Gilbert Arthur Leisman, Ph.D. Biography

Photo of Gilbert Arthur Leisman, Ph.D.

Gilbert Arthur Leisman, Ph.D. (1924-1996)


Statement about Biography

While we have attempted to ensure all information is accurate and as complete as possible, we are limited to what has been shared with us about Leisman and what has been published about him.

If you notice any errors or are aware of any additional professional or personal biographical information (including organizations, awards, hobbies) please add them in our Collection Forum or contact us to let us know.


Early Years and Education

Gilbert Leisman was born May 12, 1924 in Washington D. C. Thereafter his family moved him to Wisconsin where he spent most of his childhood. Probably due in part to the natural wonder of his surroundings near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he became fascinated with botany. He attended Rufus King High School in 1938 and 1939. However, World War II loomed and Leisman was called to serve as an Army Air Force navigator in the European Theater during the war.

After the war, Leisman returned stateside and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison to obtain a Bachelors of Science degree in Botany in 1949. His fascination with nature further prompted him to purse a Master’s of Science that he received in 1952 from the University of Minnesota. The year, 1952, was an impactful year for Leisman since he married Marie Katherine Andrasen on June 21, 1952, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. By 1955, Gilbert A. Leisman completed his Ph.D. on plant ecology at the University of Minnesota. Late in his graduate studies when he had nearly completed of his research, he took a paleobotany class from John Hall (a well-known and respected Paleobotanist especially known for detailed observations) which launched his interested in paleobotany. As part of the paleobotany class, the students cut and macerated coal balls from Iowa. During the study, Leisman found a new fern reproductive structure (pteridosperm male fructification). That discovery ignited Leisman’s enthusiasm for coal ball paleobotany and his detail-oriented approach that he would later pursue and become part of his reputation.


Therefore, Leisman did not start “serious” paleobotanical research until employed at Kansas State Teachers College (now Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas, United States). His detailed observations on Carboniferous lycopsids/lycophtes allowed Gil quickly to become a prestigious and well-respected paleobotanist. This stature allowed Leisman to maintain an active and internationally recognized paleobotany research program primarily focused on fossils found in coal balls where he involved and influenced many students (including some high school science teachers); similar to the way he himself had been influenced by many scientists throughout his life. Those who influenced Leisman included John W. Hall who started his interest in paleobotany; Al Traverse who Leisman himself said encouraged him and helped influence his paleobotanical thinking; and Jim Schopf who Leisman self-avowed was his greatest influence.

Gil’s research primarily focused on the paleobotany of southeastern Kansas coal balls on which he published numerous papers. He was interested in both describing and determining what fossil plants were in the coal balls and in the ecology that those fossil plants and preservation suggested. However, he also was interested in comparing the Kansas coal balls derived from the Weir-Pittsburg, Mineral, Fleming and Bevier coal beds with the Illinois coal balls mainly from the Herrin coal bed at the Sahara Coal Co. Mine No. 6. His research interests, his teaching position and lab and attention to detail allowed him to obtain numerous grants including some from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Leisman published numerous articles, reports and abstracts over the course of his career. Additionally, Leisman encouraged his students to publish articles with him on research they had assisted with or done at his urging. Some of his students continued in paleobotany and published their own bodies of work.

Some of Leisman’s more noteworthy contributions within those publications involve the meticulous observations to allow for comparisons of specimens within the Interior Coal Province on lycopsids and sphenopsids (Leisman, 1962a, 1962b, 1970; Leisman and Graves, 1964; Leisman and Stidd, 1967; Schlanker and Leisman, 1969; Leisman and Bucher, 1971; Leisman and Phillips, 1979). Other important contributions are those specifically on Kansas coal ball flora such as an astonishing Lepidocarpon cone with megaspores (Leisman and Spohn, 1962) another lycopod Selaginellites crassicinctus (Leisman, 1961) and Spencerites cones and their attention-grabbing Spencerisporites spores (Leisman, 1962a, 1962b; Leisman and Stidd, 1967). Of additional note are Leisman and Graves (1964) coal ball studies on spores of Cirratriradites annulatus, Triletes triangulatus and sphenopsid cones of Peltastrobus from Kansas and Indiana.

Teaching, Mentoring and Scholarship

While at Kansas State Teachers College (KSTC)/Emporia State University(ESU) from 1955-1989, Gil Leisman taught primarily botany and paleobotany classes (and perhaps a few ecology classes).

