Wells Gray Profile

Leena Hämet-Ahti and Teuvo Ahti

A Wells Gray Honeymoon

It is mid July, 1961. The scene is a rolling subalpine meadow somewhere on the upper slopes of Battle Mountain in Wells Gray Provincial Park. The day is cold, raw, overcast, and threatening rain. Near the edge of the meadow two human forms, clad in heavy rain gear, can be seen moving slowly about on hands and knees. From time to time one of them pauses, removes a note book from a pocket, then quickly writes something down. Most of the time, however, their hands, when free, are waving around in the air, constantly swatting at the clouds of mosquitoes now gathered around them. Meet Teuvo Ahti and Leena Hämet-Ahti… on their honeymoon.

Treeline on Battle Mtn has crept upslope noticeably since this photo was taken in 1961. Photo by Leena Hämet-Ahti.

Although Teuvo (“Ted” to his anglophone friends) and Leena are no strangers to western North America, home for them is actually Finland. Here Leena was born in Kuusamo on 3 January 1931, and Ted in Helsinki a few years later on 14 June 1934. Coming of age in Finland during World War II could not have been easy; perhaps it was this that instilled in both of them a love of wild green places far removed from the Sturm und Drang of human politics.

Ted and Leena met while completing their respective M.Sc. degrees at the University of Helsinki – Leena in 1955, Ted in 1957. They married late in 1960, just in time to plan a two month “honeymoon” of intense botanical study in British Columbia’s Wells Gray Provincial Park. On paper, Ted was hired (by Yorke Edwards, Parks Branch, B.C. Department of Recreation and Conservation) to conduct a study of Mountain Caribou habitat, though in practice he and Leena used the opportunity to make a first comprehensive inventory of the Wells Gray’s plants, lichens, mosses and hepatics. With characteristic vigour, they amassed a collection numbering many thousands of specimens.

Later that same year, 1961, Ted successfully defended his Ph.D thesis: a world monograph on the Reindeer Lichens (Cladonia subgenus Cladina). Leena earned her Ph.D. two years later, in 1963, with a dissertation on the birch forests of northern Norway and Finland. Both scientists would continue their association with the University of Helsinki throughout their careers. In 1974 Leena became Associate Professor of Botany, later also serving as Director of the university’s Botanical Garden; Ted was appointed as Curator of the Botanical Museum’s Cryptogamic Herbarium in 1963, and in 1979 became Professor of Cryptogamic Botany, rising in 1991 to “Academy Professor”. Since retirement in 1996 he has been a Research Associate of the Finnish Museum of Natural History in Helsinki.

Fight Lake cabin, built in the 1950s by Charlie Shook and Ted Petre, hasn’t changed much in half a century! Photo by Leena Hämet-Ahti.

Over the years Ted and Leena have travelled widely not only in western North America, but also in other parts of the world, including Newfoundland, Ontario, North Carolina, Japan, China, Mongolia, Siberia, Sudan, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, Guyana, Mexico, and Venezuela. With more than 500 papers between them covering many fields of botany, mycology and plant geography, Ted and Leena have earned well-deserved international reputations that continue to bring them invitations for yet more travel to exotic parts of the globe.

The Ahtis’ first foreign allegiance, however, is unquestionably to the wilds of western North America. The 1961 “honeymoon” trip was not Ted’s first visit to the west (he had already collected lichens in British Columbia in 1958), nor would it be his, or Leena’s, last. In following decades, one or both of them would return to the west many times: the Alaska Highway in 1967; Vancouver Island and the Yukon in 1977; the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1980; Oregon and northern California in 1984; Washington in 1992; and Wells Gray Park in 1980, 1987, 1992, 1994, and 2009. In 2004 Ted was in arctic Alaska.

By their own reckoning the Ahtis have assembled 10,500 plant specimens from western North America. These specimens are now housed in the Botanical Museum of the University of Helsinki (H)–with duplicates at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Canadian Museum of Nature (CANL). Taken together, their collections certainly represent the largest extra-North American collection of western plants ever assembled. The only rival collection would be that the Swedish botanist of Eric Hultén.

