World Botanical Associates (WBA) History

©The World Botanical Associates Web Page
Prepared by Richard W. Spjut
July 1999
Revised April 2003; updated October 2006

The WBA was founded by Richard Spjut in May 1983 in Laurel, Maryland to collect plants for pharmaceutical research following termination in October 1982 of a cooperative agreement between the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) that searched for new drugs to treat cancer  (Hartwell 1976; Perdue & Hartwell 1969; Perude 1976; Suffness & Douros 1979; Spjut 1985).  Spjut, who devoted 10 years to this program (see Expeditions by Spjut), was reassigned by the ARS to identify geographical sources of genetic material (germplasm) for acquisition and maintenance of viable agricultural crops in the United States, and to conduct systematic research on plant genera that were of interest to the USDA germplasm.  He also continued to collect plants for new medicinal drugs in WBA as documented by his published reviews on plants that were screened by the NCI during 1960–1982 for which he summarized collection data on ~35,000 species of vascular plants (ferns, cycads, horsetails, lycopods, conifers, flowering plants (Spjut 1985, Limitations of a Random Screen: Search for Anticancer Drugs in Higher Plants), and screening data for 184 species of bryophytes (Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts Screened for Antitumor Agents; Spjut et al. 1986, 1992, see also Spjut 1971).   Other publications include taxonomic and floristic studies on vascular plants (e.g., Spjut 1994; Terrell et al. 2000), and lichens (e.g., Spjut 1996).  Currently, he is preparing a taxonomic revision of yew (Spjut 1992, 1993, 1998, 2000), a genus of gymnosperms that contain taxol, an effective drug for treating ovarian and other cancers (Rowinsky et al. 1990; Cragg et al. 1993, 1996).  The main WBA office has moved from laurel MD (May 1983 – Sep, 2001) to Temecula CA (Sep. 2001–May 2004) to Bakersfield CA (June 2004 to present).

Following the NCI redevelopment of its screening program of natural products in 1986 (Boyd and Paull 1995; Cragg et al.1993, 1996 ( ); see also NCI Web Page), the WBA obtained several Master Agreement Awards from the NIH, while also supplying samples to many universities not only for anticancer screening, but for antibiotics, anti-AIDS, chemo-preventive, anti-parasitic, and other research interests (e.g., Chongming et al. 1997; Czeczuga et al. 1997).   The WBA procurement efforts during 1991-1992 facilitated discovery of conocurvone (Decosterd et al. 1993), an anti-HIV agent isolated from a species of smoke bush (Conospermum, Proteaceae) collected in Western Australia (USDA Foreign Travel Report 1982; Sixty Minutes Australia on smoke bush and its potential anti-HIV chemical properties).  In August 2001, the WBA was awarded a 3–5 year reimbursable agreement from the NCI to supply 1,000 samples each year from plants that occur in the United States and Territories.  For the first year we supplied 1,061 samples, and 941 in the second year.

The WBA maintains an herbarium of vascular plants and cryptogams. The vascular plants are largely specimens we have collected for pharmaceutical screening.  These include ~300 from Peru, ~100 from Nicaragua, ~100 from Honduras, ~100 from Panama, ~1,000 from Mexico, and ~500 from Africa. The cryptogam herbarium has ~10,000 specimens, represented by common lichens from Oregon, northern California, southeastern U.S., and Baja California.  Our type collection includes isotypes for most species of Niebla and Vermilacinia that were described from Baja California. The bryophyte collection includes common mosses from California, Oregon, Washington, and many states in the eastern U.S., and a more extensive collection from the White Mountains National Forest in New Hampshire and Maine. The WBA also has a small library of floras for many areas of the world, supplemented by ~1,000 files on genera of seed plants with photocopies of materials from monographs and revisions. 


  1. Boyd, M. R. and K. D. Paull. 1995. Some practical considerations and applications of the National Cancer Institute in vitro anticancer drug discovery screen. Drug Development Research 34:91-109.

  2. Chongming, W., A. A. Leslie Gunatilaka, F. L. McCabe, R. K. Johnson, R. W. Spjut, and D. G. I. Kingston. 1997. Bioactive and other sesquiterpenes from Chiloscyphus rivularis. J. Nat. Prod. 60 (12): 1281-1286.

