Alan Graham, PhD.


Alan was a native of Houston, Texas, who moved north to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, after receiving his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Botany at the University of Texas, supported by a full athletic tennis scholarship. At the University of Michigan, he met and married his wife of over 60 years, Shirley.  Following completion of their PhDs, they spent a post-doctoral year at Harvard University, then moving to Kent State University, where he held a joint faculty appointment in Botany and Geology for nearly 40 years. Upon retirement from Kent State, he joined the Missouri Botanical Garden as a paleobotanical curator, continuing to do research and publish for a further nineteen years. He is survived by his wife, son Andrew Graham and daughter-in-law Julia, daughter Alison Graham, son Bruce Graham and granddaughter Kenzie Graham.

Alan leaves an exceptional record of success as a teacher and Professor of Botany and Geology at Kent State University, and as a scholar through his internationally recognized research on fossil plants and vegetational history. He published over 200 research papers and authored seven scientific books. In recent years, he combined his love of botany and a story well told into a series of mystery books entitled Green Mystique. A primer and the first novel, in which his detective uses forensic botany to solve crimes, were published before his death.

Alan also leaves a personal legacy to all he knew. He was a loving and generous teacher and father, a mentor to his many students, including over 350 whom he guided through 12 summers of “Biological Field Studies in Mexico and the American West”, a scholar, world traveler, and one who touched lives over many decades with his friendship and erudite humor.


Please leave comments for his family and friends below.

Awards and Distinctions

Jose Cuatrecasas Medal for Excellence in Tropical Botany

Smithsonian Institution, 2018

"A botanist and scholar of international stature who has contributed significantly to advancing the field of tropical botany; a focus on understanding the origins and history of neotropical floras that has culminated in impactful synthetic works"

Marsh Trust Award for Best Earth Sciences Book of the Year

Land Bridges, 2018

"Recognizing those who work to improve the world we live in"

Asa Gray Award

American Society of Plant Taxonomists, 2009

"For outstanding accomplishments on the Late Cretaceous and Cenozoic vegetation and flora of the New World"

Distinguished Merit and Fellow Award

Botanical Society of America, 2009

"For his lifetime of careful and perceptive study by which he has laid the foundations for our concepts about the origins and history of tropical vegetation in the Western Hemisphere"

Paleobotanical Section Award

Botanical Society of America, 2011

"For valuable contributions to paleobotany, service and outstanding scholarship"

Distinguished Scholar Award

Kent State University, 1997

"Dr. Graham was cited for the breadth and quality of his research in tropical forest paleoecology, his prolific record of publishing articles and his impressive history of NSF grant funding. In pursuing excellence in research, he never lost sight of researchers' fundamental responsibility to undergraduate and graduate teaching"

A Festschrift for Alan Graham in His 80th Year

Missouri Botanical Garden, 2014

"In dedication for his contributions to our understanding of the geologic history of New World Vegetation and ecosystems"

Outstanding Teacher Award

College of Arts and Sciences, Student Advisory Council

Kent State University, 1971




Kent State University

Academic Publications

Land Bridges: Ancient Environments, Plant Migrations and New World Connections. University of Chicago Press, 2017

Late Cretaceous and Cenozoic History of Latin American Vegetation and Terrestrial Paleoenvironments. Missouri Botanical Garden Press, 2010

A Natural History of the New World: The Ecology and Evolution of Plants in the Americas. University of Chicago Press, 2010

And over 200 other articles and publications...

Personal Publications

Academic Tapestries: Fashioning Teachers and Researchers Out of Events and Experiences

Missouri Botanical Garden Press, 2014

Plants and Crime: A Green Mystique Forensic Mystery Companion

Green Mystique Press, 2020

Gateway to Murder

Green Mystique Press, 2021

Season of Discontent

Green Mystique Press, coming soon

Mass Extinctions

Green Mystique Press, coming soon



Over the past 45 years, Professor Graham did multiple contributions to systematic botany and the Cenozoic forest history of Latin America. He did research in more than 15 countries, across different time periods, from the Late Cretaceous up to the Pliocene.  He produced three outstanding books that are an obligate reference to anybody studying the Neotropics, besides hundreds of papers in excellent journals.

He also produced the best pollen collection in the world, with more than 35,000 pollen slides of modern taxa, mostly from the neotropics, and thousands of pollen slides from his paleobotanical work. He graciously donated his entire palynological collection to us (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute), and we are about to start a massive project to digitize his entire collection assuring that his work will continue to be used by multiple generations of researchers across the world.

Professor Graham was very nice, easy to talk to, and always open to new ideas and ways to analyze data.  I always will be grateful to him for his support over my entire professional career.  He was always a beacon in my professional discipline (paleopalynology), which I have always tried to emulate, and it is going to be hard not having him around.  My team of palynologists and I will miss him very much. 
My deep condolences to his family.  

Carlos Jaramillo (Panama)

Alan was both a fine scientist and a fine human being, who showed himself to be an excellent role model in all aspects of life. His passing is a great loss for the scientific community as well as his family. My sympathy to all of his loved ones as they bid him farewell.

Wendy Applequist

Alan's support was instrumental in getting the lab I now run up and starting. I really enjoyed reading his autobiography, Academic Tapestries, as it made me reflect on my own life. I hope to carry on his legacy of leaving the world a better place for having been in it. Adam Smith

I only recently discovered his work in his recent Land Bridges text. I am sorry to hear of his passing. My condolences to his family.

Ingrid Jordon-Thaden

I wrote a book review for Alan's book "Land Bridge.." published in Cladistics and got to know him better. I am really sorry about his passing! My visitors and I loved Alan so much. We enjoyed his humor, his knowledge, and his handsome look. He looked so strong! He will be remembered by us all.

Libing Zhang

I was so sorry to learn of Alan's passing. His intelligence, curiosity, warmth, and sense of humor were all extraordinary, and it was a great pleasure to work with him on the editing and publication of his novels, among other non-scholarly books. Covid prevented us from meeting in person as we had originally planned. But I feel privileged to have known him on even a long-distance basis, and honored to have helped contribute in a small way to the remarkable legacy he has left behind.
Suzanne Fox