How much do you suppose this view south from Battle Mountain has changed in 50 years? Photo by Leena Hämet-Ahti.

From these collections of vascular plants, mosses, hepatics, lichens and unlichenized fungi have come numerous important publications, including Ted’s papers on Wells Gray Park mosses (1967), Wells Gray Park macrolichens (1992), Alaska Highway lichens (1994), Haida Gwaii Cladonias (1995), and a list of lichens of the Noatak Preserve, Alaska (2009). Ted was also instrumental in preparing the first and second checklists of British Columbia lichens (1967, 1987). Meanwhile, Leena published on the vegetation zones of western Canada (1965a), the vascular flora of Wells Gray Park (1965b), and the timberline meadow phenomenon (1978). She also prepared several important taxonomic treatments on Juncus and Luzula. More recently she coauthored the volumes on Juncaceae in the series Synopsis Plantarum: Flora of the World (2002). It was Leena, for example, who described the species of Luzula now commonly recognized as L. hitchcockii.

Leena and Ted’s contributions to western botany extend far beyond their collections and publications. Through their personal charm and readiness to help others, they have inspired more than one young career in botanical studies. Their early work in British Columbia both directly and indirectly led many European botanists to follow the “Ahti trail” westward to Pacific North America. To what extent the current European preoccupation with western botany is traceable to Ted and Leena is a question that cannot be answered, but bears asking nonetheless.

Residents of Finland, citizens of the world, Teuvo Ahti and Leena Hämet-Ahti have contributed much to our knowledge of the biota of western North America. In this, the 50th anniversary year of their “honeymoon” field trip, it is appropriate to thank them both very warmly for the many services they have performed on behalf of western botany. It is fitting that the name “Ahti” should itself now be permanently connected with western North American botany in the lichen genus Ahtiana.

In tribute to the Ahti’s special interest in Wells Gray, a new annotated checklist of that park’s vascular plants has lately been posted.

by Trevor Goward

[Results: 39 | Clear Selection]

Key Words

Lichen Genera: Bryoria | Cavernularia | Cladina | Cladonia | Hypogymnia | Melanelixia | Melanohalea | Parmelia

Lichen Topics: lichens | lichen checklists | lichen distribution | lichen evolution | lichen identification | lichen phytogeography | new lichen reports | new lichen taxa

Plants: Juncus | Luzula | mosses | plants | plant checklist | vegetation

Animals: animals | Mountain Caribou

Places: Wells Gray Park

Ecosystems: subalpine meadows | zonation

Life and Ecosystem Process: species

Miscellaneous: hypothesis generation

[Results: 39 | Clear Selection]


Ahti, T. 1962. Ecological investigations on lichens in Wells Gray Provincial Park with special reference to their importance to mountain caribou. Unpublished Report, B.C. Parks, Victoria. 69 pages. [key words: Wells Gray Park / lichens / Mountain Caribou / animals]

Ahti, T. 1969. Notes on brown species of Parmelia in North America. The Bryologist 72: 233-239. [key words: Melanohalea / Melanelixia / lichens / new lichen taxa]

Ahti, T. 1978. Two new species of Cladonia from western North America. The Bryologist 81: 334-338. [key words: Cladonia / lichens / new lichen taxa]

Ahti, T. 2007. Further studies on the Cladonia verticillata group (Lecanorales) in East Asia and western North America. Bibliotheca Lichenologica 96: 5-19. [key words: Cladonia / lichens / new lichen taxa]

Ahti, T., I.M. Brodo and W.J. Noble. 1987. Contributions to the lichen flora of British Columbia, Canada. Mycotaxon 28: 91-97. [key words: lichens / new lichen reports]

Ahti, T. and R. Fagerstén. 1967. Mosses of British Columbia, especially Wells Gray Provincial Park. Annales Botanici Fennici 4: 422-440. [key words: Wells Gray Park / mosses / plants / plant checklist] [download pdf]

