Florence Clyde Chandler was a plant geneticist with a broad background in tree-breeding and the induction of polyploidy (the quality of having one or more extra sets of chromosomes) in flowering plants. Her exceptional success inducing polyploidy in the nuclei by using colchicines resulted in the production of a series of outstanding tetraploid and diploid verbenas. During World War II, she worked at the Guatemalan experimental station as a cinchona (a type of evergreen tree) breeder, where she furthered the successful development of a derivative for quinine, a malaria remedy.
Born on September 28, 1901, in Oliver (Scott County) to William Festus Chandler and Nannie Charlotte Shannon, Florence Chandler was educated at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), earning a BA degree in 1923 with a double major in music and science. She began her career teaching biology at Pine Bluff Public Schools from 1923 to 1926. She continued her education while she worked at the New York Botanical Gardens. Columbia University awarded her an MA degree in 1927 and a Ph.D. in 1940 in her subject of major interest, botany.
Chandler continued working at the New York Botanical Gardens before moving to Guatemala in 1943. She worked at the Merck experimental farm as a cinchona breeder, developing a new source for quinine. Quinine was the only effective remedy for malaria and was being produced from the bark of cinchona trees grown on Dutch plantations in the East Indies. Because the Japanese had seized control of these plantations early in the war, the development of a new source for quinine was essential to the thousands of American soldiers who were suffering from malaria. Chandler did important work in the breeding of trees whose bark produced alkaloids from which quinacrine, a quinine substitute, could be synthesized. In 1947, she returned to the United States.
Back in the United States, Chandler worked briefly with the W. Atlee Burpee Seed Company at the Ford Hook Farm at Doylestown, Pennsylvania, in the production of new flower varieties. In 1948, she went to work as a plant geneticist for the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research in Yonkers, New York, where she worked on a wide range of experiments with flowers and trees. Chandler continued her work there for the next eighteen years, primarily in the breeding of larch and other trees. There, she developed hybridized trees that grew from seed to thirty feet in ten years.
In 1966, Chandler retired and moved to Tucson, Arizona. She died on June 4, 1984, and is buried in Tucson.
For additional information:
Chandler, F. Clyde. “Flowering Habits and Fertility of Some Cinchona Species in Guatemala.” Contributions from the Boyce Thompson Institute 16, no. 6 (1951): 249–259.
Williams, Nancy, ed. Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.
Wanda M. Gray
This entry, originally published in Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives, appears in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture in an altered form. Arkansas Biography is available from the University of Arkansas Press.