David Dunn

David Dunn poses in front of a blooming agave.

This photograph of Doc Dunn was taken in 1987 inside Tucker Greenhouse. He is posing next to an agave that bloomed for the first time in 63 years. At the time, the agave was the only specimen of its kind in Missouri.

David Baxter Dunn, known to all his students and friends as “Doc,” participated in the design of Tucker Greenhouse. Many of the original plants in Tucker Greenhouse originated from his collections. The following biography of Doc Dunn appeared in the winter 1992 issue of the Biological Sciences Alumni News upon his appointment as professor emeritus.

[Dunn] began his career as a teaching assistant at UCLA in 1940, where he had finished his bachelor’s degree that same year. An MA followed in 1942, and UCLA awarded him a doctoral degree in 1948.

During the years 1948-50, Dr. Dunn was the assistant in charge of botanical research for the UCLA Atomic Energy Project following the United States’ detonation of atomic bombs on test sites in New Mexico. He became one of the leading experts in the U.S. on the effects of radioactive fallout on plant success and community structure.

During his tenure as assistant professor of biology at New Mexico State College in Las Cruces and at Occidental College in Los Angeles, plus a visiting lectureship at the University of Minnesota, he began teaching the wide variety of courses that plant taxonomy alumnae of MU well remember. The year 1967 saw the arrival of Doc and his family in Columbia, where he joined the Botany Department as associate professor in plant taxonomy and Curator of the Herbarium*. Doc became a professor at MU in 1969.

Dunn estimate[d] that he taught sixteen different biological sciences courses over the course of five decades. For Doc’s graduate students, summer field collecting trips to the west, southwest, and Mexico with him and his wife, Betty, were legendary for the numbers of specimens collected as well as the number of beverages consumed in the hot, dry climates of the deserts.

Dunn published more than 60 papers in the field of plant taxonomy and plant ecology, and trained 14 PhD and 17 Master’s degree students. As Curator of the Herbarium, he and his students added more than 137,000 plant specimens to the collection. His expertise in plant identification, particularly in the genus Lupinus, brought in specimens for determination and gifts from herbaria in Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela as well as from herbaria all over North America and Europe.

*The Herbarium was later named the Dunn-Palmer Herbarium.