Ahti, T. and S. Hammer. 2002. Cladoniaceae. In Nash, T. H., B. D. Ryan, C. Gries and F. Bungartz (eds.), Lichen flora of Greater Sonoran Desert Region, 1: 131-158. Lichens Unlimited, Tempe, AZ. [key words: Cladonia / lichens / new lichen taxa / lichen identification]

Ahti, T. and A. Henssen. 1965. New localities for Cavernularia hultenii in eastern and western North America. The Bryologist 68: 85-89. [key words: Cavernularia / lichens / lichen distribution]

Ahti, T., G.W. Scotter and H. Vänskä. 1973. Lichens of the Reindeer Preserve, N.W.T., Canada. The Bryologist 75: 48-76. [key words: lichens / new lichen reports / lichen checklists]

Brodo, I.M. and T. Ahti. 1996. Lichens and lichenicolous fungi of the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, Canada. 2. The Cladoniaceae. Canadian Journal of Botany 74: 1147-1180. [key words: lichens / Cladonia / Cladina / new lichen taxa]

Brodo, I.M., W.J. Noble, T. Ahti and S. Clayden. 1987. Lichens new to North America from the flora of British Columbia, Canada. Mycotaxon 28: 99-100. [key words: lichens / new lichen reports]

Goward, T. and T. Ahti. 1983. Parmelia hygrophila, a new lichen species from the Pacific Northwest of North America. Annales Botanici Fennici 20: 9-13. [key words: Parmelia / lichens / new lichen taxa] [abstract] [download pdf]

Goward, T. and T. Ahti. 1992. Macrolichens and their zonal distribution in Wells Gray Provincial Park and its vicinity, British Columbia, Canada. Acta Botanica Fennica 147: 1-60. [key words: Wells Gray Park / lichens / lichen checklists / hypothesis generation / new lichen reports] [abstract] [download pdf]

Goward, T. and T. Ahti. 1997. Notes on the distributional ecology of the Cladoniaceae (lichenized Ascomycetes) in temperate and boreal North America. Journal of the Hattori Botanical Laboratory 82: 143-155. [key words: Cladonia / Cladina / lichens / lichen distribution / hypothesis generation / lichen phytogeography] [abstract] [download pdf]

Goward, T., T. Ahti, J. Elix and T. Spribille. 2010. Hypogymnia recurva and Hypogymnia wilfiana spp. nov.: two new lichens from western North America. Botany 88:345 – 351. [key words: lichens / Hypogymnia / Wells Gray Park / new lichen taxa] [abstract] [request pdf]

Goward, T., T. Spribille and T. Ahti. 2011. Four new sorediate species in the Hypogymnia austerodes group (lichens) from northwestern North America, with notes on thallus morphology. Submitted. [key words: Hypogymnia / lichens / new lichen taxa]

Hämet-Ahti, L. 1965. Vascular plants of Wells Gray Provincial Park and its vicinity, in eastern British Columbia. Annales Botanici Fennici 2: 138-164. [key words: Wells Gray Park / plants] [download pdf]

Hämet-Ahti, L. 1965. Notes on the vegetation zones of western Canada, with special reference to the forests of Wells Gray Park, British Columbia. Annales Botanici Fennici 2: 274-300. [key words: Wells Gray Park / plants / zonation] [download pdf]

Hämet-Ahti, L. 1965. Luzula piperi (Cov.) M.E. Jones, an overlooked woodrush in western North America and eastern Asia. Aquilo, ser. Bot. 3: 11-21. [key words: Wells Gray Park / plants / Luzula] [download pdf]

Hämet-Ahti, L. 1971. A synopsis of the species of Luzula, subgenus Anthelaea Griseb. (Juncaceae) indigenous in North America. Annales Botanici Fennici 8: 368-381. [key words: Wells Gray Park / Luzula / plants] [download pdf]

Hämet-Ahti, L. 1971. List of vascular plants collected in Alaska, the Yukon, northern British Columbia, and Alberta by Leena Hämet-Ahti and Teuvo Ahti in 1967. Mimeographed Papers of Botanical Museum, University of Helsinki 3: 1-17. [key words: plants / plant checklist]

