Harold N. Moldenke Papers (PP)

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The New York Botanical Garden
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Collectors: Moldenke, Harold N. (Harold Norman), 1909- .
Title: Harold N. Moldenke Papers (PP)
Dates: 1927-1990
Dates: bulk, 1934-1956
Quantity: 1.25 linear feet; 3 boxes
Call Phrase: Moldenke (PP)

Biography of Harold N. Moldenke

Harold Norman Moldenke (1909-1996) was a taxonomist whose expertise was in the fields of Verbenaceae, Avicenniaceae, Stilbaceae, Dicrastylidaceae, Symphoremaceae, Nyctanthaceae and Eriocaulaceae of the world. He published botanical handbooks on those families. He wrote the volume on Eriocaulaceae, Avicenniaceae and Verbenaceae for Flora of Texas (Vol. 3, pt. 1).

Moldenke began his career at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) as a Research Fellow and part-time assistant in 1929. He was Assistant Curator (1932-1937) and Associate Curator (1937-1948) under Henry A. Gleason. In 1949 he was named Curator and Administrator of the Herbarium. He was a member of Graduate Faculty, Dept. of Botany, Columbia University from 1936-1942 and from 1946-1952. He also taught a course at NYBG in Systematic Botany for gardeners.

He was born in Watchung, N.J., son of Charles E. and Sophia (Heins) Moldenke. He received his bachelor's degree from Susquehanna University in 1929 and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Taxonomic Botany from Colombia University in 1934.

The Moldenkes of Wachtung, N.J. were an extraordinary family. His grandfather, Edouard Friedrich Moldehnke was sent to Wisconsin as a Lutheran Missionary from East Prussia. Eventually he became Pastor of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in New York City. His father, Charles Edward Moldenke (1860-1935), was a renowned Egyptologist. In 1935 Harold republished Charles' "The New York Obelisk", a translation of the hieroglyphics on Cleopatra's Needle, the obelisk behind the Metropolitan Museum, NYC. The family home in Wachtung, built in 1901 was named Villa Elsinore. Across the road was the home of Charles Moldenke's brother Richard George Gottlub Moldenke (1864-1930) who was a renowned metallurgist and mining engineer, specializing in iron smelting. Richard Moldenke's home was called Castle Elsinore and popularly, Moldenke's Castle. It was torn down in 1969.

During the war years Moldenke served in the Civilian Public Service with the Soil Conservation Service and as a hospital attendant in Warren, Pa. He wrote a series of papers on "Plants Strategic to the War Effort" and on curare producing plants of Amazonia with B.A. Krukoff.

His collections ranged through every state except Alaska, Europe, Central and South America, the Middle East, Africa, Malaysia and Japan. They numbered 31, 279 in 1977. His bibliography that year numbered 2584 titles including journal articles, lectures, pamphlets and monographs.

A library reference question directed to Moldenke, regarding whether the "crown of thorns" plant sold by florists was actually the same plant mentioned in the bible, led to twelve years of research and the publication in 1941 of the ground-breaking "Plants of the Bible", still in print in 1999.

In 1941 Moldenke supervised illustrations for this work, made by artists employed at NYBG through the Federal Arts Project. Another WPA project he provided was the enumeration of his collection numbers at the time.

His collaborator on "Plants of the Bible" was his wife, Alma Lance Ericson Moldenke. Mrs. Moldenke attended graduate courses in Botany and Education at Columbia University from 1931-1938. She taught Biology at Hunter College High School and Evander Childs High School in New York City. In 1980 Mrs. Moldenke assumed the Co-Editorship of the journal Phytologia which had been initiated by Harold Moldenke and Henry A. Gleason in 1933. The journal was transferred from the Moldenkes to B.L. Turner and Michael Warnock in 1989.

Moldenke resigned from NYBG in 1952. He returned to Wachtung to undertake a career in botanical and ecological education as Director of the Trailside Museum, later the Trailside Nature and Science Center in Mountainside, Union County, N.J. Concurrent with these duties, he was professor of Botany at Newark State College (now Keane State College), Union, N.J. He also taught enrichment courses at Westfield and Livingston Adult Schools, both in N.J. During his stewardship, the Trailside Center developed into a year-round facility and visitation grew from 60,000 in 1952 to 290,000 in 1966. He resigned from Trailside in 1967 to accept a professorship at Paterson State College (now William Paterson College), Wayne, N.J.

