Paul Claude Silva

October 31, 1922 (San Diego, California) - June 12, 2014 (Berkeley, California)

Curator of Algae, University Herbarium, University of California, Berkeley (1960 - 2014)

Editor, International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (1954-2006)


Paul Silva was a world-renowned marine biologist. He was the pre-eminent expert on the seaweed genus Codium. He compiled the names that have been historically applied to algae in his master work, the Index Nominum Algarum. A specialist in botanical nomenclature, he edited successive editions of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, which regulates and standardizes plant names.


He was the youngest (and only boy) of 4 children of Roy and May Silva. After a boyhood full of music and natural history in San Diego County, his academic career began at the University of Southern California, where his initial interest in piano performance and composition was sidetracked, first by marine biology, and then by World War II. He left USC for the US Navy, serving as the Combat Information Center Officer on the U.S.S. Darby and participating in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.


Following the war, upon finishing his undergraduate degree at USC, Silva studied at Stanford University with Gilbert Morgan Smith, investigating the seaweeds of the Big Sur coast, which was then newly accessible. He obtained a master's degree in 1948 and enrolled in the doctorate program at the University of California at Berkeley to study the genus Codium with George F. Papenfuss.


When he received his PhD in 1952, he undertook a one-year post-doctoral investigation of fresh-water algae. He accepted a job as professor at the University of Illinois, where he received tenure in the Botany Department.


He returned to Berkeley in 1960, became a Research Botanist and Curator of Algae at the University Herbarium and developed a research program dedicated to phycology (the study of algae) and botanical nomenclature. He participated in expeditions to the Galapagos Islands, the Gulf of California, and the California Channel Islands. He collaborated with phycologists around the world. His position as Research Botanist did not allow him to formally have students, nevertheless he influenced the graduate careers of many at Berkeley and elsewhere. He delayed retirement until 2000 and continued a slightly reduced working routine until 2012.


Silva belonged to many societies dedicated to the promotion of knowledge of algae. He helped to found the International Phycological Society; his editorial standards ensured that the papers published in the society journals were of high quality. He received numerous awards for his studies of algae. He provided names for ~800 species. The genera Paulsilvella, Silvanella and Silvetia are named in his honor, as are many species. His work facilitated phycology throughout the world.


He had a rich extra-academic life. He was a fervent supporter of the San Francisco Ballet, of Democratic politics, and of GLBT causes. He was an enthusiastic fan of the Giants and A's, the 49ers and Raiders. He collected modern Japanese prints and enjoyed working in his garden.


Silva faced difficulties: he lost his life-partner, Lawrence Heckard, and many other friends to AIDS; his house burned in the Oakland Hills fire of 1992; finally, he developed kidney disease and prostate cancer. Through it all, he pursued his research and assisted botanists throughout the world with theirs.


He left a generous bequest to found the Silva Center for Phycological Documentation at the University Herbarium, UC Berkeley (http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/CPD/algal_research.html).  This center, which will continue his life's work on the systematics of algae, is a fitting legacy for one of the field's greatest practitioners.