Australian Orchid Foundation

In memory of


16-12-1925 ~ 11-02-2011

Len Joseph Lawler passed away in Cairns on 11th February, 2011 after a long illness.

During the Second World War Len served with the 1st Australian Field Trials Company based at Gunyarra Experimental Station which was just south of Proserpine in North Queensland. The purpose of the unit was to research aspects of chemical warfare. After the war Len worked in the Biochemistry Department of the University of Sydney. He gained his fellowship of the Australian Institute of Medical Scientists (AIMS) with a thesis titled Biochemical Investigation of Australian Orchidaceae and later was Chairman of the Federal Executive of AIMS. He was involved in a University project which was testing for the presence of alkaloids in orchids and this took him in 1967 to the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea with Andreé Millar and Alick Dockrill.

Len was influential in the early days of the Australian Orchid Foundation which was established in 1976. He conceived the idea for a seed bank and was the first curator. He served on the Research Committee for many years and was chairman from 1981 to 1986.

In 1984 he made his mark in orchidology at the world level with his epic study titled Ethnobotany of the Orchidaceae which was published in Joseph Arditti’s Orchid Biology Reviews and Perspectives Volume 3. This paper is 123 pages long, includes over 1000 references and remains the definitive work on the subject. In addition Len wrote over 30 scientific and popular articles on orchids, making regular contributions to the Australian Orchid Review. He produced some interesting historical research on orchid identities such as Jack Wilkie, Ken MacPherson, Claude Le Roy and Alf Glindermann.

In 1986 after retiring from the University, Len and his wife Kate moved to the Atherton Tableland where he joined the Atherton Tableland Orchid Society holding many positions over the years including president. Len became well known in Queensland running an AOF sponsored project to catalogue and record the occurrences of rare orchids. Notable among his discoveries was Malaxis lawleri which he found near Cooktown and which was named in his honour.

In December 1999 he received the AOF Award of Honour.

Tribute by Bill Lavarack

A donation has been made to the Australian Orchid Trust Fund by the Directors of The Australian Orchid Foundation.

AOFT: 3228