29 September 2008

Suncoast-Tampa Bay show a success

By John R. Clark

On September 20-21, 2008, the Suncoast and Tampa Bay Chapters of The Gesneriad Society jointly held a show and sale at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. By all accounts the show was a success, due in no small part to the dedication and support of the Tampa Bay Chapter and their willingness to support our efforts in Sarasota.
The show had 119 entries, including award-winning plants, artistic designs/plantings, and arts entries. Best in Show went to Jo Anne Martinez for her spectacular Gesneria 'Ako Cardinal Flight'. Sweepstakes in Horticulture went to Nancy Kast for her nine blue ribbon-winning entries.

The new GRC was prominently featured at the show alongside Karen Schunk, who maintained an exhibit of her fantastic botanical watercolor paintings and prints. Karen, a Selby Research Assistant, volunteer and supporter, helped field questions about gesneriad research and Selby Gardens (while I was out taking photographs!).

The show generated a great deal of interest in gesneriads at the Gardens and an increased number of visitors came through the gates owing to the show and sale. The show was a particularly great opportunity for us at the GRC to promote our efforts and mission. Thanks to all who participated!

11 September 2008

Gearing up at the GRC!

By John R. Clark

Fellow gesneriad enthusiasts! We are finally here - the Gesneriad Research Center is open for research...at Selby Gardens. Not even two weeks in and we have several projects off the ground: we are moving forward with research, gesneriad promotion, an upcoming regional show and sale, and more. Let me take a few moments to tell you about some of these exciting developments.

Gesneriad Show and Sale. First off, Selby Gardens will be the site of the upcoming gesneriad show, "The ABC's of Gesneriads", co-hosted by the Tampa Bay and Suncoast Chapters of The Gesneriad Society. The show is this coming September 20-21 in Selby's Great Room by the Bay. The event promises to be a fantastic one with entries arriving from all over Florida along with several guest judges visiting from out of town. We are all excited to have a large contingent of gesneriad folks here at Selby for this event. For more information, check out Selby's upcoming events list at www.selby.org

Promoting gesneriads. One of the principal goals of the GRC is to promote gesneriads at Selby Gardens and elsewhere. To this end, we are working with Debbie Steele, Selby Gardens Public Relations Director, to design and publish a brochure featuring the GRC. Similarly, Donna Krabill, Director of Education at Selby (and a member of The Gesneriad Society!) is collaborating with Selby Research to design an education cart that will feature gesneriad and other research at Selby. This cart will be positioned out in the Gardens and staffed by knowledgeable volunteers. More on these efforts in the coming weeks!

Research updates:

New species of Drymonia. I, in collaboration with the other John Clark (John L. at the University of Alabama), have recently submitted papers describing two new species of Drymonia. These species, one from Costa Rica and the other from Ecuador, exhibit the variety of characters and form that can be found in this interesting genus. 

Drymonia sp. nov. is characterized by dense clusters of flowers with bright orange, pouched corollas. The other Drymonia sp. nov. has more or less typical Drymonia flowers but is unique in having a graceful, pendulous habit. 

Hawaiian Cyrtandra. In collaboration with Warren L. Wagner and Eric H. Roalson, I am working to complete a Monograph of Hawaiian Cyrtandra. Hawaiian species of Cyrtandra are quite diverse and have been historically difficult to classify. This monograph is the result of years of effort and will be a major milestone towards understanding this genus. As part of this work, Dr. Doug Rist, a retired surgeon, has begun volunteering at Selby for the GRC. Doug's job is to glean distribution data from an existing database on Hawaiian Cyrtandra specimens and use this information to construct detailed distribution data for the monograph. This painstaking process will be vital to making the monograph a valuable reference for years to come. On behalf of the GRC, I'd like to welcome Doug on board! I'd also like to welcome him to The Gesneriad Society - Doug's now a member!

