Exploring the science of plants, from the field to the lab

A Salute to Jackie Kallunki

Posted in Personalities in Science on February 19, 2015 by Barbara Thiers

Barbara M. Thiers, Ph.D., is the Patricia K. Holmgren Director of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium and Vice President for Science Administration at The New York Botanical Garden.

Jacquelyn A. Kallunki, Ph.D.
Jacquelyn A. Kallunki, Ph.D.

Jackie Kallunki, Ph.D., first came to The New York Botanical Garden in late 1975 and worked for a while identifying neotropical plant specimens and gathering data for an ethnobotanical project. At that time, she was still working on her Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Wisconsin. After she completed her dissertation, she came back to the Botanical Garden as a full-time employee. And now, I’m sad to say, she has retired.

Over the years, as Jackie rose through the ranks to become Assistant Director of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, she worked closely with Patricia K. Holmgren, Ph.D., who was then Director of the Herbarium. This was a very active period in the Herbarium’s history in terms of acquisitions, loans, visitors, and special projects such as the incorporation of orphaned herbaria and expansion of the collection.

The crowning achievement of this period was the planning of the new Steere Herbarium and then moving the multi-million-specimen collection into it. Jackie was the one who figured out how much space each group of plants should receive and where it should go, and she supervised the highly complicated process of moving the specimens to the Herbarium. It took 58 Garden staff, interns, and volunteers a total of about 3,300 hours to accomplish this move. The fact that the process went smoothly and according to schedule is a testament to Jackie’s planning abilities, determination and powers of intimidation!

In addition to her prodigious skills as a Herbarium administrator, Jackie is a world authority on the Rutaceae, or citrus family, in the new world tropics. She was the recipient of a Fulbright fellowship to study this family at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. She has authored numerous publications on this group. She is also world-renowned at general identification of tropical flowering plants. Our database lists 6,418 specimens identified by Jackie; since we still have only databased about 30 percent of the collection, the actual number of specimens she determined is possibly much, much higher.

Jackie is a formidable and decisive editor—the arch enemy of flabby prose! She has contributed many years of service, mostly after hours, to editing New York Botanical Garden publications. She was Editor-in-Chief of Brittonia and served for some years as head of the NYBG Press Committee.

An ever-loyal friend and colleague, Jackie has devoted herself to creating online access to the prodigious volume of first-class scientific research generated by our former colleague, Rupert Barneby. With the help of a National Science Foundation grant, Jackie oversaw the digitization of Rupert’s specimens and of his publications on the bean or legume family, supplemented by correspondence and images. Thanks to Jackie, Rupert’s legacy is now available in a digital format for the benefit of current and future scientists around the world

The New York Botanical Garden owes Jackie a tremendous debt of gratitude for her years of dedicated, painstaking service. I can’t imagine the Herbarium without her. I am in complete denial about her retirement. Fortunately, she’ll be staying on as an Emeritus Curator, so I look forward to many more years of her company.


Noorie said:

Thanks for sharing about Jacquelyn A. Kallunki’s enormous work. All the very best to Dr. Jacquelyn as she continues with the herbarium as Emeritus Curator.

Noorunnisa Begum
FRLH Herbarium

Sandra Haugen Willis said:

What a fabulous career you have had. I am your 2nd cousin from Mn. Mildred Saukko Haugen was my mother. You have had an exciting job traveling and identifying many specimens of plants. Your Mom sent me an e-mail about your career. Your Mom is mighty proud of you. Once we move to the U.P. I may see you when you visit your Mom. My husband is from Iron River and we have a retirement home in Crystal Falls Twp. Now I will be able to visit your Mom a few times during the year! Congratulations again. Sandra Willis

Deb Kallunki-Gotham said:

Things I did not know about my sister: that she is “a world authority on the Rutaceae…” and that she is “world-renowned at general identification of tropical flowering plants…” and that your “database lists 6,418 specimens identified by Jackie.” Wow!

Sandy Kallunki said:

And this does not tell the half of it. She is also a truly amazing — loved and loving, patient and persevering — daughter and sister.