12 October 2009

Sad News - Selby Horticulturalist Gail McDaniel has passed away.

A message from Thomas Buchter, CEO of Selby Gardens:

It’s with a heavy heart that I must inform you that Gail McDaniel passed away this morning, October 12th at 3:00am.

Gail began her career at Selby Gardens as a volunteer. With her great enthusiasm for tropical plants, she was hired May 25th, 1994 on the Grounds staff. As her skills advanced, she was moved to the Greenhouse collections, where she worked skillfully with a wide variety of epiphytes and other tropical plants, including bromeliads, gesneriads, ferns, aroids, and carnivorous plants. A former book-keeper and interior-scaper, she was in her element in her greenhouses.

She was an extremely thoughtful person, and an avid animal lover. She survived a bout with breast cancer in 2006-2007. A few weeks ago she came down with pneumonia, and was moved to the Sarasota Memorial Hospital intensive care unit late last week.

Gail touched many lives during her 15+ years at Selby Gardens. She will be deeply missed by so many.

~ Thomas Buchter

28 August 2009

Frequently Asked Questions about the GRC

Note: You can view this FAQ sheet at any time by going to the link posted on the right side of the GRC blog. You can also download a pdf copy of the FAQ, if desired. ~JRC

Gesneriad Research Center at Selby Gardens

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the Gesneriad Research Center (GRC)?
The GRC is the center in North America for botanical research on the plant family Gesneriaceae. The mission of the GRC is to increase and diffuse knowledge of the flowering plant family Gesneriaceae through exploration, research, professional collaborations, and education, and to facilitate conservation initiatives that benefit gesneriads and the tropical ecosystems where they occur.

Why study gesneriads?

Formally recognized as the plant family Gesneriaceae in 1816, gesneriads have captured the attention of botanists, explorers, and plant enthusiasts for centuries. Gesneriads are often quite striking with a wide range of growth forms, flower colors, and fruit types. They are significant ecologically for their pollinators and seed dispersal interactions as well as for their adaptations to specialized habits such as epiphytism. Gesneriads comprise a major portion of diversity in tropical forests, and many are exceptional horticultural subjects.

Why is the GRC at Selby Gardens?

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (est. 1973) has been involved with gesneriad research since its inception, as is evident from the Gardens’ official seal that illustrates a bromeliad, an orchid, and a gesneriad. Dr. Hans Wiehler was the driving force behind Selby’s early gesneriad program, helping to build the living and preserved collections during his tenure there. In 2002, Wiehler donated the several thousand herbarium specimens, liquid-preserved specimens and other resources of the Gesneriad Research Foundation (GRF) to Selby Gardens. A dedicated gesneriad research program was established to curate, manage and utilize the newly acquired gesneriad resources at Selby Gardens and to further the legacy established by Dr. Wiehler.

How is the GRC funded?

The GRC is currently funded through charitable contributions from individuals, an annual grant from The Gesneriad Society, Inc., and through competitive grants (most recently through an award from the Institute of Museum and Library Services). Selby Gardens, while not directly funding the GRC, generously provides essential overhead and space for GRC operations including office, lab, herbarium and greenhouse.

How are GRC funds managed?

Contributions are managed in two ways: 1) Selby Gardens maintains a designated account for GRC related contributions and grants; all monies in this account are used exclusively for GRC related activities; 2) The Gesneriad Society has set up the GRC Fund to accumulate and distribute funds to the GRC; the goal of this fund is to ultimately raise enough contributions for the endowment of the GRC.

Who is the GRC?

Director: Dr. John R. Clark; GRC Senior Advisory Committee: Dr. Larry Skog (Smithsonian), Dr. Eric Roalson (Washington State University), Dr. John L. Clark (University of Alabama); Selby Senior Staff Advisor: Bruce Holst; Core Volunteers and Supporters*: Karyn Cichocki, Nancy Kast, Jeanne Katzenstein, JoAnne Martinez, Melissa McDowell, Donna Pound, Bill Price, Carolyn Ripps, Doug Rist, Marge Schmiel, Paul Susi, Jim Sciarello, Anne Vidaver; Affiliated organizations: Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, The Gesneriad Society, Inc., Suncoast Chapter of the Gesneriad Society, Tampa Bay Chapter of the Gesneriad Society, Frelinghuysen Arboretum Chapter of the Gesneriad Society.
*Listed alphabetically; list includes volunteers and financial contributors of $100 or more. If you see any omissions, please notify John R. Clark at johnrobertclark@gmail.com

Who do I contact for more information about the GRC?

