility for the long-time biology professor, colleagues past and present as well as family members were on hand for a plaque presentation at Jones’ retirement ceremony.

Founded in 1974, EKU’s herbarium had an unofficial collection of a few thousand specimens when Jones began to serve as its curator upon his arrival at EKU in 1981. With approximately 80,000 specimens today, it is the largest in Kentucky and second only to the University of Tennessee herbarium in the two-state region.

Dr. Eugene Wofford, of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, said he considers Jones “the foremost botanist in Kentucky” and his arrival at EKU as “the beginning of a new era in Kentucky botany.”

Dr. Ross Clark, professor emeritus and former chair of EKU’s Department of Biological Sciences, said the University’s herbarium is equally impressive for its breadth. The facility houses important sets of specimens from a number of natural areas across Kentucky, including EKU-owned Lilley Cornett Woods and Maywoods Environmental and Educational Laboratory, as well as Blanton Forest, Breaks Interstate Park, Cumberland Plateau wetlands, Floracliff, the Green River headwater regions, Pine Mountain, and Rock Creek Research Natural Area.

“A herbarium’s value is related to not only its size but in large measure to its diversity,” Clark said. “The evolution of the EKU herbarium from insignificance to regional prominence has been due mostly to Ron’s efforts. He literally has built the EKU herbarium (and) added great value to students’ development, to the biology department and EKU’s profile as an institution.”

Jones’ “Plant Life of Kentucky,” published in 2006, was the first volume of its kind in the Bluegrass State. It was nominated as a Significant Work in Botanical or Horticultural Literature by the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries. 

In 2013, Jones and Wofford co-authored “Woody Plants of Kentucky and Tennessee,” the first such work to encompass the two states.

Jones was also the “driving force,” said Clark, behind the establishment and growth of the Kentucky Native Plant Society, an organization that unites professionals, amateurs and the public in learning, appreciating and protecting Kentucky’s native plants.

“The ‘Plant Life’ book and the Society are two examples of how, when Ron perceived a need for something positive that no one else was doing, he went ahead and quietly without fanfare did it.”

Jones was named an EKU Foundation Professor, the University’s highest honor for excellence in teaching, service and research, in 2006. He was recently selected as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar and will conduct a six-month study in 2016 of woody plants in the Siempre Verde Cloud Forest Reserve about 4 ½ hours north of Quito, Ecuador.

Currently located in Room 170 of the Memorial Science Building, the Ronald L. Jones Herbarium will move to a much larger and more modern space in EKU’s New Science Building, when Phase 2 of that facility opens in late 2017.

Jones said he and other curators have been heavily involved in the planning of the new facility and animal museum facilities in the New Science Building.

“We worked closely with the architects, and plan to have a multi-room state-of-the-art facility, with plenty of space for the processing, storing, databasing, and imaging of our specimens, and also space for students and faculty to study, as well as space for visiting researchers and consultants,” Jones said. “We plan for our facility to be more museum-like, by providing tours, displays, and outreach programs for the public and for local schools. Through our imaging project, now headed by Dr. Brad Ruhfel, who is taking over for me as curator, and funded by a National Science Foundation grant, we will have images of all our specimens online, linked to our database and accessible to a variety of potential users, including researchers, graduate and undergrad students, consultants, high school and middle school teachers and students, and others. In this way our herbarium will have much more visibility and usefulness.”