Botanist Jean Langenheim recounts her life and times in The Odyssey of a Woman Field Scientist

Jean Langenheim

Jean Langenheim, professor emerita of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, has published a memoir about her life as a woman field scientist. Langenheim broke new ground for women in science, conducted field research on five continents, and crossed the disciplinary boundaries of botany, geology, and chemistry.

Her memoir, The Odyssey of a Woman Field Scientist: A Story of Passion, Persistence, and Patience, is published by Xlibris ( All royalties from sales of the book will be donated to the Jean H. Langenheim Graduate Fellowship in Plant Ecology and Evolution at UC Santa Cruz.

"Anyone who reads this rich and wonderfully interesting memoir will be inspired by what Jean Langenheim has accomplished scientifically and personally during her long and distinguished career," said John Thompson, distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCSC. "This is more than a personal memoir by a leading scientist. It is a deeply insightful reflection on how major scientific disciplines have developed over the past half century and how the culture of scientific research itself has changed."

Now an eminent plant ecologist widely respected for her achievements, Langenheim began her career at a time when professional opportunities for women in science were limited. "I lived through the period of being the token woman in numerous situations," she writes in the introduction to the new book. "I was not an activist fighting on the front lines, so to speak, but tried to demonstrate the capability of women through my own hard work and accomplishments."

At UC Santa Cruz, Langenheim was the campus's first female faculty member in the natural sciences and the first woman to be promoted to full professor. She later became the first woman to serve as president of the Association for Tropical Biology and the International Society of Chemical Ecology, as well as the second woman president of the Ecological Society of America and the Society of Economic Botany.

Langenheim traveled throughout the world in the course of field research that ranged from tropical to arctic and alpine environments. These research expeditions led to many adventures recounted in the book--including a forced landing in the Amazon basin and encounters with guerillas during a coup d'etat in Colombia. Her journeys also enriched her life through interactions with people from many diverse cultures.

Despite the inevitable cultural misunderstandings (such as the time Langenheim was horrified to see a rare Amazonian turtle killed for a feast in her honor), her stories express a deep fascination with different cultures and genuine appreciation and enjoyment of people from all walks of life whom she encountered in her travels.

Ultimately, the memoir tells the story of a rich life of learning and discovery. Full of entertaining anecdotes, it also describes an intellectual adventure, as Langenheim's career developed during a period of rapid change in the field of ecology. A timeline in the front of the book puts the chronology of her life in context with milestones in ecology, changes in the status of women in society, and relevant historical events.

Langenheim has received many awards and honors for her work in plant ecology and related fields. She studied plant resins and amber (fossilized resin) for more than 40 years, and her 2003 book Plant Resins (Timber Press) is the only authoritative reference book on the subject.

A UCSC faculty member since 1966, Langenheim has remained engaged in campus activities since her retirement in 1994. In 2004, she endowed the Graduate Fellowship in Ecology and Evolution. In 2006, she established the Jean H. Langenheim Endowed Chair in Plant Ecology and Evolution at UCSC, currently held by Ingrid Parker, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

In addition to donating royalties from the new book to the graduate fellowship endowment, Langenheim has donated copies of the book to Norrie's Gift Shop at the UCSC Arboretum, where proceeds from sales will support the Arboretum.

The Odyssey of a Woman Field Scientist can be ordered from Xlibris by calling 888-795-4274 ext. 7876, or online at and other online book sellers. It is also available at local bookstores. A web site for the book ( provides additional information, photos, and excerpts.