Harold Lloyd Lyon was born the fourth child in a family known for its teachers; his mother was a travelling teacher and his grandmother was a teacher back in the early 1850s. Several of his sisters became teachers. Education was very important in the Lyon family.
Harold graduated from Hastings High School in 1896; he was the only male in his grad-uating class of 15. He continued his education at the University of Minnesota, working his way through in seven years. While still studying there he surprised the scientific world by solving a botanical mystery: the correct classification for the Nelumbo lutea (Yellow Nelumbo water lily). At that time this plant was common in Minnesota; Harold collected many specimens from Lake Minnetonka and examined them closely, finally determining this was a monocotyledonous plant. He obtained his doctorate degree in 1902.
He married Maude R. Fletcher, another botanist, in 1905. She would help him in his work and receive her own honors.
He served as temporary head of the University’s Botany Department when his superior became ill and hoped to be appointed to that position when his superior retired. But the University President at that time couldn’t decide between his two in-department applicants and chose an out-of-stater. A month later Harold was contacted by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association to become their Plant Pathologist (at twice the salary from the University of MN and better weather to boot!). He moves to Hawaii in 1907 and continues his work there for the next 50 years.
Initially he was to figure out why, with abundant rainfall, the soil did not retain enough water for many alternative crops. He determined that livestock production had damaged the vegetation to the point where it affected the watershed.
He introduced reforestation to the island. His work with sugar cane was so valuable that the pineapple growers borrowed him to solve diseases on their fruit. His work on these two crops helped establish a strong economic base for Hawaiian agriculture which in turn helped Hawaii become our 50th state.
He organized the first plant pathology department established by any U.S. experiment station. He developed the Mano Arboretum for botanical studies; this was renamed the Harold L. Lyon Arboretum after his death. He also established a scientific library for botanists. A community project was the development of Foster Gardens, a park in Honolulu highlighting tropical plant life. He received a Medal of Honor from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, the highest horticultural award in America. His work included experimenting with a plant source for cortisone, now commonly used in arthritis treatment. During the 1940s he did a scientific study of plant based alcohol sources to supplement gasoline. He found sugar cane yields 444.5 gallons per acre, sugar beets yield 287 gallons per acre, potatoes yield 178 and corn (used today) produces only 88.8 gallons per acre.
Dr. Lyon remained in his beloved Hawaii until his death and is buried there. Lyon Arboretum is one of Hawaii’s major tourist attractions to this day.