Stephen A. Spongberg

(15 October 1942 – 18 March 2021)

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU) curates at least 50 vascular plant specimens collected by Stephen A. Spongberg.  It may well be that we have many more.  Spongberg did his doctoral research in the Rocky Mountains in western North America, and this region has not been a focus of our cataloging activities.  We have only searched Erigeron for specimens he collected, as that was the focus of his doctoral thesis, “A systematic and evolutionary study of North American arctic and alpine monocephalous species of Erigeron (Compositae)” which he completed in the Botany Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1971.

The American members of the 1980 Sino-American Botanical Expedition stand in front of the Metasequoia glyptostroboides type tree in Hubei, China. The team members, from left to right, David Boufford, James Luteyn, Bruce Bartholomey, Stephen Spongberg, and Theodore Dudley. Courtesy of the Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.

“Born October 15, 1942 to Alan Edward Spongberg (1912-1981) and Barbara Elsie Sandehn Spongberg (1912-2008), Stephen Alan Spongberg died at home in Westwood, [Massachusetts] on March 18,2021 of complications related to oral cancer.  Steve grew up in Rockford, [Illinois], attended Rockford College, and went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where, in 1971, he earned a Ph.D. in botany.  Steve’s professional positions included, in part, Executive Director of The Polly Hill Arboretum and Curator of The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, both emeritus positions at the time of his death.  His primary research interests included Magnolia and Stewartia.  His field studies took him to the Rocky Mountains, Japan, Korea, and The People’s Republic of China.  He was the Arnold Arboretum’s participant in the 1980 Sino-American Botanical Expedition to western Hubei Province, PRC… Two plant species new to science have been named in Steve’s honor, Cotoneaster spongbergii and Sorbus spongbergii.  Steve enjoyed reading literature classics and was a dedicated armchair traveler.  He was a passionate collector of antiques and oriental rugs, and he had an impressive collection of botanical and natural history themed postage stamps.  He loved classical music and opera, particularly the works of J.S. Bach, G. F. Handel and R. Wagner.  He thrived on hikes and walks.  Any garden he created was thoroughly enjoyed by all.  He was an excellent chef, and his enthusiasm for cooking and his Swedish heritage expressed themselves each December as he spent weeks preparing an elaborate Christmas Eve Smörgåsbord for friends and family… He is survived by his wife, Harmony (Happy) Clement Spongberg of Westwood, his daughter, Harmony (Nia) Sandehan Spongberg and daughter-in-law Margaret (Mollie) Leslie McDermott of Ann Arbor [Michigan]… In lieu of flowers, gift can be made to The Polly Hill Arboretum or the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. ”


Cotoneaster spongbergii J. Fryer & B. Hylmo  (Rosaceae) Holotype at Arnold Arboretum (AA)
Sorbus spongbergii Rushforth (Rosaceae)  Holotype at Harvard University Herbaria (HUH)

PUBLICATIONS (incomplete)

Spongberg, Stephan A. and Allan R. Keith (2008)  Island Life: A Catalog of the Biodiversity on and around Martha’s Vineyard.  Woods Hole, Massachusetts:  Marine Biological Laboratory.
Bartholomew, B., Boufford, D. E., & Spongberg, S. A. (1998). Metasequoia glyptostroboides—Its Status in Central China in 1980. Arnoldia58/59(4/1), 47–52.
Santamour, F. S., & Spongberg, S. A. (1996). “Rose Lantern”: A New Cultivar of Koelreuteria paniculata, the Golden-Rain Tree. Arnoldia56(2), 32–37.
Spongberg, S. A. (1994). A Late Summer Ornamental: Poliothyrsis sinensis. Arnoldia54(3), 32–34.
Spongberg, S. A., & Del Tredici, P. (1993). Historic Plants in a New Setting: The Evolution of the Hunnewell Building Landscape. Arnoldia53(4), 20–25.
Spongberg, S. A. (1993). Notes on Transatlantic Migrants. Arnoldia53(2), 10–20.
Spongberg, S. A. (1993). Introducing Weigela subsessilisArnoldia53(4), 31–33.
Spongberg, S. A., & Del Tredici, P. (1992). The “Hope of Spring” Magnolia Finally Flowers in Boston. Arnoldia52(1), 18–23.
Spongberg, S. A. (1991). Notes on Persimmons, Kakis, Date Plums, and Chapotes. Arnoldia51(4), 47–54.
Spongberg, S. A. (1991). A Sino-American Sampler. Arnoldia51(1), 2–14.
Spongberg, Stephen A.  (1990)  A Reunion of Trees:  The Discovery of Exotic Plants and their Introduction into North American and European Landscapes.  Cambridge, Massachussets:  Harvard University Press.
Spongberg, S. A. (1990). Taxonomic Notes from the Arnold Arboretum. Arnoldia50(3), 29–32.
Spongberg, S. A. (1990). The First Japanese Plants for New England. Arnoldia50(3), 2–11.
Del Tiedici, P., & Spongberg, S. A. (1989). A New Magnolia Blooms in Boston. Arnoldia49(2), 25–27.
Spongberg, S. A. (1979). Notes on Persimmons, Kakis, Date Plums, and Chapotes. Arnoldia39(5), 290–309.
Spongberg, S. A. (1989). Establishing Traditions at the Arnold Arboretum. Arnoldia49(1), 11–20.
Spongberg, S. A. (1981). Magnolia salicifolia An Arboretum Introduction. Arnoldia41(2), 50–59.
Spongberg, S. A. (1979). NOTES FROM THE ARNOLD ARBORETUM: The Collections Policy of the Arnold Arboretum: Taxa of Infraspecific Rank, and Cultivars. Arnoldia39(6), 370–376.
Spongberg, S. A., & Weaver, R. E. (1978). NOTES FROM THE ARNOLD ARBORETUM: Collecting Expedition to Japan and Korea. Arnoldia38(1), 28–31.
Spongberg, S. A. (1978). Korean Adventure. Arnoldia38(4), 133–153.
Spongberg, S. A. (1976). Some Old and New Interspecific Magnolia Hybrids. Arnoldia36(4), 129–145.
Spongberg, S. A., & Shaw, E. A. (1975). In Reply to Mr. Welch, or the Status and Relationship of Cultivar and Botanical Categories of Infraspecific Rank. Taxon24(5/6), 629–632.
Spongberg, S. A., & Fordham, A. J. (1975). Stewartias – Small Trees and Shrubs for All Seasons. Arnoldia35(4), 165–180.
Spongberg, S. A. (1974). A Tentative Key to the Cultivated Magnolias. Arnoldia34(1), 1–11.
Spongberg, S. A. (1973). A new Alaskan species of Erigeron L. (Compositae). Rhodora75(801), 116–119.
Spongberg, Stephen A. (1971)  A systematic and evolutionary study of North American arctic and alpine monocephalous species of Erigeron (Compositae).  Ph.D. thesis, Department of Botany, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


1.  Obituary:  Stephen A. Spongberg.  Boston Globe, March 19-21, 2021.  accessed on 20 October 2022