Dr Richard Dennis

and fungi

Richard Dennis 2016-10-25T14:25:12+00:00

Richard Dennis was the son of a local headmaster Samuel Dennis and his wife Mabel who lived at 22 Gloucester Road in Thornbury.

Below is Richard’s obit copied from the website of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.  It’s a bit heavy unless you are particularly interested in fungi.  We also have the obit published in the Daily Telegraph dated Thursday July 17th 2003 and this is even longer!

Dr Richard Dennis

Dr Richard Dennis

Dr Richard W.G. Dennis, former Head of Mycology at Kew, died on 7th June 2003 at the age of 92.  He was an acknowledged international expert on the systematics and identification of the ascomycetes, and was regarded as one of the leading mycologists of the twentieth century.

Born in Gloucestershire on 13th July 1910, he attended Thornbury Grammar School from 1919, and then Bristol University from 1927 – 1930 where he obtained a first class honours degree in botany.  His early career was in plant pathology, initially based at the West of Scotland Agricultural College in Glasgow where he studied mineral deficiencies in root crops and diseases of oats, the latter being the subject of a Ph.D. obtained from Glasgow University in 1934.  He later moved to the Plant Virus Station at Cambridge, studying virus diseases of potatoes, and then to the seed testing station at East Craigs, Edinburgh.

In 1944 he joined the staff at Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, succeeding Miss Elsie Wakefield as Head of Mycology on her retirement in 1951.  In 1950 they co-authored the book Common British Fungi, illustrated with their own watercolour plates, which was one of the few popular fungus guides of the time.  Dennis published on many groups of fungi worldwide and took a special interest in the biogeography and distribution of fungi, particularly with regard to the British mycota.  He travelled widely, notably to Trinidad in 1949 and Venezuela in 1958, and his seminal Fungus Flora of Venezuela and Adjacent Countries (1970), a product of these studies illustrated with his own watercolour paintings, remains the only comprehensive fungal survey for this or any tropical region.  In 1975 he visited the Azores, making the first extensive collections of fungi from these isolated and biogeographically interesting islands, publishing his research in 1977.  His specialist interest in the ascomycetes led to the first comprehensive treatments of the British Hyaloscyphaceae (1949) and of the Helotiaceae (1957), and later to his extensively illustrated book British Cup fungi and their Allies.   This was published by the Ray Society in 1960, with expanded and revised editions published by Cramer, as British Ascomycetes, in 1968, 1978 and 1981.   Other monographic and nomenclatural studies included accounts of temperate and tropical discomycetes from Europe, South America and the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, Sierra Leone, and Papua New Guinea, and studies on the Xylariaceae of tropical America and the Congo.  In 1948 he published jointly with A.A. Pearson the first checklist of British mushrooms and toadstools, expanded and revised in 1960 as the New Checklist of Agarics and Boleti in collaboration with P.D. Orton and F.B. Hora.  This standard work is only now being revised as part of a comprehensive modern checklist and database being compiled at Kew.

On his retirement in 1975, Dr Dennis was appointed Honorary Research Fellow at Kew.  His interests in the ascomycetes and in the history and distribution of British fungi continued, and he paid frequent collecting trips to the Hebrides and other parts of Scotland.  His comprehensive Fungi of the Hebrides appeared in 1986, complemented by Fungi of South East England in 1995.  His last paper, on the ëFfungi of Welsh Botanology’, was published in 1999 and in the succeeding years he continued to undertake much valuable revisionary work in the curation of the British herbarium collections at Kew.

Dennis possessed an immense and remarkable knowledge of many subjects, from geology and palaeontology to history and geography.  He also had a keen sense of humour, well illustrated by his publication of Golfballia, presented as a remarkable new genus of phalloid fungi, based actually on material of burnt golf balls which had been received at Kew for identification!  He published over 220 scientific papers as well as seven books and described many genera and species new to science.  No less than 40 new species were named in his honour during his lifetime, together with the new genera Dennisiella Bat. & Cif. (Coccodiniaceae), Dennisiodiscus Svr?ek (Dermateaceae), Dennisiomyces Singer (Tricholomataceae), Dennisiopsis Subram. & Chandrash. (Thelebolaceae) and Dennisiographium Rifai (anamorphic).  He was an Honorary Member of the British Mycological Society and of the Swiss Society of Mycology, and Corresponding Member of the Botanical Society of the Argentine and of the Mycological Society of America.

read about the history of 22 Gloucester Road

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