New Orchid Research Project at Selby Botanical Gardens

Selby Gardens’ research botanist, Dr. Antonio Toscano de Brito was recently awarded a prestigious grant from the National Geographic Society. The grant will fund field work related to the project entitled: The Pleurothallid Orchids of Brazil: Contributions to an Inventory and an Understanding of Evolution, Ecology, and Conservation.

“Pleurothallids,” sometimes called “jewels of the rain forest” because of their beautiful and colorful flowers, are a group of approximately 4000 species of small epiphytic orchids found in predominantly montane regions of the New World tropics. Approximately 600 species of pleurothallid orchids are found in the threatened Atlantic Rain Forest or Mata Atlântica, of which less than 6% of original cover remains. The project is part of an ongoing multidisciplinary study that involves collaboration between Brazilian, American, and British research institutes. Work to date has been funded by the Swiss Orchid Foundation at the University of Basel and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin America Studies, Harvard University, and is currently being undertaken at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.

The main goals of the research are to produce an authoritative monograph of the the Brazilian pleurothallid genera and species, to help establish the boundaries between the genera, and to help document the distribution of rare species in order to better conserve them.  Dr. Toscano de Brito plans on conducting three expeditions to the Atlantic Rain Forest during 2011 and 2012 to collect specimens for morphological and molecular studies.

PHOTO CAPTION. A rare miniature orchid species known only from the threatened Atlantic Rain Forest of Brazil. (Octomeria aloefolia; Photo by Rogier van Vugt)