Tharp, Benjamin Carroll (1885–1964)

Type: Biography

Updated: January 28, 2020

Benjamin Carroll Tharp, botanist and teacher, was born in Pankey, Grimes County, Texas, on November 16, 1885, the son of Edwin Harris and Angelina Victoria (McJunkin) Tharp. He enrolled in Sam Houston Normal Institute in 1908 and graduated in 1910. He entered the University of Texas in 1911 and received a B.A. degree in 1914 and an M.A. degree in 1915. He was plant pathologist at the Texas Department of Agriculture from 1915 to 1917 and associate professor of biology at Sam Houston from 1917 to 1919, when he joined the University of Texas faculty as an instructor in botany. His work on the ecological survey in 1921, concerning the age of trees along the Red River, contributed to the settlement of the Texas-Oklahoma boundary dispute (see BOUNDARIES). Tharp received a Ph.D. degree in 1925 from the University of Texas and in that year was named an associate professor; he was a full professor from 1933 until his retirement in 1956, at which time he was named professor emeritus. He was also assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1928 to 1934. Tharp's approach to Texas vegetation was essentially that of a naturalist, and he probably knew the vegetation of the state better than anyone in his own time. He was director of the University of Texas Herbarium from 1943 until 1956, and his studies and collection of the Texas flora resulted in publications that strongly influenced such writers as Roy Bedichek, J. Frank Dobie, and Walter P. Webb. Tharp's first comprehensive treatment of the vegetation of Texas was "The Structure of Texas Vegetation East of the 98th Meridian," published in the University of Texas Bulletin (1926). The Vegetation of Texas (1939) was a more comprehensive study. "A Pollen Profile from a Texas Bog," published jointly with J. E. Potzger of Butler University in 1947, was one of the first studies in the southern United States to determine vegetational shifts and climate changes through the use of pollen profile sequences. Tharp's last major work was Texas Range Grasses (1952). He was coeditor of Mary S. Young's 1914 journal of botanical explorations in Trans-Pecos Texas, published in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly in 1962. Tharp, who has been called the "Father of Texas Ecology," was a life member of the Texas Academy of Science and a member of other state and national societies. He was a Democrat, a Mason, and a deacon of the University Baptist Church in Austin. He married Norris Ophelia Wallis on September 16, 1914; they had two sons. He died in Austin on November 29, 1964, and was buried in Austin Memorial Park.

Austin American, November 30, 1964. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Who's Who in America, 1960–61.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Anonymous, “Tharp, Benjamin Carroll,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 28, 2020