Arthur Tucker, PhD, professor emeritus at Delaware State University (DSU), died on August 5, 2019, at age 74, after a brief, sudden illness. Tucker was a prolific author in the realm of botanical taxonomy and nomenclature, professor of botany and biology, and the co-founder and co-director of the Claude E. Phillips Herbarium at DSU. His study interests included the genus Mentha (Lamiaceae), essential oil production and use, and the mysterious publication known as the Voynich Manuscript.
Tucker was born in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, on June 22, 1945. After earning his bachelor’s degree in biology with an emphasis on botany from Kutztown University, he completed his master’s and doctorate at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1975. He began his teaching career as a graduate student at Rutgers, then joined the faculty of DSU as a professor in 1976 and stayed there until his retirement in 2012. At DSU, he taught undergraduate and graduate courses in botany, biology, horticulture, greenhouse management, and plant physiology. Tucker also served as the greenhouse caretaker at DSU for his entire tenure.
Throughout his career, Tucker strived to make plant knowledge accessible to his students and the general public. He advised graduate students, exhibited at conferences, and held “mini-courses” on herbs for people outside of the university. In addition, he authored hundreds of consumer-oriented articles for special interest publications such as the Herb Society of America’s annual The Herbarist, local news organizations such as Delaware State News, and international publications such as Lavender Australia.
Herbalist and author Susan Belsinger worked closely with Tucker as a co-author of two books, The Culinary Herbal: Growing and Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs (Timber Press, 2016) and Grow Your Own Herbs: The 40 Best Culinary Varieties for Home Gardens (Timber Press, 2019). “I never met anyone [else] who could speak botanical nomenclature at nearly warp speed, off the top of his head, and who was so astute at botanical identification,” she wrote (email, August 12, 2019). “He was an intellectual and an accomplished academic, [and he] was kind, humble, and generous with his knowledge. He had an inimitable sense of humor, boundless enthusiasm for all things herbal, and curiosity for everything from plants to history and lore.”
Tucker’s published work includes dozens of peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and conference proceedings, and seven books, including The Encyclopedia of Herbs with Thomas DeBaggio (Timber Press, 2009) and the American Herbal Products Association’s (AHPA’s) Herbs of Commerce, 2nd edition, with Michael McGuffin, John Kartesz, PhD, and Albert Leung, PhD (AHPA, 2000). His eighth title, Flora of the Voynich Codex: An Exploration of Aztec Plants, which Tucker co-authored with Jules Janick, PhD, will be published in October 2019 (Springer Publishing). In 2013, he co-authored an extensive article about the Voynich Manuscript in HerbalGram issue 100 with Rexford Talbert.1
Many organizations in the herb community sought Tucker’s expertise, and he was an active member of the Herb Society of America (HSA). The organization honored him with several awards, and he served as a chair on various HSA committees from 1994 to 1999. Tucker contributed chapters to the International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year books from 2006 to 2018. He also was affiliated with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries, and the Botanical Society of Washington; consulted for many publications, including the American Botanical Council’s (ABC’s) The Complete German Commission E Monographs (ABC, 1998); served on the editorial board of the Journal of Essential Oil Research from 1989 to 2013; and was a longtime and active member of the ABC Advisory Board.
Botanist, author, and photographer Steven Foster recalled his introduction to Tucker and how it influenced his own herbal studies. “I met Art Tucker in 1980, at age 22, when I took a Greyhound bus from Portland, Maine, to Dover, Delaware, to see his research facility at DSU,” he wrote (email, August 12, 2019). “At the time, he was one of the few scientists exploring field production for essential oil-producing plants. He was always generous with time, information, and wit. Bridging the disciplines of plant taxonomy and essential oil chemistry, Art Tucker’s law was: ‘Unvouchered plant research is about as memorable as Whistler’s father.’”
In his personal life, Tucker was a gifted artist in a variety of media, and his botanical illustrations have been published alongside some of his articles in The Herbarist and Economic Botany. He enjoyed gardening, and his personal garden was featured on the cover of the April 2003 issue of Southern Living. He also expressed himself through cooking, stencil work, painting, and sculpture, and owned a large library of books.
Arthur Tucker is survived by Sharon, his wife of 48 years; his children Melissa (Eric), Angela (Jonathan), and Arthur (Ana Paula); four grandchildren; niece; and three great-nieces and nephews. A celebration of his life was held on August 13, 2019, in Marydel, Maryland, and the Claude E. Phillips Herbarium is planning a memorial later in 2019.
- Tucker AO, Talbert RH. A Preliminary Analysis of the Botany, Zoology, and Mineralogy of the Voynich Manuscript. HerbalGram. 2013;100:70-85. Available at: http://herbalgram.org/resources/herbalgram/issues/100/table-of-contents/hg100-feat-voynich/. Accessed August 12, 2019.