Contact: Dr. John R. Clark, Director, Gesneriad Research Center, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 811 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, FL 34236; 941.366.5731x256; jrclark@selby.org or johnrobertclark@gmail.com.

14 August 2009


941-366-5731 941-366-9807 FAX WWW.SELBY.ORG


Contact: Dr. John R. Clark, Head of Molecular Programs, (941) 366-5731 x 256, jrclark@selby.org
IMLS Contact: Jeannine Mjoseth, (202) 653-4632, jmjoseth@imls.gov
Selby Contact: Debbie Steele, Director of Marketing, (941) 366-5731 x 225, dsteele@selby.org

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Awarded Prestigious Grant

from the Institute of Museum and Library Services

(August 14, 2009 – Sarasota, FL): Thanks to a grant of $133,025 from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), Selby Gardens’ Center for Tropical Plant Sciences and Conservation jumps into the 21st Century with the establishment of its new Molecular Research Program. This new program, a two-year start-up project, will provide Selby scientists with cutting-edge resources needed to conduct plant identification, classification and conservation research.

Dr. John R. Clark, Head of Molecular Programs and Director of the Gesneriad Research Center at Selby Gardens says, “Molecular research capabilities, using DNA to understand the relationships between organisms, allows us to address critical questions about plant evolution and conservation, questions that concern the identity and origin of the plants we study. Think of it as CSI meets Selby Gardens where botanists, instead of forensic scientists, use DNA to identify and ultimately conserve plants.”

Epiphytes are a diverse group of plants that live on other plants and warrant continued research based on their high scientific and economic importance. Dr. Clark and other Selby scientists will conduct molecular-based studies on the plant families Gesneriaceae and Orchidaceae, two focal research plant groups at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. These research projects will address relevant questions in epiphyte diversification and conservation, and utilize molecular-based methods in conjunction with traditional techniques to answer them.

Bruce Holst, Director of Research at Selby Gardens, states, “The new Molecular Program is vital to Selby Gardens’ ongoing commitment to science and conservation. This grant and the projects it supports are a major step forward in achieving Selby Gardens’ goal of being the leading institution for advancing the scientific understanding of epiphytes.”

The new Molecular Research Program will be based in Selby’s existing research facilities. The IMLS Grant will provide funding to equip the new program as well as salary and research budget support for Gardens scientists for two years.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge, enhance learning and innovation, and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, visit www.imls.gov.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a respected center for research and education as well as a famous orchid showplace. The Gardens is located at 900 South Palm Avenue in Sarasota, Florida. It is open to the public daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with the exception of Christmas day. For further information call (941) 366-5731 or visit www.selby.org.

# # #

04 August 2009

A brief update on living gesneriad collections at Selby

New Accessions for Selby

Thanks to Atlanta Botanical Garden, and numerous growers in The Gesneriad Society including Nancy Kast, Jeanne Katzenstein, JoAnne Martinez, Melissa McDowell, and Bill Price, Selby Gardens has a far more diverse collection of gesneriads than it did a year ago. These and other supporters have donated cuttings and sometimes whole plants to bolster the Gardens' collection for education and display.

Recently, Jeanne, Melissa and I, with the assistance of Gail McDaniel - Greenhouse Collections Horticulturalist, repotted and accessioned nearly 40 new specimens into Selby's living collection.

Newly accessioned gesneriads in Selby's living collection.


New accessions from expeditions

A recent trip by Selby Gardens scientist Wes Higgins (Guatemala 2009) has also resulted in new gesneriad collections in cultivation at Selby.

