Mary Wharton

IntroAmerican botanist
Was Scientist 
From United States of America 
Type Science 
Birth 12 October 1912 
, Jessamine County, Kentucky, U.S.A.
Death 1 January 1991 

(aged 78 years)
Star sign Libra

Mary Eugenia Wharton (October 12, 1912 – November 28, 1991) was an American botanist, author, and environmental activist.


Wharton was born in Jessamine County, Kentucky on October 12, 1912, the younger of two daughters of Joseph Felix and Mayme (née Davis) Wharton. In 1916, the family moved to Lexington. Wharton graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1935 with a bachelor’s degree in botany and geology. She then engaged in graduate work, receiving a master’s degree (1936) and a doctorate from the University of Michigan, the latter in 1946. In 1942, she collected a dewberry from Montgomery County, Kentucky which proved to be a new species; it was named Rubus whartoniae in her honor.

After her doctoral work, she took a teaching position at Georgetown College where she spent 30 years. She collected plant species for the University of Kentucky Herbarium. Besides being an avid plant collector, Wharton was also a writer. Wharton collaborated with Roger Barbour on two field guides, Wildflowers and Ferns of Kentucky (1971) and Shrubs of Kentucky (1973), and a natural history of the Inner Blueglass Region, Bluegrass Land and Life. In addition, Wharton edited diaries and letters of Martha McDowell Buford Jones, a Confederate wife, published in 1986 as Horse World of the Bluegrass and Peach Leather and Rebel Grey.

Beginning in the late 1950s, Wharton bought parcels of land on the Kentucky River and founded the Floracliff Nature Sanctuary in 1989; it was dedicated as a Kentucky State Nature Preserve on March 15, 1996. Wharton was involved in environmental activism throughout her later years until her death in 1991, in particular issues such as the proposed damming of the Red River Gorge and the expansion of the Paris Pike.

Wharton died on November 28, 1991, in Lexington, Kentucky.

Partial bibliography

  • Wharton, M.E. (1945). Floristics and vegetation of the Devonian-Mississippian black shale region of Kentucky (Ph.D. dissertation). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. 
  • Wharton, M.E.; Barbour, R.W. (1971). A guide to the wildflowers and ferns of Kentucky. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky. 
  • ————; (1973). Trees & shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky. 
  • Bryant, W.S.; Wharton, M.E.; Martin, W.H.; Varner, J.B. (1980). “The Blue Ash-Oak Savanna: Woodland, a Remnant of Presettlement Vegetation in the Inner Bluegrass of Kentucky”. Castanea. 45 (3): 149–165. JSTOR 4033225. 
  • Buford Jones, M.M.; Wharton, M.E.; Williams, E.F. (1986). Peach leather and Rebel gray : bluegrass life and the war, 1860-1865 : farm and social life, famous horses, tragedies of war : diary and letters of a Confederate wife. Lexington: Helicon Co. 
  • Wharton, M.E.; Barbour, R.W. (1991). Bluegrass land & life: Land character, plants, & animals of the Inner Bluegrass Region of Kentucky: Past, present, & future. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky.