Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

E.J.H. Corner


Edred John Henry Corner was born on 12 January 1906. Corner received a scholarship to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge in 1923. During his time in Cambridge, he took up mycology (the study of fungi). He was a botanist and an expert on fungi, tropical trees, and palms. He also developed the Durian theory—a comprehensive overview of the origin and evolution of tropical plants.

In 1929, Corner was appointed as the Assistant Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG), a post he held till 1946. During this time, he explored the Malay Peninsula extensively. Corner's first papers were largely on microfungi and also the identity of pathogens of rubber. He was also probably one of the first to demonstrate the association between fungi and bryophytes. By 1931, his focus was to study and record the Malayan forest as it was being felled.

It was also during his tenure at SBG that Corner produced his popular two-volume book, Wayside Trees of Malaya. During the course of the production of the book, many new species of trees and other plants were discovered; some of them were named after him. Corner’s herbarium specimens were deposited in the Singapore Herbarium, with duplicates widely distributed; some were deposoted at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Later in his career, Corner took an interest in figs, and published preparatory accounts of some of the Malayan species in 1933 and 1939. Corner also made many original ecological observations during the course of his field work.  

During the Japanese Occupation from 1942 to 1945, Corner was interned at SBG where he facilitated the security of herbarium specimens as well as the contents of various libraries throughout Singapore. The internment gave him the opportunity for the elaboration of his Durian Theory and initiated his study of the microscopic structure of seeds.

After his time in Singapore, in 1947–48, Corner was Principal Field Scientific Officer (Latin America) in UNESCO, and then became Executive Secretary of the Hylean Amazon Project. In 1949, Corner was appointed Lecturer in Taxonomy at the Botany School, Cambridge, and in 1959, was appointed Reader in Plant Taxonomy. Corner was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1955 and in 1958, was the Society's delegate to the Darwin-Wallace Centenary in Singapore. In 1965, Corner was appointed Professor of Tropical Botany and became Emeritus Professor in 1974.

Selected publications:

Corner, E. J. H., 1949. The durian theory or the origin of the modern tree. Annals of Botany, 13(4): 367–414.

Corner, E. J. H., 1966. The Natural History of Palms. University of California Press. 393 pp.

Corner, E. J. H., 1978. The Freshwater Swamp Forests of South Johore and Singapore. Botanic Gardens, Parks & Recreation Department, Singapore. 266 pp.

Corner, E. J. H., 1988. Wayside Trees of Malaya: In two volumes (Edition 3). Malayan Nature Society. 861 pp.

Corner, E. J. H., 2002. The Life of Plants (Edition 2). University of Chicago Press. 376 pp.

Corner, E. J. H., 2010. The Seeds of Dicotyledons 2 Volume Set, Volumes 1-2. Cambridge University Press. 783 pp.

Other Resources

O’Dempsey, T. Flora Singapura. www.florasingapura.com. (Accessed January 2013).


Mabberley, D. J., 1999. Edred John Henry Corner, CBE 12 January 1906–1914 September 1996. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 45: 79–93.

Ng, P. K. L., L. K. Wang & R. T. Corlett, 2011. History of Biodiversity Research. Pp. 122–133. In: Ng, P. K. L., R. T. Corlett & H. T. W. Tan (editors), Singapore Biodiversity. An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development, Editions Didier Millet, Singapore, 552 pp.

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