Johanna Westerdijk

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Johanna Westerdijk
Johanna Westerdijk - Portrait detail - University Museum Utrecht - 0285-1853.jpg
Born(1883-01-04)4 January 1883
Died15 November 1961(1961-11-15) (aged 78)
Baarn, Netherlands
Alma materUniversity of Amsterdam
University of Munich
University of Zurich (PhD)
Scientific career
Fields Plant pathology
Institutions Utrecht University
University of Amsterdam
Doctoral advisor Hans Schinz
Doctoral students Marie Beatrice Schol-Schwarz; Maria Löhnis; Johan Gerard ten Houten
Author abbrev. (botany) Westerd.

Johanna Westerdijk (Dutch pronunciation: [joːˈɦɑnaː ˈʋɛstərˌdɛik] ; 4 January 1883 – 15 November 1961) was a Dutch plant pathologist and the first female professor in the Netherlands. [1]


Early life

Johanna Westerdijk, called "Hans" (Dutch pronunciation: [ɦɑns] ) by friends, [1] was born on 4 January 1883 in Nieuwer-Amstel, a small village south of Amsterdam, and died on 15 November 1961 at 78 years old in Baarn, Netherlands. [2] [1]

Westerdijk came from a wealthy, intellectual and artistic family of doctors Bernard Westerdijk (1853–1927) and Aleida Catharina Scheffer (1857–1931) being the eldest child of three children. During her elementary school years she always refused to take embroidery classes or play with dolls like most of the girls of her time. Instead she enjoyed reading stories to other girls at her school. She mentioned to her teacher that she would make sure to earn enough money to have all her cleaning duties done for her. [1]


She completed her secondary school at 17 years old and graduated from the Amsterdam school of girls. She was a gifted pianist and intended to become a professional pianist but a persistent neuritis in one arm made this impossible. Her interest in botany led her to attend Amsterdam University to follow the lectures of the famous botanist Hugo de Vries and work in his laboratory. [1]

After finishing her biological studies in 1904 she decided to spend time in Munich and conduct research with mosses, and a year later she moved to Zurich where she studied moss regeneration, earning her PhD degree in 1906 under the supervision of Professor H. Schinz. [2]


Westerdijk (c.1948) JohannaWesterdijk1930.jpg
Westerdijk (c.1948)

In 1906, at 23 years old, she was offered a directorship position at Willie Commelin Scholten, a phytopathological laboratory in the Netherlands. [2] The laboratory under her supervision became an internationally respected institution of phytopathology, was moved from Amsterdam to the Villa Java in Baarn and is recognized to the present day with independent status as an institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. [3]

While working as director of the phytopathological laboratory in 1908 she was in charge of keeping the International Association of Botanists collection of about 80 cultures of fungi. Under her supervision this collection expanded to over 10,000 strains of 6,000 different species of fungi, yeasts and actinomycetes. Named the Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures (Central Bureau of Fungal Cultures) the objective of this collection was and still is to keep a variety of fungi in cultures for distribution to research workers all over the world. In 1913 she became the first female recipient of a grant from the Buitenzorg Fund (from the city of Buitenzorg, now called Bogor in Sundanese, in Indonesia), which she used to collect samples from a variety of diseased crops such as tobacco, sugar, coffee, tea, etc., and made cultures of the fungi for the collection. [2]

Across her career she wrote over 60 publications in plant pathology and mycology. [2]

Inspiration for women and students

Prof.dr. Johanna Westerdijk Prof dr Johanna Westerdijk.jpg
Prof.dr. Johanna Westerdijk
Group portrait with Johanna Westerdijk in the center after her oration as a new professor in 1917 UnivUtrecht1917.jpg
Group portrait with Johanna Westerdijk in the center after her oration as a new professor in 1917

In 1917, she was appointed as the first female professor in the Netherlands, serving as associate professor of plant pathology in Utrecht University and in 1930 at the University of Amsterdam, with a total of 55 PhD students earning their degrees under her supervision in a period of 35 years. Almost half of them were women, being a source of inspiration for students interested in the history of women in science. [3]

