was born in Nuremburg, Germany Dec. 1901, the son of a nurseryman. He
attended junior college in liberal arts; graduate training at the botanic
gardens in Schoenbrunn and Belvedere in Vienna, followed by college
study courses in horticulture, botany, languages and photography at
Vienna, Austria; Hannover, Germany, Los Angeles, California; and Farleigh
Dickinson University, New Jersey.
his studies he worked with many horticultural establishments in Europe
and the United States.
In 1931 he became associated with the Julius Roehrs Company and managed
and developed through the years one of the largest and most comprehensive
collections of tropical and subtropical ornamental plants grown under
glass. For more than fifty years, he traveled to all the tropical and
subtropical regions of the world to study the local floral and collections;
and research at botanical institutions and herbaria; to explore for
new plants and record their floristic backgrounds with his camera and
Dr. Graf explains:
lifetime, I have compressed three careers that of a commercial plants
man, a professional photographer, and author, as well as a world-wide
plant explorer specializing in tropical flora. During and following
my studies were many years of association with botanical and commercial
horticultural establishments in Europe and in the United States. Previous
to coming to New Jersey, I was associated with Armacost and Royston,
noted orchid growers in Los Angeles, California.
the Julius Roehrs Company found that a key tool in promoting sales was
a pictorial catalog of the many exotic plants sold by the nursery. The
decision was made to publish a three to four page loose leaf brochure
showing photographs of the plants one could purchase from the greenhouse.
As time passed and the nursery prospered, customers would indicate how
valuable they found those advertising pages which they carefully filed
for future reference. Taking the cue, Dr. Graf published the first bound
version of the exotic house plants in 1953. It was 60 pages long. In
time the original 60 pages grew so that in 1958 the first edition of
exotica, a pictorial cyclopedia of tropical plants was published. This
work included 642 pages with 4000 black and white photos. The book received
instant acclaim and garnished numerous awards from the horticultural
an estimated 120 plants of commercial or horticultural importance and
another 150 or more, plants of interest primarily to collections. He
brought back many specimen of botanical interest for his herbarium.
Many of the plants are today propagated, grown and sold in greenhouses
in the United States, European countries, Japan and elsewhere where
commercial horticulture is part of the general economy of the country.
he spent eight months in out of the way, extremely difficult and primitive
areas of the South Pacific, Australia, New Guinea, South West Asia,
especially Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, India and the Sikkimese
Himalayas; also three months in Africa. The result of these travels
allowed him to compile a 2nd edition of Exotica with 12,000 illustrated
photographs. In 1982 it was expanded to a 2 volume set of books with
16, 3000 photos. This set of books went out of print in 1992.
For Dr. Graf, the searching, photographing and identification of plants
to present to horticulturists became a career. It was a labor of love,
he recalled. He continued to work on the volume of Tropica, exploring
and documenting the tropical and subtropical plants of the world. He
completed the book in this life-long series, Hortica in 1992. Hortica
begins where Tropica left off, as it provides pictorial documentation
of the plants of temperate climates. Hortica is the most ambitious work
of his career, with 8100 color photos in 1218 pages it represents about
ten years of research and production.
Amongst the honors received by the author are: the award of the Large
Gold Medal of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, the Certificate
of Merit of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Distinguished
Service Award of the Horticultural Society, a Citation Award of the
American Horticultural Society, and the Tercentary Medallion of the
State of New Jersey, presented in 1964 at the New York Coliseum. In
1967 he was invested with the Sarah Chapman Francis medal of the Garden
Club of American for outstanding literary achievement during the national
convention in Pittsburgh 1972, Alfred Graf was elected to horticulture’s
Hall of Fame, the highest distinction of the Society of American Florists,
for his contributions to the advancement of floriculture in America.
He is also a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica, in cognizance of
his research and published reference works on exotic plants, Farleigh
Dickinson University of New Jersey conferred on him the honorary degree
of Doctor of Science. In Portland, Oregon 1979, he was awarded the treasured
medal of his mentor, Dr. Libery Hyde Bailey of Cornell University, New
York, the highest honor of the American Horticulture Society.