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Betty Molesworth Allen

Betty Eleanor Gosset Molesworth Allen OBE (21 July 1913 – 11 October 2002) was a New Zealand botanist.[1] She researched and published extensively on Southeast Asian ferns, and in her retirement she discovered a fern in southern Spain that had previously been thought to be an exclusively tropical species.

Betty Molesworth Allen

Betty Eleanor Gosset Molesworth

(1913-07-21)21 July 1913
Opotiki, New Zealand
Died11 October 2002(2002-10-11) (aged 89)
Marbella, Spain
Geoffrey Allen
(m. 1948; died 1985)
Scientific career
Author abbrev. (botany)B.M.Allen


Early lifeEdit

Molesworth Allen was born on 21 July 1913 in Opotiki, a small town in the North Island of New Zealand. Her father, Arthur, a farmer, was the Paris-born younger son of a Cornwall rector, the 8th Viscount Molesworth.[2] Her mother, born Nellie Banks, was a friend of the suffragist Pankhursts. Molesworth Allen suffered tuberculosis, polio and cancer as a child and spent most of her childhood in hospitals and unable to attend schools. However, both her parents were passionate about nature and wildlife, particularly birds, and as a result she grew up with a love of flora and fauna.[3]


Molesworth Allen became interested in botany through Lucy Cranwell, a botanist at the Auckland Museum. Cranwell introduced her to systematic biology and encouraged her interest in natural history. She was also influenced by G.E. Holloway, also at the Auckland Museum, who inspired her interest in ferns. In 1939, Molesworth Allen was involved in the establishment of the Auckland Botanical Society and was its inaugural secretary.[4] During World War II Molesworth Allen volunteered for the Women's Auxiallary Air Force, before replacing Cranwell as botanist at Auckland Museum from 1944 to 1947.[4] In these years she made important additions to the museum's collections, including mosses and sedges and the field notebooks of T.F. Cheeseman.[4]

In 1947 Molesworth Allen received a scholarship to study in Basel, Switzerland. Stopping over in Malaya, she met and married Geoffrey Allen; declining the scholarship in Switzerland, she instead settled in Malaya where she trained in tropical botany and worked in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.[1][4] From 1948 she travelled extensively in Southeast Asia, particularly to Malaysia, Borneo and Thailand, observing plants and collecting samples from the jungles.[3] However, her work became dangerous during the 1948–1960 State of Emergency as Communist guerillas set up camps in the jungles.[1]

In 1963 Molesworth Allen retired to Los Barrios in Andalusia, Spain, where she continued to collect and study plants, particularly ferns. In January 1965 she discovered the fern Psilotum nudum (L.) P. Beauv. growing in Algeciras in southern Spain, which had previously been assumed to be a solely tropical species.[1][5] As a result of her discovery, the area was extensively studied and eventually protected as a national park, Los Alcornocales Natural Park.[3]



  • Some Common Trees of Malaya (1957) Eastern Universities Press[6]
  • Malayan Fruits: An Introduction to the Cultivated Species (1967) D. Moore Press[7]
  • A Selection of Wildflowers of Southern Spain (1993) Santana Books[8]


  • Some conservation problems of Malaya's hill stations in Nature Conservation in Western Malaysia (1961) Malayan Nature Society
  • Limestone hills near Ipoh in Nature Conservation in Western Malaysia (1961) Malayan Nature Society
  • Ferns of the Quartz Ridges in The Malayan Nature Journal Vol. 17 No. 1, April 1963[9]
  • Jelatang and Pulutus: stinging trees of Malaysia in The Malayan Nature Journal Vol. 18 No. 1, April 1964[10]
  • Descriptions of the Malayan species of Laportea in Singapore Botanic Gardens Garden Bulletin Vol. 20 (4), 1964[11]
  • Psilotum Nudum in Europe in The British Fern Gazette Vol. 9 Part 6, 1965[12]
  • Malayan Fern Notes V in Singapore Botanic Gardens Garden Bulletin Vol. 22 (1&2), 1967[13]
  • Notes on some Malayan ferns (Adiantum) in The Malayan Nature Journal Vol. 22 Part 2, March 1969[14]
  • Notes on two species of Arisarum in south-west Spain in Kew Bulletin Vol. 26 No. 1, 1971[15]
  • Observations on Spanish ferns in The British Fern Gazette Vol. 10 Part 4, 1971[16]

Honours and recognitionEdit

In 1988, Molesworth was made an adopted daughter of the town of Los Barrios, and a botanical park in the town was named in her honour – the Betty Molesworth Memorial Park.[18][19] In 1995 she was awarded the H.H. Bloomer Award by the Linnean Society of London for her discovery of Psilotum nudum in Europe. In the 1997 Queen's Birthday Honours she was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to botany.[1][20]

The hybrid plants Narcissus x alleniae and Centaurea molesworthiae were named after Molesworth Allen.[1][3] A part of the Gua Tempurung, the largest limestone cave in Peninsular Malaysia, is named the Molesworth Allen Tunnel after her.[21]

Personal lifeEdit

In 1948 Molesworth Allen married Geoffrey Allen, a pilot, wildlife photographer and amateur ornithologist. They were married until his death in 1985.[1]

Molesworth Allen died in Marbella, Spain, on 11 October 2002.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Allen, Betty Eleanor Gosset Molesworth (1913-2002) on JSTOR". doi:10.5555/al.ap.person.bm000390391.
  2. ^ Cracrofts Peerage accessed 17 August 2017
  3. ^ a b c d "Betty Molesworth Allen". Naturatessen (in Spanish). Retrieved 2017-08-13.
  4. ^ a b c d "New Zealand Botanical Society Newsletter" (PDF). 2002. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  5. ^ "Betty Molesworth Allen". Retrieved 2017-08-13.
  6. ^ Allen, Betty Molesworth (1957). Some Common Trees of Malaya. Eastern Universities Press.
  7. ^ Allen, Betty Molesworth (1967). Malayan Fruits: An Introduction to the Cultivated Species. D. Moore Press.
  8. ^ Allen, Betty Molesworth (2006-03-31). A Selection of Wildflowers of Southern Spain. Santana Books. ISBN 9788489954120.
  9. ^ "The Malayan Nature Journal" (PDF). April 1964. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  10. ^ "The Malayan Nature Journal" (PDF). April 1964. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  11. ^ Administrator. "Year of Publication: 1964, Vol. 20 (4)". Retrieved 2017-08-13.
  12. ^ "Full text of "The British fern gazette."". Retrieved 2017-08-13.
  13. ^ Administrator. "Year of Publication: 1967, Vol. 22 (1&2)". Retrieved 2017-08-13.
  14. ^ "The Malayan Nature Journal" (PDF). March 1969. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  15. ^ "Notes on two species of Arisarum in south-west Spain" (PDF). 1971. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  16. ^ "The British Fern Gazette" (PDF). 1971. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  17. ^ IPNI.  B.M.Allen.
  18. ^ "Botanic Park Betty Molesworth | Los Barrios | Algeciras | Holiday Inn Express Campo de Gibraltar - Barrios". Retrieved 2017-08-13.
  19. ^ "Places to Visit - Los Barrios - A Morning Visit". Retrieved 2017-08-13.
  20. ^ "No. 54794". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 June 1997. p. 24.
  21. ^ "Gua Tempurung Perak limestone cave tunnel". Retrieved 2017-08-13.