Dr. Shiu-Ying Hu was born in 1910 to a farm family in a village that carried the name of the Hu clan. Interviewed in the Chinese American Women Oral History Project, she said of her botany studies at Lingnan University, “Everything I learned in the village was just ordinary life. Now it’s all science.” As a graduate student and herbarium assistant at the University, she saw many specimens labeled “determined by E.D. Merrill,” and knowing nothing else, decided that she had to study with him. She was already an associate professor in China in 1946 when chance brought her to Radcliffe College to study for her Ph.D., which she received in 1949. Merrill, director of the Arnold Arboretum from 1935 to 1946, lived on the Arboretum grounds. Dr. Hu studied with him and worked at the Herbarium and Arboretum. After her retirement in 1976 she continued to contribute many working hours. Through the years, she took trips to China to collect and to teach. In her lifetime she is known to have collected over 185,000 Chinese plant specimens. One day she met the composer/conductor John Williams walking in the Arboretum and introduced him to a large tree whose seeds she had planted. In 2000, he wrote Tree Song for Violin and Orchestra. The first section is “Dr. Hu and the Meta-Sequoia.” Dr. Hu lives in China, where the Harvard Club of Hong Kong honored her in 2010 on the occasion of her 100th birthday.
Thursday, February 09, 2012