John MacQueen Cowan

1892 - 1960

Botanist and plant-hunter. Born in Banchory (Aberdeenshire) and educated at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, followed by a degree in botany at the University of Edinburgh. He began his career with the Indian Forest Service in 1914, but this was soon interrupted by war service. In India, he was able to undertake surveys in Chittagong and Kalimpong. He returned from India in 1924, to work at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and further his education at Edinburgh and Oxford. He returned to India (1927-29). Thereafter he undertook botanical expeditions to Persia and the Caspian, before returning to become Assistant Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (1930-54). During the Second World War he was seconded to the Home Grown Timber Production Department of the Ministry of Supply, with responsibility for the West of Scotland. Between 1954 and his death he was Curator of Inverewe Garden for the National Trust for Scotland.

Cowan was a particular expert on Rhododendrons, publishing a book and several scientific papers on the genus. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1931 and served on its Council (1953-56). He was awarded the Gold Veitch Memorial Medal by the Royal Horticultural Society in 1951 and a CBE in 1952.

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