Peggy-Ann Wetmore Kessler Duke

(18 March 1931 – 1 April 2021)

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU) curates over 465 vascular plant specimens collected by Peggy-Ann Kessler Duke.  She signed her labels as “P.A. Kessler”, “Kessler” or “Peggy-Ann Kessler”, with the latter being most common for her thesis project, “A floristic study of the Triassic sediments, Deep River Coal Field, North Carolina”, completed in 1956.  In 1954 Ms. Kessler collected many plants with Charles Clinton Lindley, Jr.  It is probable that they were in a botany class together.  NCU also curates specimens Ms. Kessler Duke collected as an undergraduate student at Maryville College in Blount County, Tennessee.  As we continue to catalog our collections it is likely we will find more specimens collected by Ms. Kessler Duke.

Other herbaria curating specimens collected by Ms. Kessler Duke include California Botanic Garden (RSA), Delta State University (DSC), Indiana University (IND), Murray State University (MUR), Old Dominion University (ODU), The Pennsylvania State University (PAC), University of Colorado, Boulder (COLO), Florida Museum of Natural History (FLAS), University of Kansas (KANU), University of Louisiana at Lafayette (LAF), University of Michigan (MICH), University of Mississippi (MISS), University of Southern Mississippi (USMS), University of the South (UOS), Valdosta State University (VSC), and Warren Wilson College (WWC).  Most of these specimens are duplicates of material curated by NCU.1

Peggy-Ann Kessler Duke in 1964. NCU curates specimens she collected for her 1956 Masters thesis, “A floristic study of the Triassic sediments, Deep River Coal Field, North Carolina”. Image courtesy of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation.

Ms. Kessler Duke is best known as a botanical illustrator.  She contributed illustrations to the 1968  Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas, authored by Radford, Ahles, and Bell and published by the University of North Carolina Press.

“In 1963, Jim [James A. Duke, her spouse] took an assignment with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to study tropical tree seedlings in Puerto Rico. One publication that resulted, “Keys for the identification of seedlings of some prominent woody species in eight forest types in Puerto Rico” (Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 1965), included 182 of Peggy’s technical illustrations and reportedly helped with the identification of seedlings after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017… Over the years, Peggy contributed artwork for Jim’s authored works, including: “Preliminary Revision of the Genus Drymaria” (Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 1961), “On Tropical Tree Seedlings” (Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 1969), Medicinal Plants of the Bible (Trado-Medic Books, 1983), Culinary Herbs: A Potpourri (Trado-Medic Books, 1985), Living Liqueurs (Quarterman Publications, 1987), Handbook of Edible Weeds (CRC Press, 1992), Amazonian Ethnobotanical Dictionary (CRC Press, 1994), The Green Pharmacy (Rodale, 1997), Herbs of the Bible: 2000 Years of Plant Medicine (Interweave Press, 1999), Handbook of Medicinal Spices (CRC Press, 2002), Herb-A-Day (Eco Images, 2007), Duke’s Handbook of Medicinal Plants of the Bible (CRC Press, 2007), and Herbistatins: Herbal Alternatives to Synthetic Statins (Eco Images, 2013).  Peggy was a freelance illustrator for botanists at the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Smithsonian Institution’s Department of Botany, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, UNC, and the USDA. She was a part-time staff illustrator at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. In 1989, she held a one-person exhibition at the US National Arboretum in Washington, DC. As a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, she exhibited her work in many group exhibitions around Washington, DC. She was also a chapter president of the Sumi-e Society of America, Inc., and a member of the Potomac Valley Watercolorists and the Laurel Art Guild… Peggy donated more than 500 of her original ink drawings, which represent a sample of her 50-plus-year career, to the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. These include her illustrations from Jim’s Medicinal Plants of the BibleCulinary Herbs: A PotpourriLiving LiqueursHandbook of Edible WeedsThe Green Pharmacy, and Handbook of Medicinal Spices, as well as Hollis G. Bedell’s Vascular Plant Taxonomy: Laboratory Manual (Department of Botany, University of Maryland, College Park, 1985) and Steven Hill’s 100 Poisonous Plants of Maryland (University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service, 1985–1986).”

Peggy-Ann Kessler Duke obituary:

“Peggy was born in Allentown PA to Roland and Hazel Kessler, the second of three daughters (Barbra being the oldest and Gail the youngest). She graduated with from Maryville College in 1953 with a B.A in biology, and earned her Masters in Botany from UNC Chapel Hill in 1955. While at UNC, she met her husband of 57 years, renowned ethnobotanist Dr. James Duke. She is survived by her two children John and Celia, and five grandchildren, Sara, Kara, Cena, John and Peter.
Peggy’s hundreds of botanical illustrations were featured in dozens of scientific and popular publications. She freelanced for botanists at UNC, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Panama), the USDA, and the Department of Botany at the Smithsonian. She also worked as an illustrator in the Department of Botany, University of Maryland College Park. She had many art shows including a solo exhibition at the National Arboretum in Washington D.C in 1989. Almost 600 of her original black and while illustrations are in the permanent collection of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation at Carnegie Mellon University. Peggy was a past president of the National Chapter of Sumi-e Society of America, Inc., and a member of the Potomac Valley Water Colorists and the Laurel Art Guild.
To her friends and family, she was strong, independent, relentlessly curious, precise, in charge, and utterly delightful to be around (especially at happy hour!). She was an accomplished world traveler. At home, she enjoyed a glass of white wine with her “cousin” Suzie Truss and other close friends, often in the upper gazebo at their Green Farmacy Garden. Peggy was strong to the end and will be missed greatly.
The family will host a celebration of life at Green Farmacy Garden on June 5th, 12:00 at noon.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to UNITED PLANT SAVERS- who are curating Duke memorabilia to celebrate the extensive legacy of Jim and Peggy’s contributions to botanical medicine.” 3



1.  SERNEC Data Portal. 2022. http// Accessed on July 26.
2.  Yearsley, Connor.  2021.  Remembering Peggy-Ann Wetmore Kessler Duke.  HerbalEGram, issue 9.  accessed on 26 July 2022
3.  Obituary, Peggy-Ann Kessler Duke.  accessed on 26 July 2022.