The Florida Museum is saddened to announce the sudden death of botanist Mark Whitten.

Whitten was well known for his love of living things, his collegial spirit and gentle, kind manner.

He began his work at the University of Florida in 1981 as a graduate student of Norris Williams, curator emeritus of the UF Herbarium, and received his Ph.D. from UF in 1985, publishing a dissertation on orchids and their insect pollinators in Panama. Whitten joined the museum’s staff as a research scientist and was recently honored for 25 years of service.

“Mark was an amazing soul, filled with knowledge about nearly everything,” said Lucas Majure, assistant curator of the herbarium. “He made the herbarium an incredibly happy and loving place to work. He will be greatly missed and is irreplaceable.”

Whitten and Majure examine paintings
Mark Whitten, left, and Lucas Majure examine a selection of World War II-era watercolors that Whitten discovered in a drawer of the herbarium.

Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace

Whitten’s colleagues described him as a dedicated scientist in the field, the lab and the herbarium. He mentored countless students and was quick to assist museum and visiting scientists, often collecting plant samples to fulfill requests from experts around the world.

He was a valued collaborator on a number of research projects and also conducted his own studies. He was especially fond of the plants of the Southeast.

Over the past few years, he worked with distinguished professors Douglas Soltis and Pamela Soltis in the museum’s Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolutionary Genetics where he was developing new methods of DNA extraction for genome sequencing.

“One thing we will treasure is that he often said the last five years working in the lab had rejuvenated him and made him very happy – that he was not yet ready to retire,” Douglas Soltis said. “We will miss him so much.”

Mark talking to group of people in herbarium
Whitten discusses plant specimens with a UF research team.

Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace

Whitten also led fieldwork for the Soltis’ project to reconstruct evolutionary histories for key plant groups shared between eastern North America and eastern Asia.

“Mark was always willing to help with whatever was needed,” Pamela Soltis said. “He was so happy when he was in the field with students, sharing his passion with another generation of botanists. We were lucky to have him as a friend and colleague.”

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