Sarmukh Singh Bir was born at Shahpur near Ambala Cantonment in Haryana. He passed matriculation examination securing high first division marks and stood first from his school. He earned his BSc (Honours School) and MSc (Hons School) degrees from Punjab University and in both examinations he secured first class first positions. For PhD degree he worked under the guidance of Late Professor PN Mehra. He began his service at Punjab University, Chandigarh and in 1967 shifted to Punjabi University, Patiala as Reader and Head, Department of Botany. He was appointed Professor of Botany in 1969 and retired as Senior Professor in 1989. The Punjabi University conferred upon him the title of Professor Emeritus. Professor Bir after retirement spent nearly 20 years at Punjabi University, Patiala as Professor Emeritus (1991- present ). He has been an Emeritus Fellow, CSIR; INSA Senior Scientist (1995-2000) and Honorary Scientist (2001-04, 2006- ); Visiting Fellow, Guru Nanak Dev University;
Academic and Research Achievements: During his 22 years service at Patiala Professor Bir not only guided research at Masters, MPhill and PhD levels but also produced good botanists who significantly contributed to the advancement of botanical knowledge about Indian flora. He is known for his comprehensive cytological, biosystematic, phytogeographic, taxonomic and morphological studies on about more than 500 species of higher plants, ferns and fern allies from the different floristic regions of India representing the Himalaya, Pachmarhi Hills, Nilgiris and Palni Hills. Leading a strong centre in cytogenetics at Punjabi University, Patiala Professor Bir greatly contributed on the cytology of woody elements of forests, weeds of cultivable lands, legumes, grasses, sedges, Labiatae, Acanthaceae and ferns and fern allies of India. Bir's discovery and naming of over a dozen new taxa of Indian ferns is highly significant in pinpointing the vast diversity and richness of Indian vegetation. His postulate about the existence of polyploidy in ferns, ferns allies and woody taxa of forests exhibiting a declining trend in polyploidy with increase in latitude from south to north on the Indian subcontinent has been well received by flora scientists. He published more than 250 research papers in national and international journals, several monographs and books (both original and edited).
Other Contributions: Editor, Journal of Cytology & Genetics; and the Founder of the Indian Fern Society and Editor, Indian Fern Journal (1983-2000, 2003-08). He is responsible for establishing at Punjabi University Botanic Gardens and Herbarium. Bir was Member, INSA Council during 1993-95.
Awards and Honours: Professor Bir is awardee of Professor P Maheshwari Memorial Medal (IBS), Professor DD Pant Medal & Oration Award (Society of Bionaturalists, India); Platinum Jubilee Lecture of Indian Science Congress; Birbal Sahni Foundation Medal and several others. He was elected as fellow of National Academy of Sciences (India), Allahabad; Lineanen Society, London; Indian Botanical Society; Punjab Academy of Sciences; Societies of Cytologists & Geneticists, India; etc.