The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Pammel, Louis Hermann
(April 19, 1862–March 23, 1931)

—botanist, educator, conservationist, and state parks advocate—was the second of five children born to Louis Carl Pammel and Sophie (Freise) Pammel, Prussian immigrants who settled in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. As the oldest son, Louis was expected to follow in his father's footsteps, so after completing the fifth grade, he spent several years apprenticed to his father, a prosperous farmer and community leader. Louis's natural inquisitiveness, however, propelled him to read widely from the family library and to experiment on his own with bees and honey. Determined to go to college, at age 17 he published a "Letter of Inquiry about Bergamot" (a honey plant) in the American Bee Journal. Persuaded that he had the makings of a scholar, his parents permitted him to leave farming.

    Pammel studied botany under William Trelease at the University of Wisconsin, graduating in 1885. He then went to Chicago to study medicine but quickly abandoned that career path when he received an offer to work at Harvard University as an assistant to botanist William G. Farlow. Pammel might have taken up graduate study at Harvard except that, a year later, Trelease moved to St. Louis to become the first director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and asked Pammel to become his assistant. Pammel accepted Trelease's offer and moved to St. Louis, where he began graduate studies at Washington University. In 1887 he married Augusta Marie Emmel, whom he had met during his brief sojourn in Chicago. During the next decade, six children were born to the couple, which undoubtedly contributed to his delay in earning a doctoral degree (1899).

    Trelease and Farlow assisted Pammel in securing a post as professor of botany at Iowa Agricultural College, where he began teaching in 1889. Pammel immediately established the pattern of "volcanic, almost furious activity" that biographer Marjorie Pohl observes was the hallmark of his character. He continued to work on his doctorate for the next decade, during which time his family also continued to grow. As a teacher and researcher, he had expansive interests in economic botany, plant pathology, bacteriology, mycology, horticulture, forestry, bees and pollination, seeds and germination, flowers, grasses, climate, ecology, and conservation. Much of his research was carried out under the auspices of the Botanical Seed Laboratory, which he established at Iowa State College in 1906. He often spent summers conducting research for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enabled him to build the collections of the Iowa State Herbarium. His name lives on in the taxonomy of several plants, including Melica subulata var. pammelii (Scribn.) C. L. Hitch. (Pammel's oniongrass), Hordeum pammelii Scribn. & Ball (a grass), Aecidium pammelii Trelease (a rust), and Senecio pammelii Green-man (a composite). A prolific scholar, Pammel authored or coauthored six scholarly books (a seventh was published posthumously); wrote nearly 700 articles, research notes, reports, educational circulars, and addresses; edited the Major John F. Lacey Memorial Volume for the Iowa Park and Forestry Association; and penned two reminiscences.

    Pammel seems never to have erected artificial boundaries between the professional, public, and personal aspects of his life, and the thrust of his scholarship was always directed toward practical applications and public education. Through the Iowa State Extension Service, he made his services, and those of his students, available to municipalities and state agencies. He analyzed public water supplies and sewage disposal systems. For the state legislature, he helped write bills addressing agricultural and horticultural needs. He oversaw the preparation of exhibits and educational pamphlets for the annual Iowa State Fair and established a plant laboratory on the fairgrounds. He directed the preparation of exhibits on crop diseases as part of Iowa's displays at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. He initiated annual plant disease surveys for the state, public service work that brought national and international recognition–in 1919 he was called upon to serve as one of four distinguished scientists on the American Plant Pest Committee, a joint U.S.Canada initiative. He also served as president of the Iowa Academy of Science (1892-1893, 1923) and the Iowa Park and Forestry Association (1904-1906). Additionally, he served on the State Forestry Commission (1908-1929), the State Geological Board (1918-1929), the Plant Life Commission (1917), and the State Board of Conservation (1918-1927). In great demand as a public speaker, Pammel often spoke before chambers of commerce, men's groups, women's clubs, and campus organizations; at high school and college graduation ceremonies; and at churches.

    Pammel made his most enduring contributions to the state of Iowa as chairman of the Board of Conservation, precursor of the State Conservation Commission and today's Department of Natural Resources. Under his direction, Iowa became a leader in the development of state parks. The National Conference on State Parks (NCSP) held its 1921 organizational meeting in Des Moines, and when the NCSP made its first national assessment of state parks in 1925, Iowa ranked fourth in terms of the number of parks established. The park acquisition list he developed, published in 1919 as Iowa Parks: Conservation of Iowa Historic, Scenic and Scientific Areas, set resource conservation above recreation and determined the course of park development throughout his lifetime. When the Devil's Backbone area of Madison County was renamed and dedicated as Pammel State Park in 1930, the Board of Conservation cited his work "for the cause of conservation" as "the most valuable single influence in this movement" in the state of Iowa. Deteriorating health prompted Pammel to relinquish his chairmanship in 1927, although he continued to be a forceful advocate. When he died in 1931, Iowa had 40 designated state parks and preserves, and the Board of Conservation had jurisdiction over 7,500 acres of land, 41,000 acres of lake waters, 800 miles of rivers, and 4,200 acres of drained lake beds.
Sources Pammel's papers (ca. 24 linear feet) and collected works are located in the Iowa State University Library, Ames. Marjorie Con-ley Pohl's lengthy biographical article is essential reading; see "Louis H. Pammel: Pioneer Botanist, A Biography," Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science 92 (1985), 1–50. Pammel's authoritative role in creating the Iowa state park system is detailed in Rebecca Conard, Places of Quiet Beauty: Parks, Preserves, and Environmentalism (1997).
Contributor: Rebecca Conard