In 1955 Moldenke advised Beth Israel Memorial Park, a cemetery in Woodbridge, N.J., on the construction of the "Bible Gardens of Israel" which contained plants and shrubs and rocks selected by him and imported from Israel.

Moldenke created and marketed a series of 30 slide lectures which were delivered to civic and youth groups, either by himself or by sending slides and audio-tapes to the group.

Moldenke maintained a close relationship with NYBG. He donated educational materials from Trailside to the NYBG Library. In 1969, he was named an Honorary Life Member of the Torrey Botanical Club . He was made Honorary Curator of NYBG in 1970. In the late 1980's both Harold and Alma Moldenke were stricken with heart attacks. They moved to Corvallis, Oregon to be close to their son Andrew R. Moldenke, now an entomologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz (1999).

In 1984 Moldenke sold the major portion of his herbarium, papers and books to the University of Texas. His herbarium is housed in the Moldenke Room at the Plant Resources Center, UT, Austin. An inventory of his unprocessed papers is located at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center on that campus.

Harold N. Moldenke died at Corvallis, Oregon on January 7, 1996.

Scope and Content

The Harold N. Moldenke Papers, 1927-1990, documents the career of Moldenke after his association with the New York Botanical Garden, primarily his work with the Union County (NJ) Parks Commission. It includes mimeographed lectures and guides, brochures, correspondence, specimens and photographs. The collection is divided into six series.


The collection is organized into six series:
Series 1: NYBG. 1932-1940. Arranged by subject.
Series 2: Personal Files. [ca. 1930]-1990. Arranged chronologically.
Series 3: Correspondence. 1945-1974. Arranged alphabetically.
Series 4: Publications. 1927-1979. Arranged chronologically.
Series 5: Trailside Museum. 1951-1960. Arranged chronologically.
Series 6: Ephemera. n.d.


Access restrictions

This collection is open for research with permission from Mertz Library staff.


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be submitted in writing to the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden.

Indexing Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
Moldenke, Alma L. (Alma Lance) 1908-
Moldenke, Harold N. (Norman), 1909- -- Archives.
Botany -- Study and teaching (Elementary) -- Activity programs.
New York Botanical Garden Archives.
Plants -- Cuba.
Plants -- New Jersey -- Sussex County.
Plants -- New Jersey -- Watchung Region.
Trailside Museum and Nature Center (Mountainside, N.J.)
Watchung Reservation (N.J.)

Related Material

New York Botanical Garden

RG4--Henry A. Gleason Records, 1921-1983

RG4--Otto Degener Records

ART--Plants of the Bible Collection

VF--Plants of the Bible illustrations are filed with specific plants

University of Texas

Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, Moldenke Collection

Plant Resources Center, Moldenke Room

Separated Material

From Series 4, Publications: Two sets of 41 slides of Plants of the Bible are removed for housing in the cold storage vault.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Harold N. Moldenke Papers (PP), Archives, The New York Botanical Garden.

Acquisition Information

This collection was transferred to the New York Botanical Garden Archives.

Processing Information

Originally Processed by Laura Zelasnic, Project Archivist, October 1999, with grant funding from The National Endowment for the Humanities, (NEH-PA 23141-98). Converted to EAD in August 2006 by Kathleene Konkle under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH-PA 50678-04).

Container List


Series 1. NYBG.

Scope and Content:

This series contains mimeographed lectures, quizzes and final examinations for the Systematic Botany Course taught by Moldenke at Colombia. Other material includes a Horticulture classification key by W.H. Camp, lectures by Henry A. Gleason and notes by Elizabeth C. Hall. Also here are memorabilia from the 7th and 9th International Botanical Congresses.

Folder Title Date
1.1 Classification, Drafts n.d.
1.2 Classification, Key by W. H. Camp 1935
1.3 Description and Book List 1937
1.4 Lectures, 1 & 3 ca. 1934
1.5 Lectures, 1-7 1937
1.6 Lectures, 8-15; 17-19; 21; 23-24 1937-1938
1.7 Lectures, 3-9; 11-14, Duplicates 1937-1938
1.8 Lectures, H. A. Gleason n.d.
1.9 Outline ca. 1934
1.10 Outline, draft n.d.
1.11 Monocotyledons and Dicotyledons 1932- n.d.
1.12 Quizzes, 1-15; 16-23 & Final exam 1937-1938
1.13 Notes by Elizabeth C. Hall 1940

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Series 2. Personal Files.

