Hugh Iltis

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Hugh Iltis (April 7, 1925 – December 19, 2016) was an American environmentalist and professor of botany.


  • The general biological ignorance bodes ill for democratic decisions on environmental issues.
  • Current evidence suggests that teosinte was first tended for its green ears and sugary pith by hunter-gatherers as an occasional rainy-season food in small “garden” populations away from its homeland, and not for its abundant grain-containing, hard fruitcases, which easily mass-collected but useless as food, are as yet unknown from the archeological record. A rare grain-liberating teosinte mutation (probably expressed in only one “founder” plant, a mazoid “Eve”), which exposed the encased grain for easy harvest, was soon recognized as useful, collected and planted (or self-planted). Thus maize was started on its way to a unique horticultural domestication that is not comparable to that of the temperate Old World mass-selected agricultural grains.
    • (January 2000)"Homeotic Sexual Translocations and the Origin of Maize (Zea mays, Poaceae): A New Look at an Old Problem". Economic Botany 54 (1): 7–42. DOI:10.1007/BF02866598. (quote from p. 7)

Quotes about Iltis[edit]

  • As a plant explorer, Iltis led expeditions to Mexico, Guatemala, Peru and Ecuador. His expertise focused on the corn and caper families, but he collected broadly. For example, he discovered two of the 13 species in the tomato genus, including one that proved to have a trait sought in the canning industry.

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