Goat Protection

                      Memorial to F.A. McClure

Floyd Alonzo McClure


by Sadhu Govardhan

Of all the bamboo books I have read throughout the years, my all time favorite - by far - has been The Book of Bamboo by David Farrelly. In fact, he is one of the most eloquent writers I've ever had the fortune to come across. he has all the attributes of a great writer: highly knowledgeable on the subject he is writing about; he is a visionary; noble conscious; he offers a complete grasp of effective writing, realization, personal experience and expertise.

In the last chapter of his outstanding book, he writes a tribute to one of the most important personalities associated with the topic of bamboo:
Floyd Alonzo McClure.


by David Farrelly

Born in 1897, his father a famer-school teacher in Ohio, McClure was raised surrounded by living plants, the thousand chores of preindustrial farm life, and neighbors whose fields and beasts rarely left them time to put on airs. After a B.S. in agriculture at Ohio State in 1919, he did not return to the farm as intended. Instead, a spirit rambling as a rhizome led him to China as a lecturer in horticulture in Canton. He loved languages and learned Cantonese well enough to pass as Chinese if heard unseen. Plant collecting in areas with various dialects, he could dismiss his local interpreter within a week. He had been raised among country people, and he moved easily among the peasants of China whom he grew to love as much as he began loving the most omnivisible assistant to their way of life  bamboo.

McClure was accompanied on his plant collecting trips by a though peasant named Kang Peng (1877-1926), a reformed drinker, gambler and street fighter who had killed more than one of his antagonists. Kang Peng was a sturdy assistant, sufficiently seasoned and risk-addicted to wander the mountains of 1920s China, ripe with revolutionaries and thieves, on the flimsy excuse of collecting and dying plant specimens between papers. He died some six years after McClures arrival in China, and McClure wrote an Appreciation in which he reveals the warmth of their relationship as well as the hardships of companionable plant collecting in that space and time.

"We always shared all things as they came to us  work, food, accommodations, extra burdens, extra sweets. Traveling, as we always did, with minimum baggage and personal effects, we were never able to make ourselves very comfortable. As for beds, or available planks or door-boards for beds, he always set aside the poorest for himself; with food, he was always frugal, never wasteful, in his purchases; nor did he ever take unfair of my desire to provide well for those who worked for me. Spreading the table for a meal, he would always take for himself the broken bowl or the pair of chopsticks that were not mates. When using borrow bowls and chopsticks, he always remembered to wash and scald them on my account.

He always took the least attractive food, picked up the most inconvenient odds and ends to carry, and in every imaginable way strove to make my work as easy and as pleasant as possible. Needless to say, I often disputed these attentions, which my superior strength and endurance made unnecessary. But he often won out by sheer insistence."

Gradually, over half a century, McClure became a botanical bridge between East and West, between unschooled farmers and the scientific elite, between business and government interests in dozens of countries. He was the ambassador of Bamboo to the human race, locally employed by the Department of Agriculture or other groups for a time, but always actually working simply for bamboo with the plodding patience of the plowboy. His roving eye and trilingual tongue eventually noticed and told more about bamboo in more places than anybody on the planet ever had before. He was noted by friends for his fanatic quest for the precise word and expression, for correcting rather than repeating the errors of earlier research, for getting down to the fundamentals of a subject by taking nothing for granted, and for a lifelong passion for plants and hard work.

Collecting plants and establishing living groves of bamboo for prolonged research and propagation were centrals aspects of his work, the foundation of everything else. He has six hundred species of bamboo in the Canton groves at Lignan University. They still are flourishing some sixty years after he began them in the early 1920s. From his collection, the USDA accessioned 250 numbers of living plants between 1924-1940. They were carefully coddled by McClure from China to the USDA groves just south of Savannah, Georgia, from where they were distributed, for fifty years, around the world. This service has been unnecessarily interrupted for nearly twenty years owing to a supposed lack of funds; but a proper design for distribution could easily pay for itself. With the arrival of World War II, McClure's work moved West  with periodic returns to various oriental countries:

"During 1943-1944, I made a survey of useful bamboos in the United States, Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, and Puerto Rico The post of field service consultant on bamboo with the USDA (1944-1945) gave me the opportunity to study and collect bamboos in six countries of Central and South America, as well as in India, East Pakistan, and the islands of Java and Luzon. Ultimately, I was able to establish living collections of elite economic species in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru. A consultant on bamboo to Champion Papers Inc. I made field studies in Jamaica and Trinidad, designed and supervised the establishment of an experimental bamboo plantation in Guatemala, and participated in elaborate studies based on it."