Columnea calotricha (Guatemala; Higgins, s.n.). Note the closed flower, despite being mature; this feature is characteristic for this species.

On my recent trip to the Solomons, sponsored by Dr. Anne Vidaver, I was able to collect live specimens of at least five different species of Cyrtandra.

Cuttings of Cyrtandra erectiloba (Solomon Islands; Clark 801). This species has pseudo-alternate leaves at maturity and attractive, white calyces and corollas that are born on the woody stems. This species seems to be growing rapidly and has readily rooted.

Cuttings of Cyrtandra subulabractea (Solomon Islands; Clark 805). This is one of two red-flowered cyrtandras I found growing in the Solomons.

I was also able to bring back seeds from the Solomons, many of which have successfully germinated.

Minute seedlings of Cyrtandra cf. cominsii from the Solomons. Note the small cotyledons of the dozens of germinated seedlings.


Existing accessions at Selby

Selby Gardens has maintained a collection of gesneriads since its inception back in the early 1970s. The facilities are often ideal for growing species requiring high temperature and humidity. Larger shrubs and tree gesneriads can also reach their full potential in the large greenhouses of the Gardens.

Sanango racemosum (Peru; MSBG 2004-0154).

Close up of S. racemosum flowers (Peru; MSBG 2004-0154).

This specimen was originally acquired by Harry Luther from Jerry Trowbridge. The two proceeding photographs were taken by Dr. Phil Nelson, Selby Gardens volunteer collections photographer.

07 June 2009

More gesneriads from the Solomon Islands

As I have continued my explorations of the Solomons, I have encountered several more species of Cyrtandra, this time on Kolombangara Island.

The first species we came across was Cyrtandra filibracteata.

C. filibracteata is a common understory shrub found throughout Kolombangara and presumably most of the Solomon Islands. The species’ red flowers suggest bird pollination. It is apparently tolerant of disturbance and occurs in large numbers along alluvial plains, landslides and recovering deforested areas. Among forests near sites we visited it can be found growing in a variety of areas including hillsides, gorges and along streams and riverbanks. The species can be easily identified by the large 3-5 cm inflorescence clumps growing on the woody trunks and stems. These clusters superficially resemble epiphytes growing on the tree but are in fact a part of it.

We also saw a few specimens of what I previously called Cyrtandra cominsii. I now believe this identification to be incorrect and have started calling this "C. sp. A." I don't think it is a "new" species but I am having difficulty in positively identifying it.

C. sp. A is common along wet, umpland areas, particularly along stream and river banks, and should be readily identifiable using herbarium records. This species appears to be more susceptible to disturbance and/or adverse conditions than C. filibracteata and was found in far fewer numbers. The long, often white petioles, clustered at the top of stout, large-diameter stems, is perhaps the most recognizable feature of this species. Inflorescences in the leaf axils accumulate decaying flowers and other debris forming a layer of thick sludge from which the ripening, white fruit emerge.


What is more likely C. cominsii or a closely related species is pictured here.

This species appears to be part of a group of cyrtandras that are distributed throughout the Pacific. Related species are principally found in the Solomon islands, Fiji and Samoa, but can be found as far away as Micronesia and Tonga. A remarkable feature of the current collections is their location: they were made at about 600 meters elevation. Other members of this lineage are commonly associated with ranges at or below 400 meters. Additional study is warranted.


Also at higher elevations, we found Cyrtandra subulabractea.

C. subulabractea is related to but markedly distinct from C. filibracteata, most notably in the placement and number of flowers along the branches and stems. Calyces are markedly different as well. Both species have red flowers that distinguish them from the other cyrtandras of the Solomons. C. subulabractea may represent a higher elevation counterpart to C. filibracteata, but more detailed distribution surveys are required to confirm this.

The pollinator for these species, while unknown, is possibly one of two bird species (C. Filardi and A. Uy. pers. comm.). Detailed study of pollinator visitation will be required to better understand the ecological roles of these species in the Solomon Islands.


Here is a photograph of another species of Cyrtandra that I have yet to identify.

It is of close affinity to Cyrtandra sp. A, but differs in the smaller, herbaceous habit and linear, glabrous inflorescence bracts. The only collection of this species was made at over 600 meters.

