Frederick William Gray

(1878 – 9 March 1960)

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU) has cataloged 29 lichen specimens and approximately half a dozen fern specimens collected by Reverend Fred W. Gray.


Strausbaugh, P. D. (1960) Re. Fred W. Gray. Castanea 253(3): 131-132.

Throughout the years, clergymen — “Men of the cloth” — have contributed much to the sum total of botanical knowledge. In the 16th century, Otto Brunfelds, Jerome Bock, and William Turner, were eminent pioneers in plant taxonomy. In the 17th century, the puritan divine, John Ray, did such significant work that he has been considered “the greatest European botanist of the 17th century.” In the 18th century, Stephen Hales performed his brilliant, revealing experiments in plant physiology, and in the 19th century, Gregor Mendel, in his studies of inheritance, laid the foundations of modern genetics. All of these servants of the church are better known as botanists than they are as clergymen. There were many others employed as ministers who made plant study a hobby and became widely known through their accomplishments in the field of botany. Among these was the Rev. Fred W. Gray, so well and favorably known among his friends as “Parson” Gray.

Frederick William Gray (1878-1960) was born in Anson County, N.C., the son of James Milton and Mary Elizabeth Gray. He received the A. B. Degree from Catawba College in 1905, the B. D. degree from Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia, in 1908, and the honorary degree, D.D., from Davis and Elkins College in 1929. He was ordained a minister in the Presbyterian Church, U.S. in 1908. He served as pastor of various churches in West Virginia, Virginia, and St. Louis, Missouri. For several years he served as Superintendent of Home Missions in the Greenbrier Presbytery of West Virginia, and he was the Moderator of this Presbytery for two terms and of the Synod of West Virginia for one term. In 1932 he became the pastor of churches in Philippi and Belington, West Virginia, and served these congregations until his retirement. When he retired, he moved to Riverside, Maryland, where he resided during the remained of his days.

The record clearly reveals his success as a minister but he is much more widely known for his contributions to the botany of West Virginia, and the culture of Gladiolus. Rev. Gray grew and hybridized gladioluses. He introduced a number of new hybrids which subsequently became quite popular members of this aristocratic group of ornamentals. He also contributed articles to various publications devoted to the growing of gladiolus: Yearbook (Gladiolus-growing), The Illinois Glad Bulletin, “Gladiolus“, Calgary, Canada, and the New Zealand Yearbook. Although his contributions in this field are of much importance, botanists generally, particularly the taxonomists, are much more keenly interested in his collections of ferns, mosses, liverworts, and lichens.

Rev. Gray was a man of boundless energy, — an enthusiastic and vigorous collector of plants of all kinds, especially bryophytes, ferns and lichens. He was an unusually keen observer and few if any field botanists were able to so readily detect variations in form and appearance. Specimens he collected can be found in a number of herbariums widely scattered, but his principal collection is now in the herbarium at West Virginia University. In this collection there are just a few less than 24,000 specimens, including ferns, mosses, liverworts and lichens. For the student engaged in making an intensive and complete study of any one of these groups, an examination of this Gray collection would be imperative.

But Rev. Gray was more than a mere collector of plants; he was a keen observer and a careful, meticulous student. He had a large correspondence with botanists both in the United States and in foreign countries. He discovered a considerable number of new varieties and new forms, and contributed articles to American Archaeology, the Bryologist, the Fern Journal and Torreya.

Rev. Gray’s work as a minister was his chief concern. He considered his work with plants a hobby but the results derived from this hobby gave him a definite place among the productive botanists. His was a contagious spirit which inspired others to try “to go and do likewise.” Although he had been in failing health for several months, his death in a Washington, D.C., hospital was unexpected. On the 9th of March, 1960, he departed, leaving us with an imperishable and pleasant memory.


Information compiled by Carol Ann McCormick, January 2006. Special thanks to Gary Perlmutter and Lisa Giencke for bringing Dr. Gray’s collections of lichens and ferns contained in NCU’s collections to my attention. The Herbarium welcomes more information (particularly a photograph) on Rev. Gray. Please contact with any information.