Herbarium - Plant Explorers


Picture of OM Freeman Oliver Myles Freeman (1891 - 1969)
by Alan T. Whittemore (U. S. National Arboretum, also born in Redwood City, CA)

Oliver Myles Freeman was born July 16, 1891 in Redwood City, California. He received a B. A. degree at the University of Tennessee in 1916, taught high school in Chattanooga in 1916-17, studied at the University of Virginia in the summer of 1917, and began a second year of teaching high school in Asheville, SC in the fall of 1917. He left this job to join the U. S. Army in November 1917. He was honorably discharged in July 1919, after serving with the Medical Detatchment in France and attaining the rank of corporal. He then joined the US Bureau of Plant Industry in October of 1917, when F. V. Coville hired him as a clerk and herbarium assistant in the Economic Botany Herbarium. He took classes in zoology at George Washington University in 1920-21, but never took a graduate degree. Freeman's duties increased over the years. He worked on the taxonomy of Lamiaceae for a projected Flora of Arizona, but this was never published.

Freeman was promoted to Assistant Botanist in 1926. Later in this same year, congress passed legislation establishing the National Arboretum, and the USDA began acquiring land around the Mt. Hamilton site that had been recommended by F. V. Coville, still Freeman's supervisor. For the rest of his career, Freeman divided his time among a variety of projects. He continued to work in the herbarium, where he did plant identifications when Dr. S. F. Blake was absent doing fieldwork (at that time, the herbarium averaged nearly 20,000 plant identifications per year for other government bureaus and departments, agricultural professionals, and the general public). He assisted Coville with research on blueberry cultivation and hybridization, work that led to the establishment of a commercial blueberry industry in the United States, and carried out his own hybridization projects (see below). By the mid-1930s, he was spending most of his time on the development of the new National Arboretum, supervising the construction work (largely done by the Civilian Conservation Corps) and planting as well as collecting herbarium specimens to document the original flora of the site Freeman Natural Plant Checklist.

Freeman's assistant was Mrs. Grace G. Freeman, who had the title of "Under Scientific Helper." Mrs. Freeman was born on the 4th of April 1883, and they were married in Washington D.C. on the 16th of December 1920.

Freeman is best remembered for crossing work he carried out using native tree species. There is a group of Magnolia cultivars named after him -the so-called Freeman hybrids, derived from Magnolia grandiflora x virginiana crosses that Freeman made in 1930 and 1931 (Freeman 1937, Callaway 1994). Two of the progeny from Freeman's F1 were later released as cultivars by the U.S. National Arboretum, Magnolia 'Freeman', released by William Kosar in 1962, and Magnolia 'Maryland', released by Fred Meyer in 1971 (both described by Meyer 1971). Work on F2 hybrids was discontinued in the 1960s: Magnolia grandiflora is hexaploid (2n= 114) and M. virginiana is diploid (2n=38); the hybrids (2n=76) look a lot like M. grandiflora, and F2s have serious developmental problems. Freeman was also the first to synthesize the hybrid Acer saccharinum x rubrum, later called Acer x freemanii E. Murray, Kalmia 1(2): 18. 1969. The cross was first described in Freeman (1941b). The entry for Acer x freemanii in van Gelderen et al. (1994) says, "...after Oliver M. Freeman (b. 1891), plant breeder at the U.S. National Arboretum.... First hybridized in 1933 at the U.S. National Arboretum by O. M. Freeman..." van Gelderen et al. list five cultivars, but none of them is descended from Freeman's original hybrids.

Other publications by Freeman include a pamphlet on the trees and shrubs of Lafayette Park by Coville and Freeman (1932). This gives a map of the park showing the trees and shrubs, and a few pages of comments on the more interesting trees, with a few photos. Dan Nicholson of the Smithsonian Institute, notes that Freeman also published two parts of Contrib. Fl. Nevada (done with the support of Works Progress Administration): Freeman (1940, 1941a). Freeman wrote the first number in the National Arboretum Contributions series (Freeman 1953), summarizing his work on the original flora of the National Arboretum site.

Freeman retired on 31 October 1950, after 31 years of service with USDA. He lived in the Carolinas during his retirement, then moved to Florida around 1967, where he died in February, 1969.

Literature cited:

Callaway, D. J. 1994. The world of magnolias. Timber Press, Portland.

Coville, F. V. and O.M. Freeman. 1932. Trees and shrubs of Lafayette Park. pp. 1-7, folded col. plan; 28 x 12 cm. Published by The American Forestry Association, Washington, D.C.

Freeman, O. M. 1937. A new hybrid magnolia. National Horticultural Magazine 16(3): 161?162.

Freeman, O. M. 1940. Saururaceae. Contrib. Fl. Nevada no. 21: 1-2.

Freeman, O. M. 1941a. Menthaceae. Contrib. Fl. Nevada no. 20: 1-29.

Freeman, O. M. 1941b. A red maple, silver maple hybrid. Journal of Heredity 32: 11-14.

Freeman, O. M. 1953. Annotated list of the plants growing naturally at the National Arboretum. National Arboretum Contributions No. 1. pp. 1-48.

Meyer, F. G. 1971. Two new hybrid magnolia cultivars. American Magnolia Society Newsletter June 1971: 7-9.

van Gelderen, D. M., P. C. de Jong and H. J. Oterdoom. 1994. Maples of the world. Timber Press.

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