HAGIE AWARD WINNER 2013: Jimmie Dean thompson

Rosie Partridge
Jimmie Dean Thompson, our 2013 Hagie Heritage Award recipient, was recognized for his extensive work inventorying plant species in Iowa.
Deborah Lewis / Curator Ada Hayden Herbarium (ISC/IA) at Iowa State University

by Monica Worsley

Jimmie Dean Thompson has a knack for identifying plant species.

After working at the Ames post office for 32 years, Jimmie retired in 1997. In his retirement, he has made noteworthy contributions to conservation through his identification of several hundred previously unrecorded plant species in central Iowa.

“He has perhaps contributed more to our knowledge of plant distributions and diversity patterns in Iowa than anyone in the past 50 years,” wrote nominator Bill Norris, Western New Mexico University botany professor.

This year Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation recognizes Jimmie’s dedication to identifying plant species as a self-taught plant enthusiast with the Lawrence and Eula Hagie Heritage Award.

The Hagie Heritage Award is presented annually to an individual who has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to conservation and improvement of Iowa’s natural environment.

Jimmie was nominated by Bill Norris from Western New Mexico University and Deborah Lewis, Curator at Ada Hayden Herbarium at Iowa State University. He also received endorsements from Lynn M. Alex from the State Archaeologist’s officeMark Widrlechner, Assistant Professor of Horticulture and Agronomy at Iowa State Universityand John Pearson, Iowa Department of Natural Resources botanist.

Retirement with a purpose

Following his departure from the postal service, Jimmie began to teach himself botany. He joined staff from the Iowa State University’s Ada Hayden Herbarium, an archive and research center of preserved plant specimens for taxonomic studies. By 2000, Jimmie had discovered one-third of the plants cataloged in a ten-year study of the plant life in Ames. Several of the plants he found were determined to be new to Iowa.

Jimmie has also started his own inventories, including plant surveys of Hamilton County where he found and documented 1,001 species. He has also explored Boone County and Ledges State Park. Despite having no formal training in botany, he has a vast knowledge of plant species and has written scientific papers on his findings. Four of these papers have been published in peer-reviewed journals and a fifth, “An Inventory of Vascular Flora of Hamilton County, Iowa” appeared in the Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science.

Jimmie’s contributions to conservation go beyond his documentation of plant species. He has helped remove invasive species from Ledges State Park and participated in outreach and education events.

In addition to his discovery of numerous plant species, Jimmie has found 250 American Indian artifact sites, including burial mounds that he reported to the State Archeologist’s office for protection from development.

Lewis said in her nomination letter that Jimmie “started with just a lot of enthusiasm for learning about and growing plants, but through hard work and with a keen eye and great memory for plant names and traits, he has become one of the best botanists in the state.”

Jimmie is a self-taught plant enthusiast who has contributed greatly to ensuring the preservation of Iowa’s beautiful natural resources!

Monica Worsley is INHF's Robert R. Buckmaster Communications Intern.