International Association for Lichenology

Josef Poelt

Josef Poelt

The Acharius Medal is given “as an award in recognition of long and distinguished service to lichenology”. Let us consider the three words: “long”, “distinguished” and “service”.

There are several aspects of Josef Poelt’s SERVICE to lichenology. (1) First of course his advancing of our knowledge in lichenology – his participation in scientific research – led to a large number of publications, a most well known activity; however there are other, less obvious, but often very time-consuming types of service: (2) his service as an editor or coeditor of botanical and lichenological journals; (3) his service as an authority for a very large number of lichenologists, who have sent their problematic collections to him, for his study and opinions; (4) his service in reviewing manuscripts sent to him (a) by many authors, asking for critical comments, (b) by the editing boards of journals, (c) by various science supporting organizations, such as “deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft”, in connection with reviewing research grants, (d) by universities, asking for his expert opinion for various reasons; and (5) – last but not least – his service for the continuity of lichenological research – teaching and guiding students, both at universities and outside of the university.

Josef’s “LONG service to lichenology”. Research. It was in 1950 when Josef published a paper entitled “Contributions to the lichen flora of Bavaria”. This was the first in a series of now more than 200 lichenological publications. Publications on floristics, taxonomy, morphology, evolution and biology of lichens. His Bestimmungsschlüssel europäischer Flechten is probably his most widely used publication. This collection of keys has long been a key reference work for students and professionals. Of course, since it was published only in German, it has been officially available only to speakers of that language; but I understand that some non-German speakers may be fortunate enough to have an unofficial translation from “Xerox Press”.

There are many outstanding monographical papers – for example those on the Lecanoraceae (18 papers), the Physciaceae (11 papers), the Teloschistaceae (15 papers) and various other taxa. Josef is not the type of scientist who devotes all of his years to the monographic study of a single taxonomic group. He has recognized too many weak points in too many areas of our knowledge and he has thus continually pushed our knowledge of lichens to new frontiers.

Teaching, since achieving his “Habilitation” in 1959 (effectively his tenure), Josef has been a university lecturer. Although now retired, he continues to teach at the University of Graz. During these past 33 years, he shared his extensive knowledge of lichenology in guiding numerous students through their studies and advised many of them in their doctoral degrees. Some of his students in turn also became university lecturers, and so his “scientific family” is growing ever larger. In the meantime Josef has become a multiple scholastic “grandfather” and even a “greatgrandfather”. Most of you know Josef’s responsibility, helpfulness, cordiality and hospitality well enough, so that I do not have to stress here, that he always behaved to his large family like a father, a father in the very best sense!

Josef’s “DISTINGUISHED service to lichenology”. Instead of giving a critical commentary I will cite here just a few of the honors which Josef has received, based upon his outstanding service to science: – In 1965 he received the chair in Systematic Botany and Plant Geography at the Free University of Berlin; – later, in 1972, he received the chair in Systematic Botany at the University of Graz; in 1982 he was elected as a member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences; – he has been elected as an Honorary Member of a number of distinguished botanical societies, including the Regensburg Botanical Society, the worlds oldest botanical society; – the Linnean Society in London elected him as a Foreign Member, which is an honor reserved for very distinguished scientists; – the Botanical Society of America has elected him as a Corresponding Member, which is also an honorary membership; – and most recently, as you know, Josef was the President of the 4th International Mycological Congress in Regensburg.

Most remarkable – and obvious to all who ever shared one of Josef’s excursions – is his extremely broad background in plant systematics in general and in floristics. Besides his 200 lichenological papers, there are an additional 100 papers on bryophytes, non-lichenized fungi and vascular plants.

It is not appropriate to deal here with his extra-lichenological activities, but it is obvious the Josef is more than a lichenologist, he is an accomplished botanist with an immense knowledge of lichens.

Biological aspects, the correlations between structure and function, and the evolutionary trends, have always guided Josef’s research in lichen systematics. The parasitic lichens are a typical example of his interest. Josef has devoted some twenty papers to this subject. Before he started, “parasitic lichens” were regarded as a very small and very rare group of lichens, and remained almost completely devoid of general attention. Josef has not only discovered numerous new taxa, but has analyzed and clarified the very diverse and fascinating biological behavior of quite a number of these exciting organisms.

To sum up. – Josef has substantially shaped the lichenological landscape of Europe during the last decades. His contribution to our knowledge of European lichens can hardly be overestimated. We all are happy to see the Acharius Medal presented to him.

Hannes Hertel