George Russell Shaw

Historical Biographies

George Russell Shaw

Photograph by Chas. A. Royle. Boston, 1905?

George Russell Shaw (1848-1937)

The son of Samuel Parkman Shaw and Hanna Shaw was born in Parkman, Maine and spent his childhood in Portland. He was educated at Harvard, receiving his A.B. in 1869 and A M. in 1872. While at Harvard he studied architecture and he continued with his studies in London and also at L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. While in Paris he married Emily Mott (1848-1927). In 1873, Shaw began a partnership with another young architect, Henry Sargent Hunnewell (1851-1931), son of Horatio Hollis Hunnewell (1810–1902), Arnold Arboretum benefactor for whom the Administration Building is named.

The Shaw & Hunnewell architectural firm was located at 9 Park Street in Boston from 1873 until 1902. The firm designed many Boston residences and local buildings such as Pierce Hall and the Jefferson Physics Building for Harvard College. In Wellesley, Massachusetts the firm designed the Wellesley Town Hall as well as the Library and Houghton Memorial Chapel for Wellesley College. In Boston, their work included the Boston Medical Library and the Ear and Eye Hospital and, in Brookline, Massachusetts the Free Hospital for Women.

In 1919, Shaw’s entry in his 15th Anniversary Harvard College Class Book reads, “my principal occupation has been the study of Pines, with headquarters at the Arnold Arboretum.”

Shaw’s interest in Pinus led to travel to Cuba, Mexico, and Europe to see this genus growing in its native habitat, to collect herbarium specimens, and to study in the libraries and herbaria of botanical intuitions. In Mexico, he traveled with the noted botanist Cyrus Guernsey Pringle (1838-1911) who helped Shaw find and identify the various species of an exceedingly complex group of Mexican pines.

In 1904, Shaw published four articles in The Gardeners’ Chronicle: “The Pines of Cuba”, “Pines of Western Cuba”, “Pinus leiophylla”, and “Pinus Nelsonii.” In his first major publication The Pines of Mexico, (1909) Shaw was able to distinguish 18 species of pines out of a large number that had stymied earlier taxonomists. This publication included a systematic description of each species and variety, a key, notes on distribution, and discussion of previous botanical treatments. In addition to the scientific merit of Shaw’s work he added remarkable illustrations, drawings of cones and needles, and delightful habit sketches of entire trees in their typical surroundings.

Shaw published The Genus Pinus in 1914, which was a systematic, illustrated monograph on pines worldwide. In the ensuing years, Shaw collaborated on Plantae Wilsonianae, Ernest Henry Wilson and Alfred Rehder’s systematic catalogue of the Chinese flora. He also published “Notes on the Genus Pinus” in the Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 5(4), 1924.

In addition to his conifer research, Shaw was a significant contributor to the Arnold Arboretum and made financial contributions to a number of Arboretum projects. He financed the laying of a wood floor and “fire proofing” of the Hunnewell Building attic (renovated in 1993 and occupied by the Arnold Arboretum Living Collections department). Shaw’s conifer collection is now housed at the Harvard University Herbaria in Cambridge as are a collection of his papers, held in the Botany Libraries Archives.

George Russell Shaw papers. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University [pdf].

Shaw, George Russell. The pines of Mexico. Publications of the Arnold Arboretum ; no. 1. Boston :, J. R. Ruiter, 1909.

Shaw, George Russell. The genus Pinus. Publications of the Arnold Arboretum ; no. 5. Cambridge : Riverside Press, 1914.