Scope and Content:

This series contains Christmas letters received by NYBG library staff, Alma Ericson's literature search on Saponaria officinalis with one piece of correspondence, brochures and scripts for Moldenke's public lectures and a brochure for Set 46 of his specimen centuries.

Folder Title Date
1.14 Alma Ericson Moldenke [ca. 1930]-1990
1.15 Specimen Sets 1951
1.16 Public Lectures 1951-1955
1.17 Christmas Letters 1967-1990

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Series 3. Correspondence.

Scope and Content:

This series contains miscellaneous pieces regarding his research and teaching work. A photograph of Egbert Walker and his family is found in that folder.

Folder Title Date
1.18 Bell, Ross Taylor 1965
1.19 Dodge, Bernard Oglivie 1940
1.20 Gertsch, Willis 1962
1.21 Hall, Elizabeth Cornelia 1951
1.22 Jaffri, S.M.H. 1974
1.23 Rosa de Martinez, Vivian 1969
1.24 Shinn, Alvin Fleetwood 1970
1.25 Walker, Egbert 1945

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Series 4. Publications.

Scope and Content:

This series contains manuscripts. A photocopy of the typescript bibliographic volumes of "The Published Writings of Harold N. Moldenke is here although the years 1966, 1967, 1974 and all years between 1980 and 1996 are absent. Most of the material was self-published and sent to the NYBG by the author. The "List of Collection Nos. 1-11, 277 was a WPA project. Moldenke's manuscript inserts for N.L. Britton's unpublished "Catalogue of the Flora of Cuba" is found here. His work on the Avicenniaceae and Verbenaceae is represented in this series. A small research file for "Plants of The Bible" is also found here along with two sets of slides of Plants of the Bible which have been removed to cold storage.

Folder Title Date
2.1 Bibliography 1927-1965; 1968-1973; 1975-1979
2.2 Observed Flora of Watchung, Supplements 7 & 10 1933-1939
2.3 List of Wild and Cultivated Plants …Observed at Branchville & Sparta, N.J. 1935-1952
2.4 Cultivated Plants 1938
2.5 List of Collection Numbers 1-11,277 1939
2.6 Avicenniaceae and Verbenaceae 1939-1940
2.7 Torrey Botanical Club Membership List 1940
2.8 Orchids in Review 1950
2.9 Poisonous Plants of the World ca. 1950
2.10 Plants of the Bible 1951-1952
2.11 Catalogue of the Flora of Cuba, p. 447-543 1949
2.12 Catalogue of the Flora of Cuba, p.1243-1293 1949
2.13 Resume of the Verbenaceae, Avicenniaceae, Stilbaceae, Symphoremaceae and Eriocaulaceae Supplements 1,2, 13, 14 1959-[1963]

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Series 5. Trailside Museum.

Scope and Content:

This series contains mimeographed publications produced by Moldenke in his capacities as Director of the Trailside Museum and as professor of Botany at Newark State and Patterson State Colleges in New Jersey. A statistical report for the year 1955-1956 is also included.

Folder Title Date
2.14 N.J. State Teachers' College, Nature Study Course n.d.
2.15 Notes on Plants 1952-1958
2.16 Notes on Mammals 1952-1958
2.17 Notes on Geology ca. 1955
3.1 Nature Study Notes, Amphibians ca. 1952
3.2 Nature Study Notes,Arachnids 1955; 1958
3.3 Nature Study Notes, Birds 1952-1953; 1955
3.4 Nature Study Notes, Butterflies 1953; 1955
3.5 Nature Study Notes, Fish 1959
3.6 Keys for Identification of Common Trees …of Union County 1960
3.7 Publications Available 1951-1955; 1960
3.8 Bibliographies 1951-1955
3.9 Children's Program 1951-1956
3.10 Programs 1954-1958
3.11 Trailside Museum Exhibits 1952
3.12 Statistical Reports 1955-1956
3.13 Bear Mountain Trailside Museum n.d.

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Series 6. Ephemera.

Scope and Content:

Contains a nature poem by Blythe Sherwoood.

Folder Title Date
3.14 Sherwood, Blythe, "November Park" n.d.

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