A. Carl Leopold

December 18, 1919—November 18, 2009


Aldo Carl Leopold died November 18, 2009 at his home in Ithaca at the age of 89. Carl was born on December 18, 1919 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the son of Aldo Leopold, the renowned ecologist, and Estella Bergere Leopold of Santa Fe, NM. The family moved to Madison, Wisconsin in 1924. Carl was a teenager when his father acquired the famous “shack” on an abandoned farm on the banks of the Wisconsin River. There he worked with the family to convert a chicken coop into a cottage and to plant native trees and prairie plants in the famous experiment of land reclamation his father described in his “A Sand County Almanac.”


Carl received a bachelor’s degree in botany from the University of Wisconsin in 1941. He began graduate school at the University of Missouri. When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the Marines, serving in the Pacific. One of his duties was to serve as defense council in courts martial for soldiers who were charged with being AWOL. He won many of these cases, becoming a hero to the enlisted men. After the war, he enrolled at Harvard to study plant physiology. After completing his MS and PhD at Harvard, he worked briefly in industry, for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, before joining the faculty of Purdue University in 1949. In 1975, he was appointed Graduate Dean and Assistant Vice President for Research at the University of Nebraska. In 1977, Carl moved to the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research in Ithaca, New York, which is affiliated with Cornell University, as William H. Crocker Scientist, where he worked until his official retirement in 1990. He continued to be active in science and environmental issues up to his death.


Carl worked as a plant physiologist in basic and applied research. He authored two landmark books, Auxins and Plant Growth (1955,1960) that made him the unofficial ambassador of basic research for scientists working in applied aspects of horticulture and agronomy, and the textbook, Plant Growth and Development (1964,1975). Carl has directly and indirectly inspired three generations of plant physiologists and made significant contributions to a number of areas in the field of plant physiology.


Carl also wrote extensively about the scientific process, with titles such as The Act of Creation: Creative Processes in Science; The Man in the White Lab Coat; Games Scientists Play; The Burden of Competitive Grants; Weapons Research Extracts a Toll on Academic Science; and the role science has played in determining the ethics of our society.


Carl was a member of many professional organizations. He served as a Senior Policy Analyst on the staff of the Science Adviser to the President during the Ford Administration (1974-1975), provided testimony before the United States House Committee on Science and Technology (December 1980 and February 1982) and served as a consultant to the National Science Foundation, Division of Policy Research and Analysis (1975-1977). In 2000, when Carl received the Golden Medal of the Royal Galician Academy of Science, in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, he gave his acceptance speech in Spanish.  In 1994, Carl was awarded the Charles Reid Barnes Life Membership Award for his wide-ranging and deep contributions to the society and to plant physiology itself. In the summer of 2009, the American Society of Plant Biologists again honored Carl as a physiologist and a citizen when it made Carl an ASPB Fellow.


As a conservationist, Carl was a founder and director of the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin, was founding president of the Finger Lakes Land Trust and was a board member of the Black Locust Initiative in Trumansburg. In 1992, Carl co-founded the Tropical Forestry Initiative, a non-profit organization, which began a demonstration project to reforest abandoned pastureland in Costa Rica with native forest tree species.


Carl had recently become active in the regional effort to preserve the integrity, stability and natural beauty of Ithaca and its surrounds by preventing the use of horizontal drilling and storing toxic wastes in the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.  He also volunteered in the food pantry at Immaculate Conception Church in Ithaca.


He was married to Cornelia Rogers from 1942 to 1975. He was remarried to Lynn Bradley (Leopold) in 1982. He was predeceased by two brothers, Aldo Starker Leopold, and Luna Leopold. His is survived by his wife, Lynn Bradley Leopold, two sisters, Nina Leopold Bradley (Baraboo, WI), Estella Bergere Leopold (Seattle, WA), and his children, Lucia Wendy Leopold Wolf (San Pedro, CA); John Rogers Leopold (Chicago, IL); Susan Leopold Freeman (Scott Freeman) (Seattle, WA). His grandchildren include: Libby Wolf (Woodland CA), Tess Wolf Elgart (Kapa’a HI), Meg Wolf (Seattle WA), Benjamin Freeman (Seattle WA), and Peter Freeman (Seattle WA).


Carl grew up with strong personal roots in the natural world and in the Land Ethic of his father and after growing his own youthful sapwood, colorful heartwood, and thin latewood, Carl became a mighty and graceful trunk that nurtured and enthusiastically supported many plant physiologists, conservationists and others who consider themselves to be “Leopold leaves” on the tree of his life.


Carl was buried in Greensprings Natural Cemetery in Newfield, of which he was a co-founder. In this last initiative, he completed the circle begun by his father’s quest to understand how to live on the land without spoiling it. Carl’s molecules and minerals will be recycled into the fruits of the native bushes that will feed the native birds and provide energy for their songs. 


A memorial celebration of Carl Leopold’s life will be held at the Unitarian Church of Ithaca, corner of Buffalo and Aurora Streets, Sunday, December 13 at 2 pm.


It was Carl’s wish that contributions in lieu of flowers be given to the Finger Lakes Land Trust, PO Box 4745, Ithaca, NY 14852-4745.