Botanist Max van Balgooy deceased

September 6th, 2021
Max van Balgooy during field work in Papua (1965), holding the inflorescence of an unspecified Araliaceae

Dr. M.M.J. (Max) van Balgooy passed away on 3 September, aged 89. He started working with the Dutch National Herbarium (now a part of Naturalis) in 1961, and stayed working there until and after his retirement. He obtained his PhD with prof. Dr. Van Steenis in 1971, studying the distribution patterns of plant species on Pacific islands. For this, he developed an unequaled knowledge of plants, which would later aid him in determining incoming plant collections and samples from South East Asia and the Pacific.

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Crucial knowledge

Omslag van het boek over Malesische zaadplanten


He personally led a number of expeditions in the region, and discovered a large number of new species. His work was not just of crucial importance to the plant collections of Leiden, but also for biodiversity studies, reports on environmental impact and the search for medicinal plants, which he did for the US National Cancer Institute, among others. His knowledge has been passed on in a trilogy of determination guides for the plants of Malesia (a region that contains Malaysia, but also the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea), guides that are still in use all over the world.


At the age of 87, he was honoured on the international Flora Malesiana Symposium in Brunei, for his contributions the floristic and plant-geographic research in this region.
Max was a loveable and helpful man, with a great sense of humor. During the last years of his life, tormented by chronic en hulpvaardig mens, met een groot gevoel voor humor. In zijn laatste levensjaren, gekweld door chronische neuralgic pains, he was still writing anecdotes about his field work adventures Pelita Nieuws, a Dutch journal for older people with their roots in the former Dutch Indies. 


Besides his passion for botany, Max was also an avid sports fan, in particular badminton. He was a referee for national and international matches, and met his wife Helga through badminton as well. 

Max will be missed dearly. His name will live on in nature, through about twenty plants and animals that were named after him, notably the plant Balgoya pacifica from New Caledonia. Update: on Wednesday the 8th of September, by a fitting coincidence, the Edinburgh Journal of Botany published an article on the genus Cyrtandra. C. balgooyi is "named after Dr M. M. J. van Balgooy of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the Netherlands (L), who has contributed so much to our knowledge of the flora of Southeast Asia and was the collector of the type specimen".

Max van Balgooy op zijn 80e verjaardag. Foto: Ben Kieft.
Max van Balgooy on his 80th birthday in 2012. Photo: Ben Kieft.