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Brass, L. J. (Leonard J.)



  • Existence: 1900 - 1971



Leonard John Brass (born May 27th, 1900, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia—died August 29, 1971, Cairns, Queensland, Australia) was a botanist and an explorer most well-known for leading a series of expeditions to the South Pacific and northeastern Australia to study plant life. The work done by Brass has furthered botanical collections at many institutions, including the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, The Queensland Herbarium (BRI) and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Brass also played a vital role in the launch of the Archbold Biological Station in Lake Placid, Florida (1, p. 1-2)

Brass is born in Queensland, Australia.
Brass works as a Herbarium Assistant at the Botanic Museum and Herbarium, Queensland.
Brass is employed as a stockman or bookkeeper at cattle stations.
Brass leads two botanical expeditions for the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University.
He continues to work for cattle stations throughout Australia.
Leads botanical expedition to the Solomon Islands.
Acts as a botanist for 3 expeditions for AMNH. Expeditions include the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Archbold Expeditions. In addition to acting as a botanist, Brass also act as a photographer for many expeditions, developing film in the field.
Brass joins the Archbold Expedition to Arizona.
Member of the advisory board for the Archbold Expeditions.
Joins the Canadian Army as a consultant, travels to the South Pacific in order to provide soldiers with information on the vegetation and ecology.
Joins the Archbold Biological Station as the Staff botanist.
Acts as botanist for the Vernay Nyasaland Expedition for the New York Botanical Gardens.
Becomes a naturalized citizen of the United States.
Leader and botanist for Richard Archbold's Cape York Expedition.
Director of field operations for the Upjohn-Penick Expedition, funded by the RAND corporation.
Leader and botanist for the 4th, 5th, and 6th Archbold Expeditions.
Hired as an Associate Curator of the Archbold Expeditions for AMNH.
Established the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary with the National Audubon Society and the Corkscrew Rookery Association.
Travels throughout the Southern United States gathering data for the manual of southeastern flora for the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University.
Becomes an Honorary Member of The Explorers Club.
Acts as advisor for the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology for their expedition to the Balim Valley, New Guinea.
Receives an Honorary Doctorate from Florida State University.
Honorary Curator for the Flecker Herbarium.
Becomes a fellow for the Association for Tropical Biology.
Dies in Cairns, Australia.
S. T. Blake names the Eucalyptus brassiana after L. J. Brass.
The Archbold Biological Station dedicates "The Leonard J. Brass Herbarium".

Biographical Note

Leonard John Brass trained as a botanist at the Queensland Herbarium. At the start of his career he participated in two expeditions for the Arnold Arboretum: the first in 1925 to British New Guinea, and the second in 1932 to the Solomon Islands, specifically San Cristobal, Ysabel and Guadalcanal, where he was immediately recognized for his interest in botanical collection. In the middle of the 1932 expedition Brass was contacted by Dr. Elmer Drew Merrill, the director of the Bronx Botanical Garden, who explained that Richard Archbold, a research associate at the AMNH, was looking to assemble a team of explorers interested in studying the flora and fauna in the South Pacific region (2). Archbold then offered Brass the position of botanist on an expedition set to take place the following year (1, p. 1-2). In 1933, Archbold led Brass, Austin L. Rand, George H. H. Tate, W. B. Richardson and C. J. Adamson to New Guinea on the 1st Archbold Expedition. They collected plants, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, mammals and birds for the collections at the AMNH (3, p. 26, 28-29). Brass returned with the expedition team for the 2nd Archbold Expedition, exploring Papua, Daru and Lake Habbema. On this expedition they collected over 800 specimens (4, p. 44-45). In 1938, the Third Archbold Expedition took Brass and the others to Western New Guinea, collecting hundreds of specimens from the Baliem Valley. Brass wrote extensively about the botanical collection and his findings from this expedition (5, p. 278-283). Following his return from the 1938 expedition, Brass became an Associate Curator of the Archbold Expedition collections at the AMNH (2). In 1946 Brass collected botanical specimens in Nyasaland, South Africa with mammologist H. E. Anthony and scientist Guy Shortridge. This expedition was led by Arthur S. Vernay. Brass became a U.S. citizen the following year (1, p. 1-2). In 1948, Brass led the Cape York Expedition in Australia. Accompanied by colleagues Hobart M. Van Deusen (mammologist), George H. H. Tate and Geoffrey M. Tate, the team collected approximately 9,714 specimens from the Cape York Peninsula, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, freshwater fish, insects, spiders, and plants. On this expedition they were joined by Donald P. Vernon, a representative for the Queensland Museum. 131 plant samples collected by Brass were given to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research of Australia for pharmacological testing, and 206 soil samples were given to Chas. Pfizer and Co. in New York for an antibiotic research project. The remaining plant specimens were deposited at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts (6, p. 204). On hiatus from the New Guinea voyages Brass awas director of field operations on the Upjohn-Penick Expedition to Africa in 1949. The team explored tropical Africa to procure possiblewild sources for the manufacture of cortisone (7, p. 204). On the 4th Archbold Expedition, conducted between March 1953 and November of the same year, Brass led Geoffrey M. Tate, Hobart M. Van Deusen, R. D. Hoogland and Kenneth Wynn to various locales in Eastern New Guinea. They collected specimens from the Cape Vogel Peninsula, Collingwood Bay, the central range of Mt. Dayman, and both Goodenough and Fergusson Islands. On this trip Brass and his colleagues made the first comprehensive biological surveys of Mount Wilhelm (the highest mountain in eastern New Guinea), Mt. Dayman, and the eastern islands. Brass collected plant specimens, including mosses, ferns and forest trees which were given to Arnold Arboretum at Harvard. The team also collected antibiotic materials for Chas. Pfizer and Co. and ectoparasites for the Army Medical Service Graduate School. The trip ended earlier than anticipated due to the sudden illness of Geoffrey Tate. The team collected a total of over 98,000 specimens (8, p. 56). In 1956 Brass led Russell Peterson on the 5th Archbold Expedition to New Guinea. They returned with 76,000 animal and plant specimens collected from the D’Entrecasteaux Islands and the Louisiade Archipelago over an eight-month period (9, p. 12). On March 22nd, 1958, both Brass and Van Deusen traveled from New York to Sydney, Australia for the 6th Archbold Expedition to New Guinea. In December 1958 theye returned to the mMuseum with approximately 2,294 mammal specimens and 4,095 reptile and amphibian specimens. They also collected 170 vials of ectoparasites for the Army Medical Service Graduate School and blood films and viscera for the Queensland Institute for Medical Research. Because Brass had received a grant from the National Science Foundation, they sent the collected botanical specimens to the United States National Herbarium in Washington. This was the last Archbold Expedition that Brass participated in (10, p. 20). Leonard J. Brass is credited with the discovery of over 180 species of plants, including the southern beech tree in New Guinea, named Nothofagus. The subgenus Brassopora (Nothofagus brassi) is named in his honor. He served in the Canadian Army during World War II and was awarded an honorary Doctorate from Florida State University in 1962. Brass also played a key role in the launch of the Archbold Biological Station in Lake Placid, Florida where he served as Resident Biologist from 1945 to 1966. Brass retired from his position as Curator of the Archbold Expedition at the AMNH in 1966 and, in April of that year, he returned to Queensland, Australia where he was appointed Honorary Curator of the Flecker Herbarium of the North Queensland Naturalists Club at Cairns. Brass died on August 29th, 1971. The efforts made by Leonard Brass and his colleagues helped the AMNH compile one of the most comprehensive collections in existence of animal and plant life from the South Pacific region (2). The specimens collected continue to facilitate research of the geographical distribution and the relationship between flora and fauna found in the region of Australasia (1, p. 1-3).

