Ron Boniface was an amateur botanist who undertook a lifelong study of the British flora, travelling extensively throughout England, Wales and Scotland to observe, collect and record vascular plants and bryophytes. His work is representative of a long tradition of amateur botanists or plant hunters, but it is exceptional in the attention to detail and quality of ecological observations that he made. His notebooks and herbarium are now held at the Welsh National Herbarium (NMW), Amgueddfa cymru – National Museum Wales.
Ron Boniface was born on 9 July 1913 in Eastbourne, Sussex where he lived with his parents until World War II. As a young man in the 1930s he became interested in plants as a hobby and joined the Eastbourne Natural History Society. Travelling by bicycle, he soon became an expert on the flora of the Eastbourne area and submitted a number of interesting records to Wolley-Dod’s Flora of Sussex (1937), and compiled an unpublished manuscript flora of Eastbourne (available here). During the war he worked in Staffordshire and rediscovered the botanical interest of Chartley Moss. After his parents moved to Chiswick, Middlesex he went to live with them and stayed in the area for the rest of his life, working in the building trade and as a motor mechanic. In 1959 he married Iris Bagshaw and they had one daughter, Janet.
Ron spent much of his spare time botanising and exploring relatively unknown areas. He joined the London Natural History Society in 1947 and was a regular contributor of records to the Society’s recorders for vascular plants and bryophytes. He soon became a very competent and experienced field botanist, almost entirely self-taught, and was regarded by Rose (1987) as one of the most knowledgeable field botanists of his time. On many occasions he went out with E.C. (Ted) Wallace, who he had first met on Ashdown Forest before the Second World War. Then from 1947 with Francis Rose with whom he visited many parts of the British Isles, including Scotland, Teesdale and East Anglia. He had a special interest in rediscovering plants in ‘lost’ localities, and would often carry on searching long after others had given up. This led to some notable successes; one of his best rediscoveries being was Cicuta virosa in Sussex, first found c. 1845. He was a founder member of the Surrey Flora Committee and of the Sussex Botanical Recording Society, and contributed records to the floras of counties around London, including Hertfordshire, London, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex.
Ron had a reputation as a good companion, modest and even-tempered and had a quiet sense of humour. He was a gentle retiring man and was not one to state loudly in the field the identity of a disputed plant, but when asked he was usually right.
Ron died in West Middlesex Hospital on 24 December 1985 from a brain tumour. His botanical effects were sorted by Joyce Smith and Mary Briggs. His notebooks and herbarium are now held here, where the specimens are exceptional in the quality of the original pressing and mounting. There are occasional Boniface exsiccatae at Cambridge University (CGE), the Natural History Museum, London (BM) and Reading University (RNG).
The Catalogue of herbarium and notebooks is available here.