Awards Reception and Lecture Celebrating Natural History Week

Celebrate everything we’ve learned and everything we have still to learn about the animals, plants, and natural communities of Rhode Island among friends and colleagues.

Doors 5:30 p.m., Program 7:00 p.m.
Quonset O Club
200 Lt. James Brown Rd., N. Kingstown, RI
Advance reservation required
$25 RINHS members, $35 non-members, $15 students
CLICKING HERE will take you to our registration page for TICKETS


Aronia arbutifolia

2017 Rhode Island Natural History Survey Distinguished Naturalist Award

Francis Underwood
Fran is a quiet, unassuming, incredibly competent naturalist. He is known throughout Rhode Island as an exceptional botanist, but his skills go way beyond the plant world to include ornithology, entomology, and many other disciplines. Sharing his knowledge of plants has been accomplished most successfully through the web site ‘Among Rhode Island Wildflowers‘ which he has built into an extraordinary resource with great help from Kathy Barton and others. Included in the site are links to comprehensive illustrated lists of Rhode Island plant taxa including ferns, orchids, and violets. The vast majority of the high-quality photographs that accompany the plant descriptions were taken by Fran, an accomplished photographer, in addition to his many other skills.

‘The Amateur Botanist: Notes on Rhode Island Native Plants’ is penned by Fran and is included on the web site. Always informative, Fran’s offerings in The Amateur Botanist have led to a better understanding of the diversity of plant life in Rhode Island and have publicized the presence of species not thought to exist in our state. Another popular feature of the site is ‘What is that plant?’ This teaser challenges readers to identify a species from a photo or photos. The botanical protagonist of this challenge has changed every month since December 2008.

Harriet Lathrop Merrow, URI’s first professor of botany.

In addition to the significant contribution Fran has made through his writing, his photography, and his web presence, he has been a highly-valued member of the Rhode Island Task Force of the New England Plant Conservation Task Force. Francis Underwood is a thoughtful, gentle soul who, with quiet grace, freely shares his vast knowledge of the natural world.

2017 Posthumous Distinguished Naturalist Award

Harriet Lathrop Merrow (1858-1941)
Merrow was the first botany professor at URI, appointed professor in 1895 at the Rhode Island College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, URI’s forerunner.

Merrow held a degree from Wellesely College and made advanced studies at the University of Michigan and at Cornell University and at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. She was an expert in plant pathogenic fungi and the URI herbarium (KIRI) holds many specimens she collected. She also served URI as Secretary of the Faculty. Merrow received an honorary M.S. from URI (then known as RI State College) upon her retirement in 1921. The dormitory Merrow Hall is named after her but relatively little is known of this extraordinary woman and we hope that we will raise her profile by recognizing her with this award.

Dr. Lucy Spelman conducting gorilla research in Rwanda.

Featured Speaker:

Dr. Lucy Spelman, DVM, Rhode Island School of Design
“Art Can Save a Panda”
Spelman makes the case for bringing artists and scientists together to foster sustained and informed public support for animal conservation. The need for a new, more collaborative and creative approach to saving animal species is urgent. We live together in an increasingly urban world, disconnected from nature, unaware that wild animals are rapidly going extinct and that our health depends on their health. Using examples, including work by her students at the Rhode Island School of Design, Lucy shows it is possible to reconnect the arts and sciences to make the problems facing the animal kingdom, as well as the solutions, more accessible, meaningful, and relevant.

Dr. Spelman is board certified in zoological medicine. She teaches in the Liberal Arts Division at RISD, works at Ocean State Veterinary Specialists, and volunteers for several non-profit conservation organizations including the Wildlife Rehabilitators of Rhode Island, Foster Parrots, and is a founder of Creature Conserve. Her work experience includes ten years with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, half as a clinical vet and half as zoo director. She was the first woman and youngest person to head the zoo; during that time she brought two giant pandas to the US from China and started working with giant otters in Guyana. She went on to work as a consultant for Animal Planet before moving to central Africa to run the field program for the Gorilla Doctors; she traveled extensively in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo treating sick and injured mountain gorillas. She is the author of various scientific articles, the National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia, and co-editor of The Rhino with Glue-on Shoes. For more, please see her TEDx Providence 2015 talk and


Silent auction and raffles to benefit the Natural History Survey.
Hors d oeuvres, cash bar.

The Quonset O Club is itself a stylish historical attraction.

Stay tuned for more details.


November 17, 2017


5:30 p.m., program at 7 p.m.


Quonset O Club 200 Lt. James Brown Rd. N. Kingstown, RI

first name and stuff