Also related to this, Melissa McDowell (long-time Society member and Selby volunteer) is now working to compile a comprehensive file of Cyrtandra publications. Having a consolidated library of Cyrtandra literature will be indispensable as we continue the daunting task of understanding the diversity of this large genus (the largest in the Gesneriaceae). Since there are over 600 recognized species of Cyrtandra, and more than twice that number of named species, this new project is going to keep Melissa busy for quite some time. Thanks, Melissa!

(Above, a picture of a Cyrtandra richii from Samoa)

Believe it or not, there is actually more to tell, but I will save that for an upcoming installment. Check back soon for more updates, highlights from next week's gesneriad show and more!

09 September 2008

Why is the GRC at Selby Gardens?

By John R. Clark and Bruce K. Holst

Contemporary gesneriad research in North America had its roots in the early 1970s, and the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (est. 1973) played a significant role. The importance of gesneriads at Selby Gardens is evident from the Gardens’ seal that illustrated a bromeliad, an orchid, and a gesneriad. Hans Wiehler was the driving force behind Selby’s early gesneriad program, helping to build the living and preserved collections during his tenure there. After leaving Selby Gardens in the early 1980s, Wiehler created the Gesneriad Research Foundation (also in Sarasota, Florida) to continue his work on the family while Selby Gardens focused its efforts on bromeliads and orchids. Simultaneously, Larry Skog, a leading gesneriad authority and contemporary of Wiehler’s, was furthering gesneriad research at the Smithsonian Institution, a legacy first established by Conrad Morton in the 1930s. During the last two decades of the 20th century, Wiehler’s Gesneriad Research Foundation and Skog’s efforts at the Smithsonian were key in furthering our knowledge of the family.

In 2002, with his health failing, Hans Wiehler made the decision to donate the several thousand herbarium specimens of the Gesneriad Research Foundation (GRF) to Selby Gardens. The GRF’s collection of liquid-preserved specimens would soon follow. These specimens had been accumulated through numerous field trips over a nearly 30-year period (1971-1999), and represent the most significant collection of gesneriads made by a single individual. Larry Skog was enlisted to assist in the consolidation of the specimens into the Selby Herbarium. Contributing to this effort were Jeanne Katzenstein (Editor of Gesneriads, the journal of The Gesneriad Society), Bruce Holst (Selby Gardens Herbarium Curator), John R. Clark (now director of gesneriad programs at Selby), Melissa McDowell (Suncoast Chapter of The Gesneriad Society), and many dedicated volunteers.

Meanwhile, Skog was nearing the end of his industrious career at the Smithsonian; retiring in 2003. The venerable institution would not be continuing gesneriad research in an official capacity after his retirement, thus leaving a need for a centralized research program. With its newly acquired GRF collections and existing resources, it was clear to all involved that Selby Gardens was an excellent choice to host a center specializing in gesneriads.

What is the role of the GRC Director?

Here it is, straight from the job description: 

The Research Systematist will oversee the development and daily operations of the Center for Tropical Plant Science and Conservation’s newly formed Molecular Research Facility and Gesneriad Research Center, in conjunction with other research staff, volunteers, outside collaborators and interns. He will report to the Director of the Center for Tropical Plant Science and Conservation. The Research Systematist will coordinate activities to develop and implement the Molecular Research Facility by writing funding proposals and securing donations to equip the facility and to conduct molecular-based research. The Research Systematist will be responsible for timely completion of project objectives, manage project expenditures, assist in development of molecular-based and gesneriad research programs and prepare reports and publications on project accomplishments. The Research Systematist will participate in education and outreach activities, particularly in conjunction with local, national, and international gesneriad societies, serve as the Center's contact for molecular and gesneriad research, and supervise training of volunteer assistants and interns.

In addition, the Systematist will conduct research geared towards enhancing the Garden’s research mission. This research will include basic field research and plant collecting, as well as molecular-based and traditional taxonomic/monographic research with emphasis in the plant family Gesneriaceae and secondarily with other plant families under study at the Center.