She wrote over 70 publications covering a broad spectrum of plant diseases and mycology, [2] but her main interest was in pathogenic diseases of trees and physiological diseases of plants and how to control them. Several of her publications involved trials of chemicals for disease control. [1]

Johanna Westerdijk was described by journalists as a young, natural, simple, and strong woman with a pleasant manner and a great sense of humor. She was also known by her close friends as loving to party, drink and dance and without an interest in marriage. [4]

When she wanted to test the progress of her students, she would take them to a fancy bakery surrounded by fashionable ladies and suddenly ask them questions such as "OK, now what can you tell me about yellow disease or any other disease". She also had her own tradition at every new PhD ceremony, where a flag would be raised and three geese wearing white, red and blue bows around their necks would parade around the building. The doctor and his/her professor advisor would plant a tree in the one and a half hectare garden. This tradition became legendary. [4]

All of the people who worked on their PhD in Baarn were inspired by the atmosphere and the influence of the laboratory's slogan "For fine minds, the art is to mix work and parties" which Johanna Westerdijk had carved in stone above the entrance to the room for practical work. [2]

Westerdijk was active in the International Federation of University Women, now known as Graduate Women International. She served as the organization's president from 1932–1936.[ citation needed ]

Elm disease research

Marie Beatrice Schwarz (left) and Johanna Westerdijk in 1922 Bea Schwarz met prof Johanna Westerdijk wk (1).jpg
Marie Beatrice Schwarz (left) and Johanna Westerdijk in 1922

In the 1920s, she was involved in understanding a new lethal vascular disease in elms (Dutch elm disease), [5] raising money from different municipalities in the Netherlands, which she assigned to her first PhD student Marie Beatrice Schwarz. [3]

Schwarz isolated and inoculated healthy elms, concluding that a fungus was killing the elms. [6] Later J. Westerdijk assigned another student, Christine Johanna Buisman to confirm the finding from Schwarz that Ophiostoma novo-ulmi was the cause of the disease. Buisman additionally bred elms for disease resistance, but unfortunately the elm that she developed was highly susceptible to another fungal disease caused by a Nectria sp. [7]

Honors and awards

Eponymous species

Several fungus species have been named in honour of Westerdijk, including:

The standard author abbreviation Westerd. is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name. [11]


In 1907 Johanna Westerdijk became director of the CBS (Centraalbureau voor Schimmelculteres). In honour of Johanna Westerdijk’s life and work, on 10 February 2017 the institute was renamed to Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute. [12]

Related Research Articles

Elm Genus of flowering, deciduous tree in the family Ulmaceae

Elms are deciduous and semi-deciduous trees comprising the flowering plant genus Ulmus in the plant family Ulmaceae. The genus first appeared in the Miocene geological period about 20 million years ago, originating in what is now central Asia. These trees flourished and spread over most of the Northern Hemisphere, inhabiting the temperate and tropical-montane regions of North America and Eurasia, presently ranging southward in the Middle East to Lebanon, and Israel, and across the Equator in the Far East into Indonesia.

Dutch elm disease fungal disease of elm trees spread by beetles

Dutch elm disease (DED) is caused by a member of the sac fungi (Ascomycota) affecting elm trees, and is spread by elm bark beetles. Although believed to be originally native to Asia, the disease was accidentally introduced into America and Europe, where it has devastated native populations of elms that did not have resistance to the disease. It has also reached New Zealand. The name "Dutch elm disease" refers to its identification in 1921 and later in the Netherlands by Dutch phytopathologists Bea Schwarz and Christine Buisman, who both worked with Professor Johanna Westerdijk. The disease affects species in the genera Ulmus and Zelkova; therefore it is not specific to the Dutch elm hybrid.