Although Leisman taught classes, he was very serious about his research and took full advantage of the ability for college/university professors to take sabbaticals to further his research in the 1960s and 1970s. In the fall of 1984, Leisman and his wife, Marie, spent a semester’s sabbatical leave in Australia. Five years later in 1989, Leisman retired from the university.

Organizations and Affiliations

Throughout his career, Leisman was active in numerous scientific and professional organizations, attending as many meetings as he could as well as participating and often holding various officer or editorial positions. Some positions were close to home and a long-term commitment like the editorial board of the Kansas School Naturalist (joined in 1956 first “appearing” in Volume 3, Number 2). Others were more ad hoc as requested like reviewing and editing articles for the American Journal of Botany. In an impressive tenure with an organization Leisman was a 42 year member (joining in 1954) of the Paleobotany Section of the Botanical Society of America. In addition to this consistent membership, he served as Secretary/Treasurer from 1963-1965 and Chairperson in 1967 of the Paleobotanical Section. Leisman was also active in the Kansas Academy of Science, was secretary from 1960 to 1962, president in 1968, and other official capacities in the 60s and 70s.

Organizations he was involved with or supported included the American Institute of Biological Science, the Botanical Society of America, and Kansas Academy of Science.

Honors and Awards

Through both his research and involvement in scientific meetings and organizations, Leisman grew his legacy. The respect for Leisman is evident in his appointments as an honorary research associate at the University of London and as a research associate of the Geological Survey of Melbourne, Australia. If that were not sufficient, in 1986 the Paleobotanical Section of the Botanical Society of America recognized Dr. Leisman for his many contributions to paleobotanical research. Additionally, there are several specimens named in his honor (a lycopsid Spencerites leismanii Bek, Libertin, and Drabkova, 2009; a fossil fungi Sporocarpon leismanii Stubblefield, Taylor, Miller, and Cole 1983; a seed fern pollen-bearing organ Parasporotheca leismanii Dennis and Eggert 1978; a gymnosperm leaf Cordaites leismanii 1972).

Non-careeer Interests and Activities

However, Gil was more than just a scientist, as seen from the following observations, which are gleaned from various sources, including reminiscences of those who knew him and his wife Marie.

Gil pursued non-academic interests as well. He was a well-accomplished viola player from school days until late in adulthood. It is notable that he was principle chair in the orchestra throughout his undergraduate career while pursuing a science degree.

Leisman was also involved with woodworking where he created some rather striking wooden pieces. One of the more well-known ones (in various woods) depicts Leisman playing viola and Marie Leisman playing cello. This piece is mentioned in publication and hung (and still hangs?) on the conference room wall in the Department of Biological Sciences at Emporia State University.

By choice, Gil and Marie never had any children.

Leisman’s Legacy

While Dr. Leisman may have died in Emporia, Kansas on Nov. 19, 1996, his scientific contributions and reputation earned him an impactful and lasting legacy.


References on Leisman’s Life

Anonymous, unknown. Dr. Gilbert Leisman. Roundtable (Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas, United States) p. 8. [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000604]

Anonymous, 1969. What Biologists Do: Kansas School Naturalist, The, v. 16, no. 2, p. 1-14. [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000598]

Anonymous, 1996. Leisman Was Plant Fossil Scientist: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000387]

Anonymous,, 2000. Leisman Gift to Paleobotanical Section: Plant Science Bulletin, v. 46, no. 4, p. 117 [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000219]

The 1967 Summer Workshop in Conservation, 1968. Doomed for Extinction?: Kansas School Naturalist, The, v. 14, no. 3, p. 1-16. [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000597]

Breukelman, John, 1963. The First One Hundred Years (1863-1963) of the Division of Biological Sciences Emporia State University (Formerly, Kansas State Teachers College) available online at: [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000605]

Cross, Aureal Theophilus, and Kosanke, Robert Max, 1995. History and Development of Carboniferous Palynology in North America During the Early and Middle Twentieth Century, in Lyons, Paul C., Morey, Elise, Darrah, and Wagner, Robert H., eds., Historical Perspective of Early Twentieth Century Carboniferous Paleobotany in North America: Geological Society of America Memoir, Geological Society of America, Boulder, Colorado, United States, p. 353-388. doi: 10.1130/MEM185-p353 [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000601]

Gensel, Pat, 2005. President’s Report, 2000-2001. [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000113]