  3. Cragg, G.M., M.R. Boyd, J.H. Cardellina II, M.R. Grever, S. Schepartz, K.M. Snader, and M. Suffness. 1993. The search for new pharmaceutical crops: Drug discovery and development at the National Cancer Institute. p. 161-167. In J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.

  4. Czeczuga, B., B. D. Ryan, R. W. Spjut, J.-A. Flock, W. A. Weber, C. W. Beasley, R. E. Showman, R. D. Worthington and V. L. Boucher. 1997. Carotenoids in lichens from the United States of America and Mexico. Feddes Repertorium, 108 (5-6): 401-417.

  5. Decosterd, L. A., I. C. Parsons, K. R. Gustafson, J. H. Cardellina II, J. B. McMahon, G. M. Cragg, Y. Murata, L. K. Pannell, J. R. Steiner, J. Clardy and M. Boyd. 1993. Structure, absolute stereochemistry, and synthesis of conocurvone, a potent, novel HIV-inhibitory naphthoquinone trimer from a Conospermum sp. J. Amer. Chem. Soc. 115: 6673-6679.

  6. Hartwell, J. L. 1976. Types of anticancer agents isolated from plants. Cancer Treatment Reports 60(8): 1031-1067.

  7. Perdue, R. E., Jr. 1976. Procurement of plant samples for antitumor screening. Cancer Treatment Reports 60(8): 987-1005.

  8. Perdue, R. E., Jr. and J. L. Hartwell. 1969. The search for plant sources of anticancer drugs. Morris Arboretum Bulletin 20(3): 35-53.

  9. Rowinsky, E. K., L. A. Cazenave, and R. C. Donehower. 1990. Taxol: a novel investigational antimicrotubule agent. J. Natl. Cancer Inst. 82: 1247-1259.
  10. Spjut, R. W.  2005.  Relationships Between Plant Folklore and Antitumor Activity: An Historical Review.  Sida 21(4): 2205–2241.  For unpublished reports cited in this paper, see also studies on Medicinal and Poisonous Plants.

  11. Spjut, R. W. 1996. Niebla and Vermilacinia (Ramalinaceae) from Baja California and California. Sida Miscellany 14: 225 pp., 73 spp. of which 53 are new, 69 color photos, 52 illus., 129 black/white photos. Introduction, phytogeography, two taxonomic keys emphasizing morphological and chemical characters, and detailed descriptions of genera and species.

  12. Spjut, R. W. 1995. Vermilacinia (Ramalinaceae, Lecanorales), a new genus of lichens. Pp. 337-352 in Flechten Follmann; Contr. Lichen. in honor of Gerhard Follmann, F. J. A. Daniels, M. Schulz and J. Peine, eds., Koeltz Scientific Books, Königstein.

  13. Spjut, R. W. 1995. Occurrence of Mobergia calculiformis in peninsular Baja California. Pp. 475-482 in Flechten Follmann; Contr. Lichen. in honor of Gerhard Follmann, F. J. A. Daniels, M. Schulz and J. Peine, eds., Koeltz Scientific Books, Königstein.

  14. Spjut, R. W. 1995. A systematic approach to collecting plant chemical diversity. Abstract. Paper presented at 36th Annual Meeting, Society for Economic Botany, Cornell University, Ithaca, Jun 21-25.

  15. Spjut, R. W. 1994. A Systematic Treatment of Fruit Types. Mem. New York Bot. Gard., Vol 70, 181 pp, 53 plates, 153 illus.

  16. [Spjut in] Hils, M. 1993. Taxaceae Gray. Yew family. Flora of North America 2: 423-427.

  17. Spjut, R. W., J-Y. Zhou & C-J. Chang. Comparison of taxane content between two different native yews from the Pacific northwest. Poster/Abstract, Thirty-fourth Annual Meeting of American Society of Pharmacognosy, San Diego, CA, Jul 1993.

  18. Spjut, R. W. 1993. Abstract. Reliable Morphological Characters for Distinguishing Species of Taxus. Paper presented at the International Yew Resources Conference, Berkeley, CA, Mar 12-13, 1993.

  19. Spjut, R. W. 1992. Abstract. A taxonomic key to the species of Taxus. Workshop on Taxus, Rockville, MD.

  20. Spjut, R. W., D. G. I. Kingston and J. M. Cassady. 1992. Systematic Screening of Bryophytes for Antitumor Agents. Tropical Bryology 6: 193-202.

