Robert M. Downs

27 October 1935 – 12 November 2011

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU) has cataloged more than 2,200 specimens collected by Robert Marshall Downs. As we continue to catalog our collections more specimens collected by him will be found.

Specimens collected by Robert M. Downs have been distributed widely across North America.  Herbaria which curate specimens include BOON (Appalachian State University), AUA (Auburn University), BRIT (Botanical Research Institute of Texas), CMN (Canadian Museum of Nature), CM (Carnegie Museum of Natural History), GAS (Georgia Southern University), NEBC (New England Botanical Club in Harvard Herbaria), IBE (Institute for Botanical Exploration), MIN (University of Minnesota), UNCC (James F. Matthews Center for Biodiversity Studies), MMNS (Mississippi Museum of Natural Sciences), MOR (Morton Arboretum), MUR (Murray State University), NCSC (North Carolina State University), ODU (Old Dominion University), BALT (Towson University), UAM (University of Arkansas at Monticello), ILL (University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana), KANU (University of Kansas), LAF (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), MARY (University of Maryland), MISS (University of Mississippi), USAM (University of South Alabama), USF (University of South Florida), USMS (University of Southern Mississippi), TENN (University of Tennessee), VT (University of Vermont), VSC (Valdosta State University), WCUH (Western Carolina University) and WILLI (College of William & Mary).  The New York State Museum (NYS) curates bryophytes collected by Robert M. Downs.(1,2)


Robert Marshall Downs was born in Maryland to James R. Downs and Elizabeth (Holt) Downs on 27 October 1935.  The 1940 US Census lists James R. Downs’ profession as “Social Stationer, Own Business”, notes that Elizabeth had completed 2 years of college education, and lists their children as James Holt Downs (age 13) and Robert M. Downs (age 4).(4)

Most of Mr. Downs’ specimens at NCU date from 1966-1987. Many were collected along the Potomac River in Virginia and West Virginia and he frequently noted the geology of the collection site on the label. These specimens were collected during his graduate work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Typescript drafts of his thesis (M.A.) submitted to the Department of Botany in 1976, “The vascular flora of the Upper Potomac River Valley,” can be found in the Science Annex and the Herbarium at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Mr. Downs did not complete the thesis.)

From 1970 to 1973 Downs was the botanist for the North Carolina Museum of Science.  In 1973 Downs collected many specimens with his mother, listed as “Mrs. James R. Downs” on herbarium labels.  In that same year he collected many specimens with ornithologist Wendell P. Smith of North Wilkesboro, Wilkes County, North Carolina.  How he became acquainted with Smith is unknown.  “Downs and associates collected widely geographically and taxonomically in North Carolina.  The entire herbarium [of the North Carolina Museum of Science], comprising 4136 sheets collected over the years 1970-1973, was transferred to NCSC [North Carolina State University Herbarium] on the elimination of the botanist position at the museum.  A complete museum accession record resides at NCSC.”(3)  Some duplicates were transferred to the herbarium of Western Carolina University (WCUH).

Mr. Downs was the Assistant Curator of the Jesup Herbarium at Dartmouth College (HNH) for many years, then became its Curator in 1984 upon the death of Dr. James Poole. The Jesup Herbarium’s holdings from the Southeastern United States were transferred to NCU in 2000.

Mr. Downs died at age 76 in West Lebanon, New Hampshire.(4)

NCU would appreciate receiving a photograph of Robert M. Downs.


1.  SERNEC Data Portal. 2020. http// Accessed on May 08.
2. accessed on May 8, 2020.
3.  “History”  Herbarium, Department of Plant and Microbial Biology.  accessed on 12 May 2020.”
4.  Year: 1940; Census Place: Baltimore, Baltimore City, Maryland; Roll: m-t0627-01540; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 4-839. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.
5.  tributesNH; Publication Place: City, New Hampshire, USA; URL: U.S., Obituary Collection, 1930-Current [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2006.