William Willard Ashe

picture of Ashe

William Willard Ashe was born in Raleigh, North Carolina on June 4, 1872. His family inhabited a rambling antebellum estate named Elmwood which provided Ashe, described by one biographer as a "congenital naturalist," with abundant woods and fields to explore for curiousities. It is reported that Willard and his brother Samuel together published a small tract called "The West End Sun" with woodcuts carved by Willard. A copy of this work was placed in the cornerstone of the State Agricultural College Building in Raleigh. Much of the young man's spare time was spent collecting specimens and his collections required a two-story building by the time he entered college. Ashe clearly had the eye of a scientist and was known for being able to readily discern differences between very similar plants.

At the age of fifteen, Ashe entered the University of North Carolina, matriculating in 1891. The following year he received his M.S. from Cornell, where he specialized in botany and geology. From 1892 to 1905, he was employed as a forester by the North Carolina Geological Survey, but also worked on special projects with the recently-formed United States Forest Service. Ashe remained a professional forester all of his life, conducting his work on floristics and systematic botany in his spare time or as a minor sideline to his forestry labors. Realizing this makes a look at a list of Ashe's publications that much more amazing.

In 1905 Ashe joined the U.S. Forest Service full time and was employed there until his death in 1932. During this time he served as Secretary of the National Forest Reservation Commission (1918-1924), vice-president of the Society of American Foresters (1919), and chairman of the Forest Service Tree Name Committee (1930-1932). In 1906 he married Margaret Henry Wilcox, for whom he named Crataegus margaretta and Quercus margaretta. His botanical works centered around woody plants, especially the genus Crataegus, although he also published on such herbaceous genera as Asarum and Panicum. His keen eye for detail led him to create many new taxa, publishing 510 plant names during his career. Many of these have gone into synonomy.

Magnolia ashei Weatherby
Photo by Kenneth J. Wurdack


Below are a specimen collected by Ashe and the cover and some pages from one of his field notebooks. These materials are from the archives of the UNC Herbarium, and are used with permission. Additional materials can be found in the Southern Historical Collection at UNC's Wilson Library. The specimen and the notebook pages may be clicked upon to view larger images.

Quercus margaretta
"Chivalrously named in 1903 for Margaret Henry Wilcox,
who two years later became Mrs. Ashe."
—Gray's Manual of Botany, 8th ed., p. 544.


Ashe was an amazingly prolific writer on a wide variety of subjects. Topics of his publications include the terracing of farm lands, forest management, light requirements of trees, optimizing profit through selective harvesting of timber, land acquision policy for the federal government, and systematic papers on a number of woody genera, including Quercus, Rhus, Robinia, Pinus, Crataegus, and Carya.

Major Works by Ashe

Forest fires: Their destructive work, causes and prevention. North Carolina Geological Survey Bulletin no. 7. Raleigh, North Carolina: J. Daniels, 1895.

Timber trees and forests of North Carolina. (With Gifford Pinchot.) North Carolina Geological Survey Bulletin no. 6. Raleigh: Winston & Stewart, 1897.

Loblolly, or North Carolina pine. Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton, 1915.

Shade trees for North Carolina. North Carolina Geological and Economic Survey Bulletin no. 16. Raleigh: E.M. Uzell, 1908.

Major Biographical Sources

Coker, W.C., J.S. Holmes, and C.F. Korstian. 1932. William Willard Ashe. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 48(1): 40-47.

Dayton, W.A. 1936?. William Willard Ashe (1872-1932). [No publication information given.]

The latter reference includes a complete bibliography of Ashe's works organized by subject and may be found at the UNC North Carolina Collection.


This page was constructed by Ron Gilmour with the assistance of Mr. Bill Burk, Mrs. Mary Felton, Dr. Jim Massey, and Mr. Jim Murphy. Additional information and corrections are welcome. Please email Ron Gilmour at gilmr@csc.albany.edu.