Samuel Yongue Caldwell (1904-2000), one of the pioneering leaders in the American Iris Society, died in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, on February 19, 2000. He will be remembered primarily for his work with Lycoris, but his horticultural passions ranged far and wide, including Louisiana irises.
Born in 1904 the second of four children, Caldwell was the son of a prominent physician. He was descended from early Nashville settlers and community leaders. A sickly child, he was irregular in attending school and spent much of his time on the family farm where he came to appreciate nature and the plant world. He also honed his photographic abilities, a skill he later put to good use photographing plants and gardens.
In 1932 Caldwell graduated from Vanderbilt University Law School. He practiced law only briefly, finding that he detested the conflict inherent in egal work. He was drawn to plants, so he spent the remainder of his life working with a wide variety of genera.
After being discharged from the Army in 1946, Caldwell returned to work in the gardening field. For two years he was the editor and executive director of the American Iris Society, which was at that time headquartered in Nashville.
It was during this time that Caldwell worked with leaders of the Society for Louisiana Irises to make SLI a cooperating society within the AIS umbrella. He also promoted Louisiana irises through his national radio program, the "Old Dirt Dobber."
Later Caldwell became the leading authority on Lycoris, a bulbous plant that is popularly known in the American South as "Naked Ladies" or "Surprise Lilies," since they bloom in late summer before their foliage emerges in autumn.
When Caldwell grew old, he was forced to leave the family farm and go into a retirement home. He never married. Despite declining health and a very poor memory, Sam Caldwell in his ninth decade volunteered to maintain the home's greenhouse. He and his plants brought beauty into the lives of the residents, providing a bittersweet ending to a long and productive life.