Butler, Edwin John

Sir Edwin John Butler FRS (1874 – 1943)

Mycologist and Plant Pathologist

Edwin Butler was born in Kilkee, Co. Clare, where his father was Resident Magistrate.   He graduated in medicine from Queen’s College Cork (now University College Cork) in 1898, but never practiced.   While a student, at a time when botany and microbiology were disciplines associated with medical schools, he developed a keen interest in plant-parasitic fungi, cytology (the study of cells) and the microflora of the College ponds.

After graduation, Edwin availed of an 1851 Exhibition travelling scholarship to study mycology (fungi) in Paris , Freiburg , Antibes and Kew . In 1901 he was appointed Cryptogamic Botanist to the Government of India. He trained mycologists and technicians in India , set up a herbarium and culture collection, inspired workers and advanced knowledge and research. In 1905 he was appointed Imperial Mycologist at the new Agricultural Research Station in Pusa, and in 1920 was appointed Agricultural Adviser to the Government of India. He is known in India as ‘The Father of Indian Plant Pathology and Mycology’.

Edwin Butler investigated the diseases of many crops in India , including potatoes, wheat, rice, sugarcane, coconuts and rubber.   He and his colleagues produced some 40 publications, including Fungi and Diseases in Plants, The Fungi of India, a classic monograph of the Pythium fungus, and Plant Pathology (which became the international textbook on plant diseases).

In 1920 Butler was appointed founding Director of the Imperial Mycological Bureau in London (now Bioservices, CAB International, Egham, Surrey , where one of the buildings is named after him), serving for 15 years. He initiated the Review of Applied Mycology, the foremost international abstracting journal on plant diseases. He held high office in many learned societies and was awarded Fellowship of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1926. He served as Secretary of the Agricultural Research Council from 1935 and was knighted in 1939.

In Ireland , he is commemorated by the Butler Medal, awarded periodically by the Society of Irish Plant Pathologists for significant contributions to plant disease research, and by a plaque in Kilkee public library.

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