George Baker Cummins (1904 – 2007)
George B. Cummins examining specimens in the Arthur Fungarium.
George Baker Cummins was affectionately known as Mr. Rust. He was recognized throughout the world as the authority on the rust fungi, the Puccinales, which are the largest order of disease-causing organisms of plants.
Cummins came to Purdue University in 1930 as a graduate student under J. C. Arthur and went on to become an Emeritus Professor at Purdue in 1971. During his entire academic career he studied the biology, taxonomy, and geographic distribution of the rusts. His investigations took him to the Philippines, New Guinea, continental China, the Himalaya, central and western Africa, and North and South America. He served as the curator of the Arthur Fungarium from 1938 to 1971, and he built it to be one of the largest working collections of plant rust fungi in the world. During his academic career he published 120 refereed papers and 9 books. The last of these was written at the age of 98.
Cummins’ expertice on the rusts placed him in a foremost position during the “Green Revolution.” Most plant breeding programs were concerned with developing new varieties resistent to diseases and in particular diseases caused by rust fungi. His contributions served as the major background material for these breeding programs. Thus, his impact on the vast increase in food and fiber that occurred between 1940 and 1975 was truly monumental.
Cummins was also a talented illustrator. There are hundreds of original illustrations done by him throughout the collection in the Arthur Fungarium.
Cummins held all of the offices of the Mycological Society of America; he was President in 1946. He was also active in the American Phytopathological Society of America, the Mycological Society of Mexico, the Torrey Botanical Club, American Society of Plant Taxonomists, the Southwestern Association of Naturalists, the Indiana Academy of Science, and the International Association for Plant Taxonomy. He was made a Life Member of the Mycological Society of America in 1967 and was the longest surving charter member. His achievements were recognized by Montana State University (where he received a B.S. degree) when they conferred upon him an Honorary Doctor of Science degree in 1963. In recognition as the foremost authority on the rust fungi, Purdue University awarded him an honorary doctoral degree in 1981 and several other universities also awarded him honorary degrees. Professor Cummins died March 30, 2007 in Tucson, Arizona at the age of 102 (click here for Cummins obituary).
"Dr. George B. Cummins is a scholar, a gentlemen, and a scientist of international fame. His contributions to Purdue University, Indiana, the United States, and the world have been enormous."