Ira Waddell Clokey
Mining Engineer and Botanist

                                                                                                                                                                                        Ira Waddell Clokey, Botanist
 Recognized authority on Carices
                                            Photo from Family Archives

    Ira Waddell Clokey was a man of many interests -  mining engineering; botany; collecting stamps and composing limericks.   Professionally Clokey was trained as a mining engineer, but his first love was botany which continued throughout his life.  In a letter to Dr. Ernest C. Smith at Colorado State College in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1944, he wrote, “I went into mining engineering partially as it would take me to interesting regions for collecting botanical specimens.”  This interest resulted in a private herbarium of over 100,000 specimens which was given to the Herbarium at the University of California, Berkeley, California  and  the publication of “Flora of the Charleston Mountains, Clark County, Nevada, 1951.  His working botanical library of 1,100 volumes was gifted to California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California after his death in 1950.

    Clokey grew up in Decatur, Illinois where he was born on December 21, 1878 to Susan Carrie Elson and Josiah Mitchell Clokey.  In high school he developed an interest in botany and in the genus Carex. His first collecting was done in areas around his home and on a trip to England and the continent in 1892.  With several high school classmates, including H. A. Gleason, later of the New York Botanical Garden, they formed  the  Amateur Naturalists  Association to discuss botanical specimens.  They met on a regular basis for almost two years. 

    Clokey attended the University of Illinois and Phillips Exeter before entering Harvard University, graduating cum laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mining and Metallurgy in 1903.  Upon his graduation he began his mining career in Minas Prietas, Sonora, Mexico.  Because most of his work was in mining consulting, he and his wife, Cleora Brooks Clokey, traveled in isolated areas of Guanajuato, Guerrero, and Michoacan States in Mexico while he examined old mines.   During this time, Clokey did extensive botanical collecting which included rare orchids.  Unfortunately his early collections in Illinois, Europe and Mexico were destroyed in a fire at the family home in Decatur in 1912.

      After leaving Mexico in 1911, Clokey established a mining consulting office in Denver, Colorado and was involved in molybdenum  mining.  During his summers in Colorado he continued collecting which included  many Carices, his major interest.  He was an honorary curator at the Colorado State Historical and Natural History Society in Denver during this period.  While in Colorado, he set up an exchange of specimens with Alice Eastwood.  A self-taught botanist who grew up in Colorado, Eastwood became the Curator at the California Academy of Sciences herbarium in San Francisco, California.  In a letter dated June 29, 1937, Eastwood wrote, “It seems like old times to be again exchanging with you.  Since my collections in Colorado  were destroyed in 1906 about all we have from that state are those collected by you.”  

    In 1922 Clokey earned a Masters of Science degree in Plant Pathology from the University of Iowa in Ames, Iowa.  While in Ames, he also studied plant genetics under E. W. Lundstrom which later led to research in the cyto-genetics of corn with Dr. E. G. Anderson at California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California.

    Upon his return from Mexico and through the years until he started the cyto-genetics work at Caltech in 1930, Clokey actively collected stamps.  His extensive collection contained mostly U.S. and some foreign stamps.  As one grandson stated, he was very interested in ‘stamp shade color varieties’ which coincides with the description of his collection written in a letter to A. A. Heller, a high school teacher and a stamp collector/dealer and plant specimen collector.  In 1937, Clokey wrote Heller, “I have most of the 19th century regular issues and revenues, sometimes several copies.  In the 20th century, I have them single and blocks of shades.  These are almost in superb condition.  The best single item is a block of 50 of U.S. 567a.”

    Throughout his life, Clokey displayed a quiet sense of humor, and delighted in writing single limericks if something struck him as funny.  In 1948 in a letter to a friend and colleague, Frank McFarland at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, he wrote, “But recently when one of my sons-in-law was going to the hospital for an operation for hypertension I wrote two longer ones.  One is the story of Hooley who was writing to Ireland  telling of the heights to which one can advance in this country and the other just using a lot of words (over 160) ending in ation.”  Unfortunately, these are lost to the family.

    Upon moving his family  to South Pasadena, California in 1924, Clokey dedicated the rest of his life to botanical collecting and building his private herbarium and a working botanical library.  He collected in the Southern California areas in Mandeville Canyon in Los Angeles County, Santa Cruz Island, and San Bernardino County but his major thrust was collecting in the Charleston Mountains,  from 1935 through 1942 and the resulting publication of “Flora of the Charleston Mountains, Clark County, Nevada” by the University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1951. Sadly, he did not see the end result of his dedication and efforts; he died on January 13, 1950 at the family home.

    A rare hybrid oak, Quereus Lobata Engelmanii, was named, the Clokey Tree, and designated as a South Pasadena landmark in 1989 by the South Pasadena Heritage Commission.  The Clokey Tree is estimated to be over 150 years old, and graces the backyard of the family’s former home on Laurel Street, South Pasadena, California.

Information Sources

Clokey, Ira W. 1951.  Flora of the Charleston Mountains, Clark County,               
    Nevada. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. 

Correspondence Collection of Ira Waddell Clokey held at the University of                    California Herbarium Archives, Berkeley, California, 1915-1952.  (2.8 linear
    feet)  [A detailed list of correspondence including content notes of
    selected letters and biographical information on Ira Waddell Clokey                         compiled by Barbara H. Houghton, San Francisco, California, 2007.]

Ewan, Joseph and Ewan, Nesta Dunn. 1981. Biographical Dictionary of Rocky
    Mountain Naturalists; A Guide to the Writings and Collections of Botanists,
    Zoologists, Geologists, Artists and Photographers, 1682-1932.  The
    Hague/Boston: Bohn, Scheltema and Holkema, Utrecht/Antwerpen and Dr.
    W. Junk, publishers.                          

Family correspondence and memorabilia.

Handwritten notes of  Mrs. Cleora Brooks Clokey held in the California
    Institute of Technology Institute Archives, Pasadena, California.

Henry A. Gleason Papers (1835-1968) held in the Archives and Manuscript
     Collection, The LuEsther T. Mertz Library, The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx,      NY.

Ira Waddell Clokey. 1953.  In Fiftieth Anniversary Report of the Harvard Class
     of 1903, 160-162.  Cambridge, MA: University Press.

Mason, Herbert L. 1950.  Ira Waddell Clokey. Madrono 10: 211-214.

Niles, Wesley E. and Leary, Patrick J.  2007.  Annotated checklist of the
     vascular plants of the Spring Mountains, Clark and Nye Counties
     Nevada. Mentzelia, The Journal of the Nevada Native Plant Society 8:                       1-72.

Reifschneider, Olga. 1964. Ira Waddell Clokey.  In Biographies of Nevada
     Botanists, 1844-1963, 131.  Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press.


Thank yous to Robert Houghton, Elizabeth McGee-Houghton, Dennis Houghton, Vivian Kobayashi, and Ruth Weinberg for their input and help in creating this website