The Westerdijk Institute, or Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute, is part of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. The institute was renamed on 10 February 2017, after Johanna Westerdijk, the first female professor in the Netherlands and director of the institute from 1907 to 1958. The former name of the institute was CBS-KNAW Fungal Biodiversity Centre or Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures. Despite the name change the collection maintained by the institute remains the CBS collections and the use of CBS numbers for the strains continues.

<i>Ulmus</i> × <i>hollandica</i> Commelin Elm cultivar

Ulmus × hollandica 'Commelin' is a Dutch hybrid cultivar released for sale in 1960. The tree was raised at Baarn as clone 274 by the Foundation Willie Commelin Scholten Phytopathological Laboratory in 1940, from a crossing of Ulmus × hollandica 'Vegeta' and clone 1, an Ulmus minor selected from a 1929 elm seedlings lot obtained from the Barbier nursery, Orléans.

<i>Ulmus</i> Urban Elm cultivar

Ulmus 'Urban' is an American hybrid elm cultivar selected from the progeny of a controlled crossing of the Siberian Elm Ulmus pumila with the Dutch clone '148' in 1958 by Toru Arisumi of the USDA at Columbus, Ohio. Clone '148' had been sent to the US from the Netherlands in 1952 by Johanna Went, leader of the elm research team at the Willie Commelin Scholten Phytopathology Laboratory in Baarn.

<i>Ulmus minor</i> Christine Buisman Elm cultivar

The Field Elm cultivar Ulmus minor 'Christine Buisman' was the first cultivar released by the Dutch elm breeding programme, initiated in response to the less virulent form of Dutch elm disease (DED), Ophiostoma ulmi, which afflicted Europe's elms after the First World War. 'Christine Buisman' was selected from a batch of 390 seedlings grown from seed collected in the Parque de la Quinta de la Fuente del Berro, Madrid, by Mrs Van Eeghen, a friend of elm researcher Johanna Westerdijk, in 1929 and named for the elm disease researcher Christine Buisman. Originally identified as Ulmus foliacea, it was later treated as Ulmus × hollandica by Melville. However, more recent research in Belgium using DNA markers has reaffirmed 'Christine Buisman' as a clone of U. minor.

<i>Ulmus minor</i> Bea Schwarz Elm cultivar

The elm cultivar Ulmus minor 'Bea Schwarz' was cloned at Wageningen in the Netherlands, by the elm disease committee, from a selection of Ulmus minor found in France in 1939. However, specimens of the tree grown in the UK and the United States are falsely treated as Ulmus × hollandica.

<i>Ophiostoma ulmi</i> Species of fungus

Ophiostoma ulmi is a species of fungus in the family Ophiostomataceae. It is one of the causative agents of Dutch elm disease. It was first described under the name Graphium ulmi, and later transferred to the genus Ophiostoma.

Microfungi or micromycetes are fungi—eukaryotic organisms such as molds, mildews and rusts—which has microscopic spore-producing structures. They exhibit tube tip-growth and have cell walls composed of chitin, a polymer of N-acetylglucosamine. Microfungi are a paraphyletic group, distinguished from macrofungi only by the absence of a large, multicellular fruiting body. They are ubiquitous in all terrestrial and freshwater and marine environments, and grow in plants, soil, water, insects, cattle rumens, hair, and skin. Most of the fungal body consists of microscopic threads, called hyphae, extending through the substrate in which it grows. The mycelia of microfungi produce spores that are carried by the air, spreading the fungus.

Jan Ritzema Bos

Jan Ritzema Bos was a Dutch plant pathologist and first director of the Willie Commelin Scholten Foundation and founder of the Plant Protection Service in 1899 in Amsterdam. He carried out application-oriented research and was nominated as Director of the newly founded 'Institute of Phytopathology' at Wageningen. Here Ritzema-Bos continued with the 'Plant Protection Service', the Netherlands Society of Plant Pathology and the 'Tijdschrift over Plantenziekten' which later became The Netherlands Journal of Plant Pathology and in 1994 was continued as the European Journal of Plant Pathology, published under the aegis of the European Foundation for Plant Pathology. He was succeeded by Johanna Westerdijk (1883-1961) as the new director of the WCS-Laboratory in 1906.

