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Renowned UW-Madison botanist Hugh Itlis dies at 91

UW-Madison botany professor (emeritus) Hugh Iltus posed for a portrait in 1984.

Leaving behind a legacy of environmentalism and advancement in botany, former UW-Madison professor Hugh Iltis died this week from complications due to cardiovascular disease.

His son, Michael Itlis, told the Wisconsin State Journal his father died Monday at the age of 91.

Itlist began teaching at UW-Madison in 1955, leading students on fieldwork trips in Mexico and serving as director of the university’s herbarium until 1993. During his time at UW-Madison, Itlis discovered two species of tomatoes, an ancestor of corn thought to be extinct and cofounded the Wisconsin Chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

"Prof. Iltis made many contributions to his field and to the campus community," said UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone. "He will be deeply missed by all who knew him."

Respected around the world, Itlis’s accomplishments led him to help enact Hawaii’s Natural Area Laws and establish the Sierra de Manantlan Biosphere Reserve.

Even in his later years, Itlis continued his work and in 2012 was credited with the discovery of a Peruvian violet, called Viola lilliputana.

“He never wavered from his intense commitment to environmental and social issues,” said UW-Madison botany professor Don Waller, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. “He was a conscience for all of us.”

UPDATE Dec. 24, 5:10 p.m: This article was updated to include an additional comment

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