Allan Mere Award for 2000:

James Bruce Irwin (1921–2012)

Left: Bruce Irwin sketching Thelymitra matthewsii at Te Paki. Photo supplied by Ian St George.
Right: Bruce Irwin, wielding the Allan Mere, alongside Brian Molloy (Lucy Cranwell Lecturer), at the Auckland Museum, 3 Oct 2000. Photo: © Ross Beever.

“Bruce Irwin is a talented botanical artist, and researcher on New Zealand orchids. His work demonstrates an exceptional skill in portraying the intricate three-dimensional structure of plant parts.”

The Allan Mere, presented annually by the New Zealand Botanical Society for outstanding contributions to botany in New Zealand, is this year awarded to James Bruce Irwin.

Bruce was nominated for the award by Ian St George and Eric Scanlen, supported by the New Zealand Native Orchid Group. His contribution, as a botanical artist and a researcher on native orchids, dates back to the 1930’s. Bruce had a long and fruitful collaboration with Lucy B. Moore (1, 2, 3), beginning with work for Volume II of the Flora of New Zealand and culminating in The Oxford Book of New Zealand Plants. His exceptional skills in observing and portraying the intricate 3-dimensional structure of floral parts are well displayed in this latter publication, and numerous others to which he has contributed. Examples include his section on The structure of orchids’ in The New Zealand Orchids: natural history and cultivation (4), and collaborative work with Dan Hatch (5, 6) Bruce Clarkson (7) and Brian Molloy (8). Nor have his observational skills been confined to the comfort of his work-room – field work has always been an integral part of his research (9). Dan Hatch describes him as having “an eye for discovery” and refers to his “genius with the pencil” (10).

Two species of Pterostylis have been named for Bruce Irwin. The name Pterostylis irsoniana commemorates both Bruce Irwin and Owen Gibson. The species was described in 1950 by Dan Hatch (11), who acknowledged “the labours and enthusiasm of Messrs J.B. Irwin and O.E. Gibson, who between them have done much to elucidate the orchid flora of Mount Egmont”. Pterostylis irwinii D.L. Jones, Molloy & M.A. Clem., a species formerly known by the tag-name Pterostylis ‘Erua’, was described in 1997.

The presentation of the award to Bruce was made in association with the Auckland Botanical Society’s Lucy Cranwell Lecture, at the Auckland Museum on 3rd October, 2000.


(1) Moore L.B. (1968) Taxonomic notes on New Zealand monocotyledons N.Z. Journal of Botany 6: 473–92.
(2) Moore L.B. and Edgar E. Flora of New Zealand, Vol II. Wellington, Government Printer, 1970.
(3) Moore L.B. and Irwin J.B. (1978) The Oxford Book of New Zealand Plants, Wellington, Oxford University Press.
(4) St George I. and McCrae D. The New Zealand Orchids: natural history and cultivation. N.Z. Native Orchid Group, Dunedin 1990.
(5) Hatch E.D. (1953) Further notes on Pterostylis R. Brown and Thelymitra J.R. and G. Forster. Trans. Roy. Soc. N.Z. 80: 323–327.
(6) St George I., Irwin B. and Hatch, D. Field Guide to the New Zealand Orchid. N.Z. Native Orchid Group, Wellington, 1996
(7) Clarkson B.D. and Irwin J.B. (1986) Vegetation of Egmont National Park New Zealand. National Parks Scientific Series No.5. Wellington, DSIR.
(8) Molloy, B.P.J. and Irwin, J.B. (1996) Two new species of Corybas (Orchidaceae) from New Zealand, and taxonomic notes on C. rivularis and C. orbiculatus. N.Z. Journal of Botany 34: 1–10.
(9) Irwin, B. (1994) Corybas rivularis – one species or several? Wellington Botanical Society Bulletin 46: 48–53.
(10) Hatch E.D. pers. comm. to J.E. Beever Sept. 2000.
(11) Hatch E.D. (1950) The epiphytic orchids of New Zealand and a new species of Pterostylis from Mount Egmont. Trans. Roy. Soc. N.Z. 78: 101–105.

Jessica Beever, c/- Landcare Research, PB 92170, Auckland

Citation reproduced from the New Zealand Botanical Society Newsletter, No. 61, Sept 2000.
Also see Auckland Botanical Society Journal, No. 56, No. 1, 2001, p. 1–2.