The John N. Couch Professorship in Botany
The John N. Couch Professorship in Botany was established in 1984 in honor of Couch, an internationally renowned botanist, Kenan Professor of botany and an active faculty member at UNC for more than 50 years. The professorship was established with proceeds from the sale of land donated to the university by Couch and his wife, Else.
A native of Prince Edward County, Va., Couch was born on October 12, 1896. He studied medicine at Trinity College, now Duke University, for three years before earning his B.A. in botany at UNC in 1919. He received two other degrees from the University: an M.A. in 1922 and a Ph.D. in 1924. In 1917, while he was still an undergraduate, Couch was appointed to the UNC faculty.
Couch’s teaching career was interrupted by World War I. He then taught in N.C. public schools before returning to the University in 1922. He was named a full professor in 1932 and appointed department chair in 1944, succeeding the late W.C. Coker, whose influence led Couch to become a botanist instead of a physician. Couch was awarded a Kenan Professorship in 1945 and remained head of the department until 1960. He delivered a proposal to the University’s Board of Trustees, which approved the establishment of the N.C. Botanical Gardens.
Couch retired in 1967 but continued to conduct research until he was 80.
Couch’s specialty was mycology — the study of fungi. He was internationally known for his studies of diseases caused by fungi and scale insects, as well as for his work on fungi that kill mosquitoes and trap and feed on nematodes. His most significant research was the discovery of organisms that are intermediary between bacteria and fungi.
A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Couch helped make the UNC Botany Library, which was renamed in his honor, one of the foremost botanical libraries in the nation. Couch donated his private collection of books to the library. That collection, and another donated by Ralph Philip Hanes Jr. in honor of Couch, form the core of the library’s extensive holdings.
One of his early monographs was awarded the Walker Prize of the Boston Society of Natural History as “the most outstanding contribution in natural history in the preceding five years.” Among his many honors, Couch won the Meritorious Teaching Award, given in 1955 by the Association of Southeastern Biologists. He also received honorary Doctor of Science degrees from Catawba College, Duke University and UNC.
Couch married the former Else Ruprecht. They had two children, John Philip (B.A. ’49) and Sally (B.F.A. ’68, M.F.A. ’71).
Couch died in 1986 at age 90. His wife died in January of 2000.
The John N. Couch Professor in Botany: