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In memory of Vernon Heywood

22 September 2022

We recently received the sad news of the death of Professor Vernon Heywood on Saturday 17 September at the age of 94 -and very close to 95-, after a convalescence that had taken him away from conferences and meetings, but not from Botany, in the last period. As you know, Dr. Heywood has been the most important botanist for plant conservation worldwide, and a brave defender of the Mediterranean flora.

He was Professor of the Universities of Liverpool and Reading (UK) and Honorary Fellow of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. Vernon was a great taxonomist and systematist who published and edited numerous articles and books, including Principles of Angiosperm Taxonomy (1963), the famous work Flora Europaea (1964-1980) and their known Flowering Plants of the World (1978, with several further editions and reprints) and Flowering Plant Families of the World (2007). He was the author of more than 400 scientific papers and book chapters.

Vernon has been heavily involved in plant biodiversity conservation as Chief Scientist at IUCN -where he also promoted the creation of the Specialist Group on Medicinal Plants- and he was founder and first Director of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). In addition, he has been a tireless advocate of the role of botanical gardens in plant conservation and much is owed to him in relation to the definition of ex situ and in situ conservation. He was also responsible for defining concepts such as anthropogenic diversity and all the relationships between plants, animals and other diversity.

Vernon Heywood was editor of Global Biodiversity Assessment (UNEP, 1995) and one of the authors of the three-volume series Centres of Plant Diversity (WWF & IUCN, 1994-1997). Additionally, he has been a main pioneer for the inclusion of invasive alien species and climate change in conservation policies, advising numerous international entities (FAO, CBD, Council of Europe, etc.) and making reports which have influenced decisively to advance against their effects in the five continents.

Throughout his life and scientific career he worked extensively for the knowledge and conservation of the Mediterranean flora. In fact, his doctoral thesis was made in Southern Spain, where he lived for years. We had him as a guest speaker at the Mediterranean Plant Conservation Week in Malta in 2018, as a hiking companion at numerous OPTIMA conferences and also as a member of the CBNMP Scientific Committee.

Vernon Heywood has been, without doubt, the most celebrated and awarded botanist and plant conservationist worldwide, giving lessons throughout the five continents and receiving numerous awards and honours (Gold Medal of OPTIMA, Medal of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, Linnaeus Award Planta Europa, Hutchinson Medal of the Chicago Horticultural Society, Gold Badge of the Canarian Botanic Garden, etc.). He was honoured as Regent Lecturer or Honorary Professor at the Universities of California at Riverside and Mendoza (Argentina) and the Institute of Botany of Nanjing (China), and as Honorary Fellow of the Linnean Society of London.

Until the start of the pandemic in 2020, he travelled the world to tirelessly defend biodiversity conservation and we marvelled at his extraordinary energy! Many of us will remember this militant scientist who enlightened our discussions with great wisdom, humility and kindness, not forgetting his oh-so-British touch of humour. We would like to pay deep and admired tribute to a giant for plant conservation and knowledge, Vernon Hilton Heywood (1927-2022). Rest in peace.

Gianluigi Bacchetta, President of GENMEDA
Emilio Laguna, Coordinator of GENMEDA Steering Committee
Frédéric Médail, Professeur des Universités / Professor, Institut méditerranéen de biodiversité et d’écologie marine et continentale (IMBE), Aix Marseille Université

Photograph: Professor Vernon Heywood at the 2nd Mediterranean Plant Conservation Week in Malta in November 2018

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