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Katherine Esau

Katherine Esau
Born 3 April 1898
Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine
Died 4 June 1997
Santa Barbara, California
Nationality German, American
Fields botany
Notable awards National Medal of Science

Katherine Esau (3 April 1898 – 4 June 1997) was a German-American botanist.

She was born in Yekaterinoslav, Russian Empire (now Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine) to a family of Mennonites of German descent[1]. After the Revolution her family moved to Germany, and then to California, where she achieved her doctorate in 1931.

Esau was a pioneering plant anatomist - perhaps the greatest plant anatomist of the 20th century. Her books Plant Anatomy and Anatomy of Seed Plants have been key plant structural biology texts for the last four decades.

She was the sixth woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1957, and in 1989 she was awarded the National Medal of Science. The Katherine Esau Award is awarded to the graduate student who presents the best paper in structural and developmental biology at the annual meeting of the Botanical Society of America.

Katherine Esau was a gifted lecturer and author as well as a brilliant scientist. A kind and modest person, she never married and led a life full of scientific achievements, which inspires female scientists all over the world.

Many of Esau's publications are housed and available for loan from the Cornelius Herman Muller library at the University of California, Santa Barbara's Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration.

Esau died on 4 June 1997 in Santa Barbara, California, USA.

As a graduate student at UC Berkeley, I did electron microscopy work for Katherine Esau and have a publication with her. She took me under her wing and inspired me to learn as much as possible about plant anatomy. She was a truly kind and wonderful person and an inspiration to women in science.


  1. ^ [1]"The city was named originally after Katherine the Great who promoted agriculture in the steppes of the Ukraine by inviting settlers from Germany, among them the Mennonites. Dr. Esau's family is Mennonite. Dr. Esau's great-grandfather Aron Esau immigrated to the Ukraine In 1804 from Prussia"
  • Esau, Katherine, Anatomy Of Seed Plants, 2nd Ed, John Wiley & Sons, Inc (1977), ISBN 0-471-24520-8
  • Evert, Ray F., Eichhorn, Susan E., Esau's Plant Anatomy: Meristems, Cells, and Tissues of the Plant Body: Their Structure, Function, and Development, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, (eBook 2006), ISBN 0-470-04737-2

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