King, Kathleen

Kathleen King (1893 – 1978)

Research area:
Ireland ’s mosses

Mrs A. L. Kathleen King was for many years Ireland ’s foremost authority on bryology (the study of mosses and liverworts). Her published works, and her collection of some 4,000 herbarium specimens, contributed significantly to the advancement of bryological studies in Ireland.

Kathleen King (née Murphy) was born in Dublin and lived in Upper Merrion Street . She attended the nearby Loreto convent school on St Stephen’s Green and later a Berlin finishing school. She married Edward Thomas King, a dispensary doctor, and settled down to a conventional role of housewife and raising four sons in suburban Mount Merrion. The financial strictures arising from the untimely death of her husband prompted her to utilise her garden more fully to supply fruits and vegetables for the household.

She became a keen gardener and her interests widened to include all plants, including amenity trees.  As her botanical knowledge deepened, she took an interest in the cryptogams – the inconspicuous non-flowering plants such as mosses and lichens. She specialised in bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) and acquired a microscope, an essential tool for identifying species by examining their fine structure. Her first publication, Brachythecium caespitosum in Co. Cavan, appeared in the Irish Naturalists’ Journal in 1950 when she was 57.

As her knowledge of the bryophytes deepened, Mrs King collected specimens throughout Ireland .   She joined the British Bryological Society and exchanged specimens and shared information with experts throughout Europe . She soon realised that the bryophytes were under-recorded in Ireland and diligently set about filling the gaps. She added nearly 40 previously-unrecorded mosses to the Irish lists, including Nardia geoscyphus, Pohia rothii, Ptilidium pulcherrimum and Homathecium nitens.

Kathleen King was an example of how much a ‘gifted amateur’, with little institutional support, can add to the scientific heritage of a country. Although she had no formal training in science, her intellect, industry, enthusiasm and vitality ensured that she contributed significantly to the advancement of bryology in Ireland .

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