News from the Plant Science Center

The Gesneriad Research Center

Dr. John R. Clark, Director of the Gesneriad Research Center (GRC), is continuing his efforts to develop the GRC and to conduct gesneriad research and conservation at Selby Gardens. The

mission of the GRC is to increase and diffuse knowledge of the Gesneriaceae plant family through exploration, research, professional collaborations and education and to facilitate conservation initiatives that benefit gesneriads and the tropical ecosystems where they occur. Major funding for gesneriad-related activities at Selby Gardens comes from The Gesneriad

Society, and many friends of gesneriad research. This funding initiative has become a model for supporting and maintaining research programs at the Gardens.

Planning is also underway for the first international World Gesneriad Research Conference that will be held at Selby Gardens in October 2010. This conference, dubbed WGRC 2010, will bring the world’s top Gesneriaceae scientists and conservationists together for a week of lectures and discussions. A major goal of WGRC 2010 is to propose a plan for worldwide collaborative research and to increase communication between international scientists, particularly students and young professionals.  A grant proposal for major conference support was recently submitted to the National Science Foundation.  Please contact Ann Logan, Chief Development Officer at Selby Gardens, for conference sponsorship opportunities.

Mulford B. Foster Bromeliad Identification Center (BIC)

Harry Luther, Director of the Bromeliad Identification Center (BIC), along with colleague David

Benzing published a book with Pineapple Press entitled Native Bromeliads of Florida.

The book documents the 16 native Florida species plus two natural hybrids and includes an extensive introduction on bromeliad ecology and biology as well as many color and black and white plates. The Bromeliad Identification Center (BIC) also issued its biannual “Bromeliad

Binomial List” in collaboration with the Bromeliad Society International. This authoritative list is referenced by the worldwide scientific community and is used by bromeliad enthusiasts as a spelling guide. Another article now in the works will provide the bromeliad community with updates on every bromeliad-related article in the past five years. Harry Luther and assistant Karen Norton also collaborated on the descriptions for science of a number of new Bromeliaceae species and are preparing several more.

Molecular Program Becomes a Reality

In the Tropical Dispatch Winter 2009 issue, then-new staff member John R. Clark explained the importance of having a plant molecular research capability at Selby Gardens. Thanks to John’s initiative and hard work, the dream is becoming reality. With the award of a highly coveted

Institute of Museum and Library Services grant, Selby Gardens is stepping into the 21st century of plant research. With additional, significant support from funds made available through the Gesneriad Research Center, a lab was constructed and became operational in late 2009.

Watch for an article in the next Tropical Dispatch explaining the lab’s capabilities and inaugural projects.

Expeditions and Collections

National and international expeditions remain important in our operations, as they provide the scientific world with critical information on plant distribution, classification, and conservation. During the past year we conducted expeditions to Bhutan, French Guiana, Guatemala,

and the Solomon Islands. Through these trips we collected nearly 400 plants for Selby Gardens, 100 or so being living plants and the remaining preserved specimens for our herbarium and liquid preserved collections. We look forward to conducting several more trips in 2010.

Curation and management of the collections continue to be a high priority for our Center. Preserved botanical collections provide critical baseline information for much of our knowledge

of plant nomenclature, distribution, conservation, and classification. Selby Gardens currently maintains nearly 130,000 preserved research specimens, a seven-thousand volume library, and the data associated with our approximately 12,000 recorded living collections.

Thanks to the efforts of the herbarium mounters, we are preparing to celebrate the accessioning of our 100,000th herbarium specimen in mid-March, 2010. While Selby Gardens’ Herbarium is modest in size (large herbaria contain upwards of 7 million specimens), it is world-renowned

for its collection of epiphytic plants. The associated liquid-preserved collection is the second largest such collection in the world with 28,000 specimens.

Education and Publications

Educational efforts through public lectures, publications, and one-on-one training of interns are key to disseminating the knowledge that we accumulate. This past year lecture opportunities took us around the world, literally, where we presented some 45 lectures to more than 1,800 individuals. Selby botanists contributed 25 popular and scientific articles and two major books:

the Selby Gardens Illustrated Dictionary of Orchid Genera by Peg Alrich and Wes Higgins published by Cornell University Press, and the above-mentioned Native Bromeliads of Florida. Center botanists described eight new species for science this past year and continue to find new species not only in the field but existing in our own collection. We also continue to publish our scientific journal Selbyana for distribution to more than 200 scientific institutions and individuals in 40 countries around the world. We were fortunate to host three interns this past year: Dechen Lham from Bhutan, Julian Aguirre-Santoro from Colombia, and Lee Amos from the United States.

 Florida Native Plants, Inventory and Conservation

Bruce Holst and Laurie Birch have been working extensively with the Environmental Services Division of the Sarasota County government to conduct botanical inventories of environmentally sensitive public lands. They recently completed eight miles of transects through the Jordyn Parcel of Deer Prairie Creek Preserve, which has yielded an impressive plant list of more than 300 species, and will conduct another eight miles of transect on the same property from January to May of 2010. Volunteers continue to play a large role in the propagation efforts of seven of the rarest plant species of Everglades National Park. The Horticulture department has been so successful at growing one fern species, Thelypteris reticulata, that it has become a challenge to make room for the rapidly growing plants. Plans are underway to conduct a large scale out-planting at the onset of the rainy season in 2010. Finally, we wish to acknowledge and thank our many volunteers who help with nearly all aspects of our operation. We also greatly appreciate the financial support from the many individuals and institutions listed regularly in the Tropical Dispatch.