Alfred Graf, 100, Botanist and
Author of Plant Books

NY Times 1/18/02
by Wolfgang Saxon

What Plant is This Anyway?
NY Times 8/22/1993
by Linda Yang

Pacific Coast Nurseryman
Book Review

By Harold Young

Around the World in Pursuit of
Tropical Plants

NY Times 02/09/1986

Dr. Graf passed away Dec. 14, 2001 at the age of 100. He leaves us with his life’s work for future generations to enjoy.

We have had many requests for our out of print set of books Exotica. While this set of books went out of print in 1992, we do have some older editions for sale. Some of these books were used by Dr. Graf in his research, so they are not in mint condition.

Dr. Graf 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.

After 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 notebook.
Dr. Graf explains:

In my 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.

In 1951 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 establishment.

He introduced 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.

In 1960 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.