Taxonomy in the popular media

Thomas G. Lammers lammers at FMPPR.FMNH.ORG
Tue Jan 14 09:55:16 CST 1997

At 08:32 AM 01-14-97 EST, John Nelson wrote:

>   1. There was this movie back in the 70's called "A New Leaf" in
>which Walter Matthau was trying to bump off his wife, who was
>a paleobotanist, for goodness sake. In one scene of the movie
>she actually discovered a new fossil plant.

Of course!  How could I have forgotten?  Except the wife was a "regular"
(non-paleo) botanist who was independently wealthy (there's reality for
you).  She was played as a sweet clumsy nerd (argghh!! Stereotypes!) by
Elaine May (who, if memory serves me, also directed.  She taught college
classes and wrote "monographs and revisions and such".  It wasn't a fossil
plant, it was a living tree fern, a Cyathea, that she discovered in the
Caribbean on her honeymoon with Matthau.  Most amazingly, she indicated that
she had sent a specimen to Dr. Warren Wagner at the University of Michigan
(!), who had confirmed it was an undescribed species. How the screenwriter
knew that Herb Wagner is dean of American ferns is beyond me!  She named the
species in Matthau's honor (I can't recall his character's name, but the
epithet had a proper masculine genitive singular ending [let's not start
THAT thread again!]).  He is touched by this gesture, which plays a role in
whether he actually goes through with bumping her off.  Later, when the same
species turns up on their field trip to "the north woods" (Canada?), even
Matthau puzzles at the biogeographic paradox.

It really is a fun movie, ca. 1970.  I highly recommend it to all botanists

Thomas G. Lammers
Department of Botany                     Classification, Nomenclature,
Field Museum of Natural History          Phylogeny and Biogeography
Roosevelt Road at Lake Shore Drive       of the Campanulaceae
Chicago, Illinois 60605-2496 USA

e-mail:     lammers at
voice mail: 312-922-9410 ext. 317
fax:        312-427-2530

"This whole genus [Lobelia] would richly reward any botanist for an
analytical investigation."  -- John Lindley (1826).

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