Marie Beatrice Schol-Schwarz Dutch phytopathologist

Marie Beatrice "Bea" Schol-Schwarz was the Dutch phytopathologist who discovered the causal fungus of Dutch elm disease. She first studied pathogens afflicting peanuts and later the fungus Phialophora.

Christine Buisman Dutch botanist

Christine Johanna Buisman was a Dutch phytopathologist who dedicated her short career to the research of Dutch elm disease and the selection of resistant elm seedlings. In 1927, Buisman provided the final proof that Graphium ulmi was the causal agent of the disease, concluding the controversy which had raged among Dutch and German scientists since 1922.

Ophiostoma himal-ulmi is a species of fungus in the family Ophiostomataceae. It is one of the causative agents of Dutch elm disease. It was first isolated around breeding galleries of scolytid beetles in the bark of Ulmus wallichiana. This, together with the fact that it is endemic to the Himalayas, is the reason it is named himal-ulmi. It is outcrossing and heterothallic, with two sexual compatibility types: A and B, occurring in a near 1:1 ratio in nature. It also exhibits a distinctive colony type, an ability to produce synnemata on malt extract agar, production of perithecia with long necks, a very high level of cerato-ulmin toxin production in liquid shake cultures, and moderate to strong vascular wilt pathogenicity on Ulmus procera.

Agathe Louise van Beverwijk was a Dutch mycologist and botanist. She spent most of her career at the Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures, where she was director from 1958 until her death in 1963.

Pedro Willem Crous is a South African mycologist and plant pathologist.

Maria Petronella Löhnis was a Dutch phytopathologist, microbiologist and botanist noted for studying potato diseases.

Dr. Martha Christensen was an American mycologist, botanist and educator known as an expert in fungal taxonomy and ecology, particularly for soil-dwelling fungi in the genera Aspergillus and Penicillium.

J. G. ten Houten was a Dutch plant pathologist known for founding and leading several important bodies in that subject in the Netherlands.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Kerling, L. C. P.; ten Houten, J. G.; de Bruin-Brink, G. (1986). "Johanna Westerdijk: Pioneer Leader in Plant Pathology". Annual Review of Phytopathology. 24 (1): 33–41. doi: 10.1146/ . PMID   19099363.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 ten Houten, J. G. (1 July 1963). "Johanna Westerdijk, 1883-1961". Journal of General Microbiology . Microbiology Society. 32 (1): 1–9. doi: 10.1099/00221287-32-1-1 . ISSN   0022-1287. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 Sticklen, M. B., & Sherald, J. L. (Eds.). (2012). Dutch elm disease research: cellular and molecular approaches. Springer Science & Business Media
  4. 1 2 Faasse, P. (2008). In splendid isolation: a history of the Willie Commelin Scholten Phytopathology Laboratory 1894-1992 (Vol. 11). Amsterdam University Press.
  5. Brasier, C. M. (1991). Ophiostoma novo-ulmi sp. nov., causative agent of current Dutch elm disease pandemics. Mycopathologia, 115(3), 151-161.
  6. "D'Arcy, (2005) C. J. Pathogen Biology".
  7. Wilson, C. L. (1975). Long battle against Dutch elm disease. Journal of arboriculture
  8. (in Dutch) "Eerste vrouwelijke hoogleraar professor Johanna Westerdijk overleden", Utrechtsch Nieuwsblad , 1961. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  9. Frisvad, Jens C.; et al. (2004). "New ochratoxin A producing species of Aspergillus section Circumdati" (PDF). Studies in Mycology. 50: 30.
  10. Crous, Pedro W.; et al. (2017). "Fungal Planet description sheets: 558–624". Persoonia - Molecular Phylogeny and Evolution of Fungi. 38: 240–384. doi:10.3767/003158517X698941. PMC   5645186 . PMID   29151634.
  11. IPNI.  Westerd.
  12. "CBS-KNAW".