Trelease, William (1857-1945) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Trelease, William (1857-1945)

Historical Note:

William Trelease (1857-1945) was professor of botany and head of the Department of Botany (1913-26); Herbarium curator (1912-16); and professor emeritus (1926-45) at the University of Illinois (UI). He was a pioneering botanist, entomologist, and educator best known for his contributions to plant taxonomy.

Trelease was born on February 22, 1857, in Mount Vernon, New York. He earned a bachelor's degree from Cornell (1880) and undertook graduate work at Harvard University where he also worked as an instructor (1880-81). His doctoral dissertation at Harvard was "probably ... the first in this country in the field of bacteriology" (Kunkel 307). Over the course of his career, Trelease would also study entomology and became known as a preeminent plant taxonomist. He held positions as professor and head of the Department of Botany at the University of Wisconsin (1881-83); professor of botany and head of the Henry Shaw School of Botany at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri (1885-1913); and director of the Missouri Botanical Garden (1889-1912). He arrived at UI as professor of botany and head of the Department of Botany in 1913. Trelease was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and held the presidencies of the Botanical Society of America (1894, 1918), Cambridge Entomological Society (1889), Academie International de Geographie Botanique (1896), Botanical Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1900), the American Society of Naturalists (1903), and the Illinois Academy of Sciences (1916), among others. In 1917, the UI acquired approximately 60-acres of rare, virgin prairie forest outside Urbana, Illinois, and named the tract Trelease Woods in his honor. A remnant of the historic Big Grove forest destroyed by European settlers in the nineteenth century, today, it continues to serve as an important research area for the university.

Trelease married Julia M. Johnson, and they had four sons and a daughter. He died in Urbana, Illinois, on January 1, 1945.


"History," Department of Plant Biology (UIUC), accessed April 29, 2020,

Kunkel, Louis Otto. William Trelease (1857â??1945): A Biographical Memoir (Washington, D.C., National Academy of Sciences, 1961). Accessed April 29, 2020,

"Trelease Woods and Buffer," Illinois Natural History Survey, accessed May 7, 2020,

"Trelease Woods," Illinois LAS, accessed May 7, 2020,

"William Trelease," Wikipedia, accessed January 21, 2021,

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