Dr. Walter Hodge
Second President of the IPS 1957 – 1960
By Andrew Street
I am sure some of you reading this may never have heard of Dr. Walter Hodge, and that’s partly why this piece was
written. Surely any man who lives to be over 100 has some stories to tell, but Dr. Hodge was not significant for his age alone; no—he lived the life many of us long for. He was a plant explorer. Dr. Hodge wrote over 200 publications and was an accomplished photographer of many subjects. Famous for his botanical adventures to the tropics, Walter has several species of plant named after him, including an Anthurium, a bromeliad, and even a species of crane fly he brought back from Dominica and gave to an entomologist friend for study. Dominica was his first trip,
taken back in 1938. Dr. Hodge had an interest in plant economics just as much as the plants themselves; his photographs and work show this fascination with the relationships between people and plants.
Dr. Hodge grew up in New England, where he was educated, ultimately attaining a Ph.D. from Harvard University in Biology. Dr. Hodge also met his wife, Barbara, during his high school years in Massachusetts. Barbara often accompanied her husband on his travels. Throughout his career she was instrumental to him; with her love of art and archaeology, she inspired and assisted in his botanical work, adding an artistic zest to what can be tedious work. During World War II, Dr. Hodge was assigned an important task of finding an alternative plant for deriving an anti- malaria medicine. He searched in Peru where the genus Cinchona is native; the trees in this genus are the main sources for quinine. This alkaloid has been used for centuries for its medical properties, including fighting malaria. With the exception of a couple details, all of the above can be lifted from the internet; how important he was in the world of plants seems pretty obvious. What I couldn’t easily find online was where did palms fit in—where did palms rank, for him, in his overall love of plants? In order to gain greater insight into Dr. Hodge’s love for palms, I was able to make contact with Dr. Tom Mignerey, past president of a local chapter of the International Palm Society, in Pensacola. It turns out he met Dr. Hodge and his wife in 1997, when Dr. Hodge was 84 years old, and he and Barbara relocated to the Florida Panhandle. Dr. Mignerey had looked him up on the IPS registry.