No members of the related species C. sp. A were seen near the same area, suggesting that this species may be a higher-elevation ecological replacement of the other. More distribution data will be required to evaluate this hypothesis.


Finally, we found a population of C. erectiloba, the species found only at 900 meters on Isabel Island. This population, however, was found growing at 400 meters. The species apparently has a greater elevational tollerance than I first hypothesized.


My time on Kolombangara was a fantastic journey made all the better by the hospitality and kindness extended to me by the staff of Kolombangara Forest Products Ltd. KFPL staff exemplified why the Solomon Islands are known as the "friendly isles." In particular, I’d like to acknowledge Simon LaGassicke, Vaeno Vigulu, Derol Sikua, Grayton Saghelama, Sue Vave, Tim Bula and Ferguson Vaghi for their direct assistance. For more on my adventures on Kolombangara, please check out my other blog "Extreme Botany" hosted by Sarasota Magazine.

Thank you for the continued interest and support!


17 May 2009

Gesneriads from Isabel Island.

I encountered my first Solomon Islands native gesneriads last week while on Isabel Island. The region has been tragically logged in the last decade, so finding them took quite some effort. We hired a guide and two porters from the inland village of Tirotonga to attempt a summit of the highest peak on the island, Mt. Kubonito - a 1200 meter mountain that can only be reached through kilometers of winding, difficult mountain trails. After much toil, we reached intact, solid habitat and Cyrtandra and other gesneriads were located. The team was instrumental in making this happen and both members from the Forestry Minisitry and the Tirotonga men were excellent at spotting gesneriads. This was good, because I had to keep my eyes firmly planted on the trail most of the time!

The first species we found is most likely related to Cyrtandra fulvo-villosa or C. cominsii. It is a large monopodial shrub with tight rosettes of large, petiolate leaves. Notice the length of the greenish-white petioles; they are at least 30-40 cm! The flowers are born in tight clusters in the leaf axils.

The man pictured with this specimen is Hudson, our guide from Tirotonga village.


The next gesneriad we came across was Aeshynanthus solomonensis. This was my first Aeschynanthus sighting in the field, so I was very excited to find it. Although it is typical for the genus, its range is unique - it is the only known Aeschynanthus found in the Solomons and yet it is quite common throughout the archipelago. I am curious to know how it is related to other species living further West.

The calyx is rather small on A. solomonensis (less than 1 cm), and the lobes are tinged with pink. The corolla is dark pink to sometimes red and the throat is lined with wine red markings. The leaves are glossy and dark green above, lighter green below.

Some areas of the trail were littered with fallen red blossoms from populations that could be seen in the canopy above.


Another species of Cyrtandra that we found I believe is C. laciniata. However, it differs in several respects from Gillett's 1975 description of the species, warranting further investigation.

It is a large shrub with dense hairs along the stems and leaves. The calyces are greenish white and the flowers are small and white or pale yellow.


On a hellacious treck to the sumit of Mt. Kubonitu, we located an amazing little population of Cyrtandra erectiloba. This species, often found growing above 900 meters in cloud forest, is most likely part of a lineage that is different than all other Pacific species of Cyrtandra. C. erectiloba and related species found in Southeast Asia are characterized by nearly glabrous, stout leaves that superficially resemble oak or chestnut leaves.

The leaves are also pseudo-alternate; the opposite leaf of a pair is reduced to a scale-like bract, similar to what is seen in many species of Columnea. If it had not been for the characteristic flowers, I don't know if I would have recognized it as a Cyrtandra!

Note also the white, inflated calyx. Flowers in this species are born on hard, wood stems, among leaves as well as along leafless sections of stem (not shown).


We were also fortunate enough to find the only known species in the genus Coronanthera from the Solomons, C. grandis. This species is indeed grand as it's namesake suggests - individuals were several meters tall and were serious trees.

Note the long, pendulous inflorescences. The leaves and overall habit are quite similar to many species of Cyrtandra that I have observed in the field. These two genera in fact belong to different subfamilies.

