Henrietta “Henny” Laing Chambers

(20 May 1934 – )

The  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU) has cataloged about 380 vascular plant specimens collected by Henrietta “Henny” Laing Chambers. As we continue to catalog our collections it is likely that we will find more  specimens collected by her.  She is listed as co-collector with Harry E. Ahles on specimens collected in Sampson County, North Carolina in the spring of 1957.  As part of her graduate work she annotated many specimens of Pycnanthemum collected by others.

Henrietta Laing grew up in New Rochelle, Westchester County, New York, the daughter of David A. and Henrietta Brewster Laing.  She was a biology major at Maryville College (Tennessee) and graduated in 1955.  She earned a M.A. from the Botany Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1957.  Her thesis was “A spring and fall flora of Harnett County, North Carolina” and her advisor was Dr. Al Radford.

In 1958 she married Kenton Lee Chambers and went from usually signing herbarium labels as “Henrietta Laing” to “H. L. Chambers”.  She used “Henrietta L. Chambers” on most of her professional publications.

She earned her Ph.D. in 1961 at Yale University (Connecticut).  The title of her doctoral thesis was “A cytotaxonomic study of the genus Pycnanthemum (Labiatae).”

Dr. Chambers was a research assistant in Plant Pathology at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon from 1961-1967 and a faculty member at Linn-Benton Community College (Linn County, Oregon) from 1972-1988. She was the curator of the Mentha collection at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon from 1988-1998.1


“In the fall of 1957, I became acquainted with Ken [Kenton Lee Chambers] when I enrolled as a graduate student in the Botany Department at Yale. He was one of the faculty coordinators of the teaching assistants in the General Biology course. I had grown up in Westchester County, New York, but it was as an undergraduate at Maryville College (Tennessee) and a graduate student at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill that I became interested in botany. I had just finished my Master’s degree at UNC, and for my thesis I had completed a flora of Harnett County, North Carolina…
On our first date, we attended a football game at the Yale Bowl on a cold and beautiful fall afternoon. We also liked to go for drives in the countryside, looking for places to hike and to see the native flora. It was on field trips to the North Haven sand plains, West Rock, the Yale Preserve, Yale Forest and Lighthouse Point, along with the football games and Botany Department gatherings, that we realized how much we enjoyed each other’s company
Our friendship blossomed into a romance, and in June, 1958, we were married in New Rochelle, New York, my hometown. We spent part of our honeymoon at a small resort in Rindge, New Hampshire, hiked up Mount Monadnock and also drove the toll road up Mount Washington. In the fall of 1995, we retraced our journey…  
Right after our honeymoon, we began collecting Pycnanthemum (Lamiaceae: mountainmint) for my thesis research. This was
a genus I had become familiar with in North Carolina. I planned to use a cytological approach, counting chromosomes and analyzing artificial and natural hybrids. I chose to work with Ken as my major professor… 
Our daughter, Elaine, was born in New Haven in May, three months before we moved to Corvallis. Needless to say, a cross-
country automobile trip with an infant and pulling a U-Haul trailer had both good and bad moments. The next-to-last day of the trip was a memorable one. Driving our 1955 two-door Chevrolet, we crossed almost the entire width of Oregon, from Ontario to Albany. When traveling with a baby it is hard to get an early start, and we left Ontario after 9:00 a.m. It is a 157-mile “leg” to Burns through the sagebrush-juniper desert, a new experience for me, although Ken was familiar with the deserts of Nevada and California. It was time for lunch in Burns and then 133 miles to Bend, time for a snack and rest stop in mid-afternoon. It is 121 miles from Bend to Albany. I was the navigator, but I was unfamiliar with mountains, so it looked like any other 121 miles of highway. We crossed the Santiam Pass
(4,817 feet) and Tombstone Pass (4,236 feet) and started down the west slope of the Cascade Mountains. We passed a small cafe at Upper Soda, but decided it was too early for dinner, and it was just a “little” farther to Sweet Home. Well, when an infant gets ready for food and activity, and none is in sight, it can be a bit harrying. Ken didn’t tell me until later that the brakes were becoming less effective during the descent. I recall it was almost dark when we arrived in Sweet Home, and the restaurant sign that attracted our attention was in a bowling alley near the west end of town. The noisy meal was one we chose to forget quickly… 
We liked Corvallis immediately. We rented a spacious house for our first year. In June of 1961, we bought a house about ten blocks from the campus, and in September, our son Dave was born. The house was well-cared for, but the garden was overgrown, and the lawn had been neglected. So Ken got busy renovating the lawn and restoring the garden. Our 1964 photos that show a really nice perennial garden with early primroses, daffodils, and narcissus complemented by a flowering apple, crabapple, and plums..  
In 1974, the Chambers family embarked on a project that has given us much pride and pleasure for the last 25 years. We purchased a log cabin kit and built a vacation cabin in the Camp Sherman area, not far from the headwaters of the Metolius River. From June through August, we drove over the mountains on Friday mornings, set up camp at the closest campground to the Camp Sherman Store and then went to work assembling our giant “Lincoln Log” house. Ken was a demanding taskmaster, and we learned quickly that if he wanted a tool or piece of lumber, we jumped to get it and put it in his hands. We had a few friends and neighbors from Corvallis who helped when the roof beams needed to be lifted and put in place. Ken completed the roof decking and cedar shakes by himself because summer vacation had ended, and the children [Elaine Patricia Chambers  and David Macy Chambers ] had to return to school. In late 1997 we had a deck built to provide better outdoor living there and to commemorate our 40th wedding anniversary. Our children, then in their late 30s, were there with their children, family, and friends for the celebration.”1
1.  Chambers, Henrietta L.  2001.  Ken Chambers, Oregon Botanist.  Kalmiopsis 8:  2-9.
Chambers, Kenton L. and Henrietta L. Chambers.  2008.  Infrageneric classification and nomenclatural notes for Pycnanthemum (Lamiaceae).  Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas 2(1): 193-199.
Chambers, Henrietta L. 2007.  Review:  Ecology for Gardeners.  Natural Areas Journal 27(1): 1-2-104.
Tucker, Arthur O. and Henrietta L. Chambers.  2002.  Mentha canadensis L. (Lamiaceae):  a relict amphidiploid from the Lower Tertiary.  Taxon 51(4): 703-718.
Chambers, Henrietta L.  2001.  Ken Chambers, Oregon Botanist.  Kalmiopsis 8:  2-9.
Chambers, H. L. & Hummer, K. E. 1994.  Chromosome counts in the Mentha collection at the USDA–ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository. – Taxon 43: 423-432.
Chambers, Henrietta L.  1993.  Chromosome survey and analysis of artificial hybrids in Pycnanthemum.  Castanea 58(3):  197-208.
Chambers, Henrietta L., Barbara M. Reed, Joseph D. Postman and Kim Hummer.  Abstract:  Progress in the development of a Mentha germplasm collection.  HortScience 26(6).
Ross, Robert A. and Henrietta L. Chambers.  1988.  Wildflowers of the Western Cascades.  Timber Press, Portland.
Chambers, Henrietta L. and Kenton L. Chambers.  1971.  Artificial and natural hybrids in Pycnanthemum (Labiatae).  Brittonia 23:  71-88.
Corden, Malcolm E. and Henrietta L. Chambers.  1966.  Vascular dysfunction in Fusarium Wilt of tomato.  Botany 53(3): 284-287.
Chambers, Henrietta L. 1961.  Chromosome numbers and breeding systems in Pycnanthemum (L:abiatae).  Brittonia 13(1): 116-128.
Many thanks to Niki Wallace, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Alumni Records, for providing information for this biographical sketch.