Allan Mere Award for 2020:

Bill and the late Nancy Malcolm

Left: Bill and Nancy Malcolm. Photo: © Geoff Spearpoint. Right: Bill receiving the Allan Mere from Anthony Wright on behalf of him and Nancy. Photo: © Phil Garnock-Jones.

“Bill and his late wife Nancy have been exceptional in their achievement, over more than three decades, of making accessible to a wide readership the world of lichens, bryophytes and ferns, and in particular those found in New Zealand. Their unique contribution is through the use of illustrations in a range of media and through comprehensive yet accessible explanations of technology. Together, Bill and Nancy have co-authored numerous publications in book and electronic form, most of which have been published and distributed internationally.”

The NZBS Committee is pleased to announce that this year’s award of the Allan Mere is jointly to Bill and Nancy Malcolm (Nancy posthumously) of Nelson. They were nominated by David Grinsted and Shannel Courtney of the Nelson Botanical Society, supported by four regional Botanical Societies (Auckland, Canterbury, Otago and Wellington) and ten individuals, including three from overseas.

A selection below shows the wide support behind this nomination:

American born Nancy and Bill came to New Zealand with their three daughters in 1971. The whole family has since contributed to NZ botany: Nancy and Bill by their publications and their daughters with their botanical studies at Canterbury University. Nancy began the couple’s interest in macrophotography when she won a prize in natural history photography contest. By reversing a wide-angle lens...and adding an extension tubes, she captured extremely close-up images of plants. Bill and Nancy developed this interest, which led to the publication of NZ’s alpine plants inside out: how NZ’s plants survive in their harsh mountainous environment in 1988. Lavishly illustrated this book took the botanical world by storm because of the quality of the close-up and microscopic images. The text revealed Bill’s expertise as a plant physiologist.

The proposers nicely summarised their combined botanical contributions:

Bill and Nancy have made outstanding contributions to both the discovery and the communication of botanical knowledge in New Zealand and further afield over more than three decades. Their exceptional talents and dedication have made the world of New Zealand lichens, bryophytes and ferns available to researchers, enthusiasts and the public. Their contagious enthusiasm for science, empiricism and education has influenced many.
Together they have co-authored numerous publications in book and electronic form, most of which they published and distributed internationally through their own Micro-Optics Press. These joint publications have informed and enthused a wide general audience, augmenting and extending Bill’s academic research output. Written in accessible language and profusely illustrated with outstanding photography, clear diagrams and beautiful, scientifically accurate artwork, the reach of these publications is wide – from fellow botanists and botany students to natural history enthusiasts and anyone with an interest in plants. Often in collaboration with other experts on mosses and lichens, they have made a valuable contribution to the knowledge base of conservation initiatives…
Bill and Nancy developed their own innovative low-budget techniques for achieving high-resolution, close-up photographs to show micro-morphology long before digital optical technology was available. They produced startling images using artwork, cameras and microscopes, including differential interference contrast microscopy and thin-section microscopy to highlight micro-structures. They generously shared with readers their relatively simple techniques for photographing bryophytes with a flatbed scanner and creating clean images by removing background.
Bill’s copious academic research from 1962 to the present spans plant ecology and ecophysiology, issues in science and society, and the systematics and functional biology of lichens and mosses. He is the discoverer and co-author of four new lichen genera (Badimiella, Labyrintha, Podotara and Polycornum), more than 30 new lichen species and several new combinations. He has also edited and produced Australasian Lichenology for over 20 years, leading its development from a society newsletter to a respected international journal.
Bill was one of the co-founders of the Nelson Botanical Society in 1989, and Bill and Nancy contributed much to that society, Wellington Botanical Society, Forest and Bird, and the University of the Third Age over many years. They have also led and contributed expertise to numerous annual lichen workshops and moss workshops around New Zealand and in Australia over three decades. Through their efforts, and by hosting numerous national and international researchers and students, assisting with field work and transport, and providing essential local knowledge and expertise, they have added to the understanding and documentation of native flora, particularly in the biodiverse Nelson region. Their talents as botanical artists and photographers have supported many projects, from original art work for Flora of Australia, technical and scientific support for Sir David Attenborough’s TV series Private Life of Plants, and over 700 detailed comparative photographs for Bayly and Kellow’s An Illustrated Guide to New Zealand’s Hebes (2006).

And more contributions from others included:

Without a doubt, their greatest international fame spread through their publication Mosses and other bryophytes: an illustrated glossary first published in 2000...and an expanded 2nd edition followed in 2006. It is difficult to comprehend the effort of producing such a work with nearly 1400 detailed photographs to highlight specific morphological features, many of them obtained from NZ species. Here every bryological term one would ever find in a flora or identification key are clearly defined and illustrated...
This book earned them “ acclaim, being awarded the prestigious Hattori Prize by the International Association of Bryologists in 2007.”
Bill and Nancy have done more than anyone else in NZ, professional or otherwise, to make accessible to NZers our bryophyte and lichen floras by means of highly illustrated books on these subjects prepared to a standard unmatched anywhere else in the world.
The Allan Mere is awarded for “outstanding contributions to botany within NZ”. Bill and Nancy Malcolm are eminently suitable recipients. Not only has their contribution to botany been outstanding within NZ, but has put our bryology and lichenology firmly on the world map.

Anthony Wright presented Bill (and Nancy posthumously) the Allan Mere at an award ceremony in Nelson on 28th November 2020.

Ewen Cameron, Secretary, New Zealand Botanical Society

Citation reproduced from the New Zealand Botanical Society Newsletter, No. 141, Sept 2020.