The Bamboos: A fresh Perspective (1966) was an attempt to cram the search of a lifetime into three hundred pages and sketch relevant lines of investigation it would take many other skillful lifetimes to complete. Much of the book is intelligible to the common reader but beware of Latin roots if you are not a botanist. McClure himself was an economic botanist, a student of plants from the perspective of human need. His work was polycultural and interspecific. He was the brief custodian of a vigorously scientific intelligence motivated in choice of subject by a heart friendly and eager to be of true use to his species, which he could see multiplying more rapidly than its ability to feed and shelter the new arrivals.

He was planetary before his culture began to poke its nose out of narrow nationalism, a farmer who knew more than the folks in town about their own interests. He was in love with an order more complex and steady than prosperity  and in 1954 when the USDA cut off support for research that had been ripening for thirty years, his wife Ruth Drury McClure, already in her sixties, went to work so that he could continue to woo the mysteries of bamboo, a second wife who in fifty years of all three living together, never roused the jealousy of the first.

Among those who worked and lived with him, such as Cleofe Calderon and Thomas Soderstrom, heirs of his work at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., he is remembered with a special affection and respect: for his brimming measure of the milk of human kindness; for a warm sense of humor and all-inclusive curiosity; for a modesty as consultant as his friendliness; and for a delicate, generous spirit always ready to give and forgive.


by Sadhu Govardhan

Living in Puerto Rico, I am one of the lucky beneficiaries of McClure's pioneer work. Unfortunately, the local and federal governments had abandoned all ties to bamboo culture in Puerto Rico by the mid 1940's and consequently also to McClure's historical legacy. Most of the collections established by him have been severely decimated over time, and bamboo has been deemed unimportant by various government agencies. 

What is even more unfortunate is that those who are following in McClure's footsteps today are treated like criminals for trying to bring new species of healthy and harmless bamboo to a country. Bamboo import is black listed by APHIS/USDA and even the permits for general seed imports issued by them are very often not honored by the agency. Thus, instead of supporting local agriculture, tens of thousands of healthy seeds and plants are being destroyed by them regularly, which is causing a severe blow to local collectors, nurseries, farmers and ultimately, the people of Puerto Rico. Their oppression is economically crippling the already very precarious state of agriculture here. 

If APHIS/USDA would have imbibed the spirit of McClure, they would have been very strict with preventing contaminated plant material to be imported or exported, but simultaneously been able to expedite healthy plant material so that our farmers could diversify their crops. As of today, much contaminated plant material passes through the borders as well as their inspections and an alarming amount of healthy plant materials is being unnecessarily confiscated and destroyed.

Contrary to false government propaganda, the local food production is still only around 5% of the total consumption. The food quality of the 95% of imported foods is between dangerous, poor and tolerable, but rarely of high quality. Fresh bamboo shoots could have been a healthy addition to the local cuisine, but as of today (May 2013), one can still not acquire them anywhere. Ironically, bamboo is the easiest of all food and construction crops to grow in Puerto Rico.

I don't think that McClure would understand today's governments and world anymore.

Regardless the dark times we are living in, it would be wise to remember heroes like McClure and their outstanding work. His life was dedicated to helping simple, honest and hard working people, and he did so until the last day of his life. He died when he was trying to dig out a bamboo plant for a child who wanted to grow bamboo. He was digging it out from all four sides of the culm, and the spade was still stuck in the fourth side when he was found dead (April 15, 1970) by his wife, Ruth.


© Sadhu Govardhan, May 2013


Bamboo Introduction
Bamboo History of Puerto Rico
Memorial McClure 
Bamboo Facts
Bamboo Uses
Bamboo Literature
Bamboo Links

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