James Reveal was born on March 29, 1941, in Reno, Nevada. He earned his Bachelor of Science and his Master of Science degrees from Utah State University in 1964 and 1966, respectively. While completing his doctoral research, he served as a post-doctoral fellow for the Smithsonian Institution. In 1969 Reveal was awarded his Ph.D. from Brigham Young University. In 1969, he joined the Botany faculty at the University of Maryland as an Assistant Professor, and, in 1981, he became a Professor of Botany. During his tenure at the university, he was known for his dedicated service. In 1994, he received the University of Maryland "Faculty Award for Excellence in Service." Reveal served as director of the Norton-Brown Herbarium of the University of Maryland between 1979 and 1999. He continues to conduct research in association with the herbarium. Reveal's research interests include botanical studies in the American West, especially endangered and threatened species. He has done work on the history of botanical exploration in the New World and botanical nomenclature and taxonomy as well. Much of his research and writing is devoted to the Polygonaceae subfamily Eriogonoideae, commonly known as the wild buckwheats. His interest in combining history and botany led to a project on botanical discovery in colonial Maryland. Reveal has published four hundred works and has presented nearly one hundred talks. As a member of the Smithsonian Institution's Endangered Species Committee (1974-1982), Reveal was instrumental in attaining the addition of endangered plant species to the original Endangered Species Act.Reveal has discovered or identified over fifty plant varieties. Most of the discoveries were flowering plants of the American Southwest. Reveal identified five new plant varieties in 1968 at a Nevada nuclear testing site. In 1981, Reveal and one of his former graduate students, Norlyn James Bodkin, then professor of Botany at James Madison University, together identified and documented the uniqueness of a variation of the Virginia Wake Robin. They gave this new lily variety the scientific name Trillium pussillum monticulum and the common name Shenandoah Wake Robin. This finding received media attention, because it was the first discovery of a new plant along the Eastern Seaboard since the 1940s.
In addition to the University of Maryland, Reveal's research affiliations have evolved over the course of his career, including the Department of History at the Natural History Museum in London, the Department of Botany at the Academy of Natural History in Philadelphia (especially their Lewis and Clark Herbarium), the Missouri Botanical Garden, and the Monte L. Bean Museum of Life Sciences at Brigham Young University. His work on endangered and threatened plants has brought him into connection with the following institutions: Atomic Energy Commission (University of California at Los Angeles), the Endangered Species Committee of the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution), and the Office of Endangered Species and International Affairs (United States Department of the Interior).Reveal married C. Rose Broome in 1978. Dr. Broome held the position of Associate Professor of Botany at the University of Maryland before joining the United States Department of Agriculture as part of the Agricultural Research Service. Throughout their careers, Reveal and Broome have collaborated on research projects, most notably the research related to plants in colonial Maryland. Explorations in Mexico in 1975 led to their joint discovery of two new varieties, which were named for Reveal and Broome. In 1981, Reveal had the opportunity to travel to China with USDA researcher James A. Duke to research Chinese medicinal plants. This trip was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health as part of their research project for botanical cures for cancer. The two American researchers met with Chinese botanists and medical professionals during their stay.
Reveal's research project on the history of botanical exploration in colonial Maryland involved a 1983 trip to London to study plant specimens at the Linnean Herbarium, the British Museum of Natural History, and the Sloane Herbarium of Oxford University. Reveal collaborated with Dr. George F. Frick of the History Department of the University of Delaware; Dr. Melvin L. Brown of the Botany Department of the University of Maryland; and his wife, Dr. C. Rose Broome, of the United States Department of Agriculture. Their work set out to prove that five specific naturalists in colonial Maryland had collected plant specimens between 1697 and 1736. The plants had been gathered and brought by boat to London for Carl Linnaeus. The identification of these plants held significance in three ways, which appropriately tied together Reveal's research interests. First, Linnaeus studied these plants in preparation for his groundbreaking work of modern botanical nomenclature, Species Plantarum (1753). Second, determining the five naturalists who investigated the flora of colonial Maryland was important to the history of botanical exploration in the New World. Finally, identifying plant species of colonial Maryland would be significant for pinpointing extinct and endangered plants in contemporary Maryland.
As a result of the research trip to London, the Sloane Herbarium allowed collections of these Maryland plant specimens to travel to Maryland in 1983 for a three-part exhibition. The specimens were displayed in the H. J. Patterson Hall of the University of Maryland; Christ Church in Port Republic, Maryland; and the State House in Annapolis, Maryland. In 1987, Reveal, Frick, Brown, and Broome together published three articles, "Botanical Explorations and Discoveries in Colonial Maryland," "On the Identity of Plants Mentioned in the First Two Editions of Linnaeus' Species Plantarum," and "The Identification of Pre-1753 Polynomials and Collections of Vascular Plants from the British Colony of Maryland" in volume seven of the journal Huntia. Reveal and his group identified Hugh Jones, a parish priest of Christ Church, Calvert County, Maryland, between 1697 and 1701, as the first collector of Maryland botanical specimens. The archives of the church confirmed their conjectures. In 1992, the church honored Hugh Jones with a memorial grove, and Dr. Reveal presented the dedication. In that same year, the Library of Congress published Reveal's illustrated Gentle Conquest: The Botanical Discovery of North America. Gentle Conquest built upon the colonial Maryland research but encompassed the history of botanical exploration in the New World from the first settlement to the end of the Western frontier.
In 1999, Reveal was named Professor Emeritus of the University of Maryland. Upon his retirement as a full-time faculty member, he and his wife moved to Montrose, Colorado. Broome remains affiliated with the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, Plant Genome Project. Reveal continues actively to research and publish his work, including contributions to the educational web site "Discovering Lewis and Clark."