Jelinek, Arthur J., 1960. Review of “Spring Lake Archaeology: The Vegetation of the Spring Lake Area” by Leisman, Gilbert Arthur: American Antiquity, v. 26, no. 1, p. 132-133 [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000401]

Leverich, Joe, 1998. In Memoriam: Prof. Gilbert A. Leisman. [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000166]

Leisman, Gilbert Arthur, 1985. Spices: Kansas School Naturalist, The, v. 31, no. 3, p. 3-15. [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000044]

Manchester, Steve, 2002. Biographical Sketch: Gil Leisman, in PaleoNews. [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000028]

Paleobotanical Section of Botanical Society of America, 2001. Current and Former Section Officers and Section Bylaws. (Last Updated: 04 September 2001) [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000603]

Phillips, Tom L., and Cross, Aureal Theophilus, 1995. Early and Mid-Twentieth Century Coal-Ball Studies in North America, in Lyons, Paul C. , Darrah, William Culp, Morey, Elsie Darrah, and Wagner, Robert Herman, eds., Historical Perspective of Early Twentieth Century Carboniferous Paleobotany in North America, Geological Society of America, Boulder, Colorado, United States, p. 315-340 [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000602]

Prophet, Carl W., 1998. History of the Division of Biological Sciences 1960-1998 130 Years and Counting…. (Last Updated: 15 May 1998) [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000506]

Richards, Jennifer H. (2001). Botanical Society of America 2001 Council Meeting Minutes. [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000355]

[Where Leisman attended High School, is from images of yearbook found online, proper citation entry forthcoming].

References on Taxa Named in Leisman’s Honor

Stubblefield, Sara P., Taylor, Thomas N., Miller, Charles E., and Cole, Garry T, 1983. Studies of Carboniferous Fungi. II. The Structure and Organization of Mycocarpon, Sporocarpon, Dubiocarpon, and Coleocarpon (Ascomycotina). American Journal of Botany. V. 70, No. 10, p. 1482-1498. doi: 10.2307/2443347 [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000502]
Article describes multiple fossil fungi including Sporocarpon leismanii Stubblefield, Taylor, Miller, and Cole 1983.

  • Taxa: Sporocarpon leismanii Stubblefield, Taylor, Miller, and Cole 1983
  • Description: fossil fungi
  • Locality: Palmer Mine, near Arma, Kansas, United States
  • Stratigraphy: Cherokee Group: Cabaniss Formation: Bevier Coal
  • Age: Paleozoic: Pennsylvanian: Desmoinesian

Dennis, Robert L., and Eggert, Donnald A., 1978. Parasporotheca, gen. nov., and its bearing on the interpretation of the morphology of permineralized medullosan organs: Botanical Gazette, V. 139, No. 1, p. 117-139. doi: 10.1086/336978 [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000503]
Article describes a new genera Parasporotheca and names the species Parasporotheca leismanii Dennis and Eggert 1978 as a new species belonging to this genus.

  • Taxa: Parasporotheca leismanii Dennis and Eggert 1978
  • Description: fossil seed fern pollen-bearing organ
  • Locality: Berryville, Illinois, United States
  • Stratigraphy: Mattoon Formation
  • Age: Paleozoic: Pennsylvanian: Upper

?, 1972. ? [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000505]
Publication describes a gymnosperm leaf Cordaites leismanii 1972 from Russia published by Soviet paleobotanist.

  • Taxa: Cordaites leismanii 1972
  • Description: fossil gymnosperm leaf
  • Locality: Russia
  • Stratigraphy:
  • Age:

Bek, Jiri, Libertín, Milan, Drábková, 2009. Spencerites leismanii sp. nov., a new sub-arborescent compression lycopsid and its spores from the Pennsylvanian of the Czech Republic: Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, v. 155, no. 3-4, p. 116-132. doi:10.1016/j.revpalbo.2007.12.007 [SNOMNH_Pbot-00000504]
Publication describes a sub-arborescent lycopsid Spencerites leismanii Bek, Libertin, and Drabkova 2009 from the Czech Republic.

  • Taxa: Spencerites leismanii Bek, Libertin, and Drabkova 2009
  • Description: fossil sub-arborescent lycopsid compression
  • Locality: Štilec locality, Tlustice relict, Czech Republic
  • Stratigraphy: Kladno Formation: Radnice Member (Bolsovian): in pale grey or yellowish grey tuffs capping the Lower Radnice Coal (Whetstone Horizon)
  • Age: Paleozoic: Pennsylvanian