  21. Spjut, R. W. 1990. Book Review. Institute of Chinese Materia Medica, China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 1989. Medicinal Plants in China. World Health Organization, Singapore. 327 pp. softbound. Journal of Natural Products 53(6): 1632.

  22. Spjut, R. W. and J. W. Thieret. 1989. Confusion between multiple and aggregate fruits. Botanical Review 55: 53-72.

  23. Spjut, R.W., J. M. Cassady, T. McCloud, D.H. Norris, M. Suffness, G.M. Cragg, and C.F. Edson. 1988. Variation in cytotoxicity and antitumor activity among samples of a moss, Claopodium crispifolium (Hook.) Ren. & Card. (Thuidiaceae). Economic Botany 42(1): 62-72.

  24. Spjut, R. W., M. Suffness, G. M. Cragg, and D. H. Norris. 1986. Mosses, liverworts and hornworts screened for antitumor agents. Economic Botany 40: 310-338.

  25. Spjut, R. W. 1985. Limitations of a random screen: Search for new anticaner drugs in higher plants. Economic Botany: 39(3): 266-288.

  26. Spjut, R. W. and R. E. Perdue, Jr. 1976. Plant folklore: A tool for predicting sources of antitumor activity? Cancer Treatment Reports 60: 979-985.

  27. Spjut, R. W. 1971. Mosses of the Marble Mountain Wilderness Area, Siskiyou County, California. MA Thesis, Humboldt State Univ. 177 species and varieties identified, 37 new reports for the state of California, moss flora largely circumboreal, disjunct occurrences for many species spport the Klamath Mountains refugium.

  28. Suffness, M. and J. Douros. 1982. Current status of the NCI plant and animal product program. J. Nat. Prod. 45: 1-14.

  29. Suffness, M. and J. Douros. 1979. Drugs of plant origin. Pp. 73-126 in V. T. DeVita and H. Busch, ed., Methods in Cancer Research, Vol. 16. Academic Press, New York.

  30. Terrell, E. E., J. L. Reveal, R. W. Spjut, R. F. Whitcomb, J. H. Kirkbride, Jr., M. T. Cimino, and M. T. Strong. 2000. Annotated list of the flora of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, Beltsville, Maryland. USDA ARS-155, Natl. Tech. Info. Serv., Springfield, VA.

USDA Memoranda/Reports:

  1. R. W. Spjut, Foreign Travel Report, 1981. Western Australia and Tasmania. Summarizes data for 758 samples collected for antitumor screening, 13 pp, 4 tables, 81 color photos each with captioned text, 3 color maps. Copies submitted May 1982, in color, to ARS Director (Beltsville), Administrator (T. Kinney, Washington, D.C.), National Program Staff (Q. Jones, Beltsville,), NCI (M. Suffness, Bethesda), Economic Botany Laboratory (J. Duke, Beltsville), Office of International Cooperative Development (Washington, D.C), WA Herbarium (P. G. Wilson), American Consulate (Perth), and American Embassy (Australia).
  2. R. W. Spjut, Accomplishment Report, Procurement of Plant Samples from Mexico and U.S. [during 1978-1980]. 1981. 5 pp., 3 tables, one summarizing collection and extraction data for more than 500 species, which includes plant parts, state where collected, extract types; alphabetical by family/genus. Distributed to ARS National Program Staff and Economic Botany Lab., NCI, American Embassy (Mexico City).
  3. R. W. Spjut to A. S. Barclay 1978, Oct. 24. Plants used against cancer. Sonoran Desert and temperate North American genera with less than six collections tested.
  4. R. W. Spjut, Travel Report. Texas, Nevada, California, April 15-May 30, 1981.
  5. A. S. Barclay to M. Suffness 1979, Jan. 25. Genera extensively screened or completed (GESOC).
  6. R. W. Spjut to POSI (Plants of Special Interest File), 1979, Jan. 17. California annual to perennial genera not tested in the cancer program: Excludes grasses and woody plants.
  7. R. W. Spjut to A. S. Barclay 1978, Aug. 21. Plant genera to be sampled in the Sonoran Desert and western United States.
  8. R. W. Spjut to A. S. Barclay 1978, Jul 27. General plant samples collected in western U.S.