Hämet-Ahti, L. 1972. Notes on Ustilago vuijckii Oudem. and Beijer. on some Luzula species in North America. Syesis 5: 83-85. [key words: Luzula / plants]

Hämet-Ahti, L. 1973. Notes on the Luzula arcuata and L. parviflora groups in eastern Asia and Alaska. Annales Botanici Fennici 10: 123-130. [key words: Luzula / plants]

Hämet-Ahti, L. 1975. Additional notes on Luzula subcongesta and L. parviflora (Juncaceae) in North America. Annales Botanici Fennici 12: 27-29. [key words: Luzula / plants]

Hämet-Ahti, L. 1979. The dangers of using the timberline as the “zero line” in comparative studies on altitudinal vegetation zones. Phytocoenologia 6: 49-54. [key words: vegetation / zonation]

Hämet-Ahti, L. 1978. Timberline meadows in Wells Gray Park, British Columbia, and their comparative geobotanical interpretation. Syesis 11: 187-211. [key words: Wells Gray Park / plants / subalpine meadows] [download pdf]

Hämet-Ahti, L. 1986. North American races of Juncus alpinoarticulatus (Juncaceae). Annales Botanici Fennici 23: 277-281. [key words: Juncus / plants]

Hämet-Ahti, L. and T. Ahti. 1969. The homologies of the Fennoscandian mountain birch forests in Eurasia and North America. Vegetatio 19: 208-219. [key words: zonation / plants / vegetation]

Hämet-Ahti, L. and V. Virrankoski. 1971. Cytotaxonomic notes on some monocotyledons of Alaska and northern British Columbia. Annales Botanici Fennici 8: 156-159. [key words: plants]

Hämet-Ahti, L. 1980. Juncus alpinoarticulatus: the legitimate name for Juncus alpines. Annales Botanici Fennici 17: 341-342. [key words: Juncus / plants]

Hammer, S. and T. Ahti. 1990. New and interesting species of Cladonia from California. Mycotaxon 37: 335-348. [key words: Cladonia / lichens / new lichen taxa]

McCune, B., E. Holt, P. Neitlich, T. Ahti and R. Rosentreter. 2009. Macrolichen Diversity in Noatak National Preserve, Alaska. North American Fungi 4(4):1-22. [key words: lichens / lichen checklists]

Noble, W.J., T. Ahti, G.F. Noble and I.M. Brodo. 1987. A second checklist and bibliography of the lichens and allied fungi of British Columbia. Syllogeus 61: 1-95. [key words: lichens / lichen checklists]

Otto, G.F. and T. Ahti. 1967. Lichens of British Columbia, preliminary checklist. Department of Botany, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. 40 pp. [key words: lichens / lichen checklists]

Piercey-Normore, M.D., T. Ahti and T. Goward. 2010. Phylogenetic and haplotype analyses of four segregates within Cladonia arbuscula s. l. Botany 88: 397-408. [key words: Cladina / lichens / species] [abstract] [request pdf]

Thomson, J.W. and T. Ahti. 1994. Lichens collected on an Alaska Highway expedition in Alaska and Canada. The Bryologist 97: 138-157. [key words: lichens / lichen checklists / new lichen reports]

Thomson, J.W., G.W. Scotter and T. Ahti. 1969. Lichens of the Great Slave Lake Region, Northwest Territories, Canada. The Bryologist 72: 137-177. [key words: lichens / lichen checklists]

Tønsberg, T. and T. Ahti. 1980. Cladonia umbricola, a new lichen species from NW Europe and western North America. Norwegian Journal of Botany 27: 307-309. [key words: Cladonia / lichens / new lichen taxa]

Velmala, S., L. Myllys, P. Halonen, T. Goward and T. Ahti. 2009. Molecular data show that Bryoria fremontii and B. tortuosa (Parmeliaceae) are conspecific. Lichenologist 41: 231-242. [key words: lichens / lichen evolution / species / Bryoria / new lichen taxa] [abstract] [request pdf]