The National Tropical Botanical Garden is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of botanist W. Arthur (Art) Whistler on April 3 as a result of complications from the coronavirus. A longtime collaborator and friend of NTBG since the early 1970s, Art served as the Garden’s first ethnobotanist, and he was also an affiliate botanist at the University of Hawaii. Over his storied career, Art spent years exploring the islands of the Pacific. Being a visionary, he was just as dedicated to bringing knowledge about the flora, useful plants, and their conservation to local communities and decision makers as much as to a scientific audience.
A prolific author, Art wrote many books and papers on Pacific island plants, including several published by NTBG including ‘Ethnobotany of the Cook Islands: the plants, their Maori names, and their uses’ (1990), ‘Polynesian Herbal Medicine’ (1992), ‘Botanical Survey of the Ringgold Islands, Fiji’ (2012), ‘Annotated List of Tahitian Plant Names’ (2015)’ and ‘Plants of the Canoe People: An Ethnobotanical Voyage through Polynesia’ (2009). His books ‘Rainforest Trees of Samoa’ (2004) and ‘The Samoan Rainforest’ (2002) are classic guides to the forests and vegetation of the Samoan Archipelago.
In recent years, NTBG worked closely with Art to prepare the manuscript and catalog thousands of herbarium specimens for the Flora of Samoa, which NTBG intends to publish in early 2021 as part of NTBG’s Pacific islands flora program. This flora, Art’s magnum opus, and the collections which he deposited in NTBG’s herbarium will contribute enormously to our collective understanding of tropical species which will, in the years ahead, serve to help protect the people, plants, and places Art loved. His loss is tremendous, but his legacy is greater.