Acharius Medallists: Rolf Santesson Uppsala, Passed away On 17 Sep. 2013 | MYCO-LICH

Acharius Medallists: Rolf Santesson Uppsala, Passed away On 17 Sep. 2013

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By Stefan Ekman

I am sad to inform you that Professor Rolf Santesson, Uppsala, passed away today at the age of 97. Rolf was one of the grand old men of lichen taxonomy, with a deep knowledge in nearly every group of lichens imaginable. His career started in the 1930s, at which time lichens were not even considered part of the fungal system (something he, together with J.A. Nannfeldt, later worked hard to change). He took an early interest in foliicolous lichens, went on an expedition to South America in 1939, and had to work his way back home to Sweden during wartimes in 1941, essentially by peeling potatoes in the kitchen of a slow boat. The collections that he brought home formed the basis of his 1955 thesis, which set new standards for taxonomical revisions of lichens. Rolf was a great source of inspiration for new generations of lichenologists and remained active until just a few years ago. It was a great privilege knowing him.

More About Rolf By Dr. Roland Moberg


Professor Rolf Santesson began his lichenological studies as a schoolboy and the field work for one of his first papers, amphibious pyrenolichens, started in 1934. He was then only 18 years old. As teachers he had G. Einar Du Rietz, later Professor of Plant Ecology but also known as a lichen taxonomist, and Prof. Gunnar Degelius who will simultaneously be presented with the Acharius Award. Rolf Santesson often tells us that his first flora was Josef Anders' Die Strauch- und Laubflechten Mitteleuropas from 1928, to remind us about the advantage we have to be able to use another Josef's flora, Bestimmungsschlüssel europäischer Flechten.

In 1939, Rolf Santesson went to the southernmost region of South America on a planned 8 month expedition. Because of the second world war the expedition lasted almost two years. His companion was a zoologist, Claes Olrog, who published a book on the expedition. It is written in Swedish and gives a good account of the nature and people 50 years ago. For those of you who have recently been in Tierra del Fuego it will pay to study this book, even if you have to struggle with the Swedish language.

From the beginning Rolf Santesson was mainly an ecologist with strong taxonomical interests. After the South American trip he turned to mainly taxonomic treatments of the material he had collected there, resulting in the revision of several genera. His work on Menegazzia for example was an important and basic landmark in South American lichenology. This work was carried out at the Natural History Museum in Stockholm but in 1946 he left Stockholm for Uppsala to start his work on foliicolous lichens. In 1952 he published his magnum opus, Foliicolous lichens I, which I suppose most of you have consulted more than once. This seminal work helped lay the foundation of modern lichen taxonomy in its application to lichens of Nannfeldt's new system for ascomycetes.

Teaching, curating work and supervision took most of Rolf Santesson's time after that and in 1973 he became professor and head of the Botanical Section of the Natural History Museum in Stockholm. He was successful in splitting the position into two, and cryptogamy got the first permanent position in Sweden; the Cryptogamic Botany Department with Rolf Santesson as the head, parallel with the Phanerogamic Botany Department. In 1982, he retired and since then we have had the privilege to see him at the Botanical Museum in Uppsala every day working as hard as ever on projects like the lichen parasites and his new edition of Lichens of Sweden and Norway which we soon hope to see.

As a teacher Rolf Santesson is one of the best. No problem is too small to interest him. I think many of us have gained from his generosity both concerning taxonomical problems and questions about literature and nomenclature and we know that many of you do the same in letters. A very common expression among us in Uppsala is, "Ask Rolf".

Those of us who have had the privilege to be with Rolf Santesson in the field know that he also has an outstanding floristic knowledge and is a master collector; the Uppsala herbarium is a good proof of that.

Rolf Santesson has definitely followed in the footsteps of Acharius, and has increased our knowledge of lichens considerably. Acharius himself would probably be very surprised to see the progress in lichenology, and would certainly agree that a worthier candidate for the Acharius Medal Award is difficult to find.