The flowers are small, ~1 cm, and urn shaped. the flowers are also rather similar to some species of Cyrtandra, but there are four distinct stamens. Most species of Cyrtandra have only two.

The fruit of Coronanthera, a hard capsule that dehisces along two or four openings, best differentiates this group from Cyrtandra.


I am now in the Western Province on the Island of Ghizo. I will be resuming collecting in a week or so in this area, so look for more posts in the coming weeks on the Gesneriads of the Solomon Islands. To read more about the stories behind these plant encounters, please visit my other blog, hosted by Sarasota Magazine (www.sarasotamagazine.com): Extreme Botany.

Ghizo Island, Western Province, Solomon Islands

07 May 2009

My travel log at Sarasota Magazine

Hello from the Solomon Islands. I am in day five (or is it six?!) of this two month long adventure. The first gesneriad I've seen? An Episcia hybrid growing in a pot near the hotel I am staying in!

I will have more to say on this blog about the research and science as it develops. For now, I am posting travel updates on my other blog at Sarasota Magazine's webpage:


If interested, please click on the above link. You will find a pull down menu named "blogs." Mine is the one titled "Extreme Botany." Here you will find the more "human interest" side of my travels. What happened that day. What I ate. What made me sick. What I am sick of. Oh, yes, and what makes me happy to be here!

Thanks for the interest. More soon...

Honiara, Solomon Islands

28 April 2009

Herald-Tribune Article on the Vidaver Expedition

I was interviewed last week by Jack McClintock, a correspondent for the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Jack is a freelance journalist, specializing in science writing. His articles have been published in various places including Discover Magazine.

You can read his article on the up-coming Vidaver Expedition at the Herald-Tribune's website:

Selby Botanist to Brave Jungle to Find Flowers

22 April 2009

Background Info on the Solomon Islands

22 April 2009 (10 days until departure)

The Solomon Islands, located at 9° 41.25'S 160° 13.00' E, are a group of oceanic islands that were formed about 25 million years ago. There are over 900 islands that make up the archepelagio, Guadalcanal being the largest. The Solomons are known as outer-arc islands - the islands were formed from the collision between two (or more) tectonic plates resulting in the upheaval of land. The region is known as the Andesite Line. Unlike continents and continental islands (chunks of land broken off from continents such as New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea), the Solomons are thought to be true oceanic islands that have always been separated by water from other neighboring landmasses.

The fact that the Solomon have been separated throughout their history is of great importance in understanding how and why species evolve on islands. Plants, such as the gesneriads I study, had to have made it to the Solomons by some means of dispersal. The question is how did new species form because of or following this dispersal and how did this lead to the great diversity we see in the Solomons and other oceanic islands of the Pacific? One main goal of the Vidaver Expedition is to collect plant specimens to further study this phenomenon.


20 April 2009

Announcing the Dr. Anne Vidaver Expedition to the Solomon Islands, 2 May – 26 June, 2009

(Sarasota, FL – April 20, 2009): As part of on-going work at the Gesneriad Research Center, Dr. John R. Clark of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, will conduct an expedition to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific from May 2 – June 26, 2009. The expedition is generously funded by Dr. Anne Vidaver, an ardent supporter of research on the gesneriad plant family.

The Solomon Islands, located northeast of Australia and east of Papua New Guinea, is a biologically-rich part of the world representing some of the last large tracts of lowland and mountain island forest in the world. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the biodiversity of the Solomons is greatly threatened by deforestation for logging and subsistence agriculture.

Dr. Clark, along with collaborators from the Ministry of Environment, Solomon Islands, and the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, will be conducting plant diversity studies in this poorly-known and increasingly threatened part of the world. Specimens and data collected during this expedition will be used for inventory, classification and conservation efforts. To learn more about the Vidaver Expedition and to follow Dr. Clark’s progress go to http://gesneriadresearchcenter.blogspot.com.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a respected center for research and education as well as a famous orchid showplace. The Gardens is located at 900 South Palm Avenue in Sarasota, Florida. It is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the exception of Christmas day. For further information call (941) 366-5731 or visit www.selby.org.