SOURCES (1) Loher, Fred E. "Dedication of the Leonard J. Brass Herbarium at the Archbold Biological Station and Curriculum Vitae." Archbold Biological Station, 2014.

(2) "Leonard J. Brass, Plant Authority", New York Times, September 2, 1971.

(3)American Museum of Natural History. Annual Reports. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1934-1935.

(4)American Museum of Natural History. Annual Reports. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1936-1937.

(5)Archbold, Richard; A. L. Rand; Leonard J. Brass. "Results of the Archbold Expeditions. No. 41. Summary of the 1938-1939 New Guinea Expedition." Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 79 (June 26, 1942): 197-288.

(6)Brass, Leonard J. "Results of the Archbold Expeditions. No. 68. Summary of the 1948 Cape York (Australia) Expedition." Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 102 (June 16, 1953): 135-206.

(7) "Leonard J. Brass." Taxon 11, no. 6 (1962): 204.

(8)American Museum of Natural History. Annual Reports. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1953-1954.

(9)American Museum of Natural History. Annual Reports. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1955-1956.

(10)American Museum of Natural History. Annual Reports. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1958-1959.


  • New Guinea (Other)
    • Note: Expedition site; Brass participated in seven expeditions to New Guinea funded by Richard Archbold.
  • Solomon Islands (Other) -- Date: 1932 - 1933
    • Note: Expedition site; Expedition sponsored by Arnold Arboretum and Harvard University to the Solomon Islands, including San Cristobal, Ysabel and Guadalcanal.
  • Malawi (Other) -- Date: 1946    
    • Note: Expedition site; Vernay Nyasaland Expedition.
  • Cape York Peninsula (Other) -- Date: 1948    
    • Note: Expedition site; Archbold Expedition to Cape York Peninsula in Australia.
  • West Africa (Other) -- Date: 1949 - 1950
    • Note: Expedition site; Upjohn-Penick Expedition took Brass to French Cameroun, Gabon, French Equatorial Africa, Belgian Congo, Angola, Northern Rhodesia, and Tanganyika on this expedition.
  • Australia (Associated Country) -- Date: 1900 - 1971
    • Note: Brass' country of origin where he returned upon his retirement.
  • Arizona (Other) -- Date: 1940    
    • Note: Expedition site; Archbold Expedition where Brass was joined by A.L. Rand and Richard Archbold.
  • Florida (Other) -- Date: 1944 - 1966
    • Note: Location where Brass established the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.


Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

Leonard J. Brass (1900-1971) / LR "Liz Brophy"

Identifier: Art Survey No. 183
Scope and Contents

A.M.N.H. curator of Archbold Collections from 1932-1966, expert on New Guinea. Inscription: On back "Leonard J. Brass Disc/Botanist/E.M. Brophy/4 Hodel St./ Edye Hill/Cairns. Q."

Dates: [196-?]

The Archbold Collections at the American Museum of Natural History, 1928-1980.

Identifier: Archive Mammalogy Archbold
Scope and Contents The Archbold Collections at the American Museum of Natural History is comprised of material that documents the expeditionary fieldwork of Richard Archbold and the Archbold Expeditions. It is housed within the AMNH Department of Mammalogy Archive, and encompasses a variety of formats, including photographs, slides, film, scrapbooks, correspondence, financial records, and field documentation such as catalogs, specimen lists, field notes and journals. These describe both the day-to-day...
Dates: 1928 - 1980; Majority of material found within 1930 - 1964