# # #

24 March 2009

Announcing: World Gesneriad Research Conference 2010

The Gesneriad Research Center at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is pleased to announce

World Gesneriad Research Conference 2010

WGRC 2010 will be a three-day scientific meeting to be held in Sarasota, Florida in September or October 2010 focused on research in Gesneriaceae. Experts and students are invited to make presentations about research on Gesneriaceae and to discuss, promote and plan for continued research-based advancements in this important plant family. Plant enthusiasts and horticulturalists will also be encouraged to attend the presentations and to
participate in discussion groups. Associated activities such as field trips will be a major part of WGRC 2010; these activities will be open to all conference attendees.

We are soliciting ideas and proposals for activities at WGRC 2010. Possible topics of interest include systematics, biogeography and ancestral range history, taxonomy and monography, pollination biology and ecology, conservation, horticulture, etc.


John L. Clark, University of Alabama
John R. Clark, Gesneriad Research Center
Eric H. Roalson, Washington State University
Laurence E. Skog, Smithsonian Institution

Bruce K. Holst, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Jeanne Katzenstein, The Gesneriad Society, Inc.
Melissa McDowell, Suncoast Chapter, The Gesneriad Society, Inc.
Peter Shalit, The Gesneriad Society, Inc.


To participate and/or to receive additional information please send an email to the Committee Chair, John R. Clark, at gesneriadresearch@gmail.com by 15 April 2009 with the following information:

Name, Institution, mailing and email address, current position.

Research Interests.

Symposia concept(s).

How you wish to participate (poster, oral presentation, symposium chair, other).

Which month you prefer the conference to be held (September or October 2010).

Potential conflicts that should be considered (e.g., other meetings).

NOTE: Please forward this mailing to other researchers and students that may be interested in participating. You may receive this message more than once.


WGRC 2010 Steering Committee

22 January 2009

Selbyana - a source for gesneriad publications

Selbyana is the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. The journal has been published annually since 1975. Through its history, Selbyana has included a wealth of papers on gesneriads including valuable contributions by Hans Wiehler and Larry Skog.

The latest issue of Selbyana (Volume 29(2), 2008) contains four papers on gesneriads featuring 5 new species descriptions. Among these are two articles that John L. and I have co-written on new species of Drymonia. There is also a great new publication by John Boggan, Larry Skog and Eric Roalson on the genera Amalophyllon, Niphaea, and Phinaea. Last but certainly not least is an editorial by Wesley Higgins (Director of Systematics at Selby Gardens and Editor, Selbyana) on "The Two John Clarks" - a must read, I must say!

Reprints are available for many published issues of Selbyana, including the current one. These vary in price depending on the issue, but average around 20-30 dollars each. Orders can be placed from the Selby Botanical Gardens Press page on Selby's website:

Selby Botanical Gardens Press

Please note that the website is not currently up to date on pricing and availability. Please contact either me or Wes Higgins (whiggins@selby.org) for current information.

Several recent issues that may be of interest to gesneriad folks are 24(1), dedicated to Hans Wiehler (including "In Memoriam: Hans Wiehler 1931-2003, by J.R. Clark), 24(2) that includes "An Annotated Checklist of Gesneriaceae Type Specimens in the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Herbarium (SEL)" by J.R. Clark, Holst and Skog, and issue 25(2) which is the "Special Issue: Gesneriaceae" featuring contributions by Skog, J.L. Clark, Chautems et al., and Roalson et al. This issue also contains the important biography on Hans Wiehler by Lee Desmon.

Finally, I would like to encourage anyone interested in the scientific side of taxonomy and tropical botany to consider subscribing to Selbyana. Annual subscriptions are $52 per year. Selbyana has been a vehicle for publishing gesneriad research, as well as important papers on bromeliads, orchids and other tropical plant groups, for over 30 years. Subscriptions help us to continue this valuable tradition. In return, Selbyana makes a great addition to any personal library focused on botany and plants. Consider having your local chapter subscribe and keeping the issues as part of your organization's library or archives.

~ John R. Clark