05 November 2010

World Gesneriad Research Conference a success

The World Gesneriad Research Conference 2010 (WGRC 2010) was an international meeting of the world’s Gesneriacae researchers, students and lay enthusiasts who came together with the goal of understanding and promoting knowledge of the plant family Gesneriaceae (the African violet family and one of the core group of plants under study at Selby Gardens).

The conference venue (photo by Bruce K. Holst)

The conference was held October 13-15, 2010 at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, FL, USA. Over 70 people from around the world attended WGRC 2010, with registrants from North and South America, Europe, and Asia. Attendees were rewarded with 34 oral presentations by researchers and students, with topics covered including phylogeny and taxonomy, biogeography, floristics, development and reproduction, and education and conservation.

WGRC 2010 Presenters (Photo by Bruce K. Holst)

WGRC 2010 was principally organized by Dr. John R. Clark, Head of Molecular Programs at Selby Gardens and Jeanne Katzenstein, The Gesneriad Society, with a great deal of assistance from Bruce Holst and other Selby Gardens staff and volunteers. The conference has been deemed a complete success, with many attendees commenting on the scope and professionalism of the event.

Fred Barrie, The Field Museum/Missouri Botanical Garden, John R. Clark, Selby Gardens, and Warren L. Wagner, The Smithsonian Institution, enjoying beers at the conference mixer (photo by Bruce K. Holst)

“This is one of the best conferences of this scale that I have ever attended,” Commented Dr. Warren L. Wagner, Head of Botany at the Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Wagner listed the number and caliber of talks as well as the camaraderie between attendees as reasons for this comment. Dr. Peter Schalit, President of The Gesneriad Society stated, “this was by far the best gesneriad event I've ever experienced.”

Paul Susi, Peter Shalit, and Bob Clark, Gesneriad Society Board Members (photo by Bruce K. Holst)

By planning and hosting international meetings, Selby Gardens continues its role as a leader in global botanical research and conservation. Dr. John R. Clark says, “hosting this very successful conference illustrates our ability to not only provide a service to our greater community but also our leadership in scientific research among the global botanical community.”

Thomas Buchter, Selby President and CEO, and Nora Johnson, President, Selby Gardens Board of Trustees at the WGRC 2010 mixer (photo by Bruce K. Holst)

Thomas Buchter, President and CEO of Selby Gardens states, “we are committed to excellence in all that we do at the Gardens and the success of WGRC 2010 demonstrates this well. I hope our supporters and city are as proud of this accomplishment as we are; consider it a prelude of things to come for Selby Gardens and for Sarasota.”

Chirita longgangensis (photo by Dr. Phil Nelson)

10 September 2010

US Postal Service issues a stamp featuring a gesneriad

The United States Postal Service, as part of a 12-year series on the "Nature of America", has issued "Hawaiian Rain Forest" featuring 24 native Hawaiian species of plants and animals. Click the link below to see and read more:

USPS Nature of America: Hawaiian Rain Forest

Among the species featured, a Cyrtandra platyphylla (Gesneriaceae) is prominently displayed near the middle of the sheet.

Here's a link to a few actual photographs of the species, taken by Warren Wagner (Smithsonian):

Cyrtandra platyphylla

Cyrtandra is the largest genus in the Gesneriaceae (~600 species) and is particularly diverse in Hawaii, with 58 recognized species native to this archipelago (Wagner, Clark and Roalson, in prep.).

27 August 2010

Gesneriads Around the World

"Gesneriads Around the World" is the gesneriad exhibition, show, and sale (October 16 and 17) that will immediately follow the World Gesneriad Research Conference 2010 (October 13-15).

Show time:

Saturday, 16 October, 1:00 P.M. - 5:00 P.M.
Sunday, 17 October, 10:00 A.M. - 3:00 P.M.

All individuals registered for WGRC 2010 will have admission to the show as part of their registration fee.

For individuals and parties interested in attending the flower show, but who are not planning on attending the conference, Selby Gardens has graciously offered two for one admission to the Gardens for those visiting expressly for the show.

To receive the discounted rate, simply download the coupon image below and print it out. Bring the coupon with you for two for one admission (or half price admission for one) on either Saturday, October 16th or Sunday, October 17th, 2010.

The show promises to be a diverse and beautiful collection of the world's gesneriads. There will be both expert growers and gesneriad scientists on hand to answer questions. There will also be plenty of plants for sale so you can start your own collection of gesneriads.

We hope to see you at Selby Gardens for Gesneriads Around the World.

07 July 2010

Call for applications - Hans Wiehler Student Travel Award

We are pleased to announce The Hans Wiehler Student Travel Award to be given to students and/or beginning researchers for attending the World Gesneriad Research Conference 2010 in Sarasota, FL, USA.

This fund has been established to promote participation and community among today's researchers and to foster scholarship in students of the family.

Awards will be issued on a competitive basis.

Application Deadline: 15 August 2010

To apply, send the following materials in a single PDF document to wgrc2010@gmail.com with the attention line: HANS WIEHLER STUDENT TRAVEL AWARD.

1) Include your name, institutional affiliation, all contact information including address, telephone and email.
2) A 500 word or less description of why you should attend WGRC 2010. Be sure to include comments on your education and research goals and how attending WGRC 2010 will help advance these goals. Please sign the letter (and scan to PDF).
3) Your curriculum vitae, not to exceed two US letter size pages (CV's exceeding two pages will not be accepted).
4) Letter of recommendation from your major advisor, signed (scan and include in the single PDF).

Label the file exactly as done in the following example: John R. Clark would label his file Clark_JR_Wiehler_Travel_Fund_2010.pdf (i.e., last name, underscore, first and middle initials - no dots or spaces, underscore, Wiehler_Travel_Fund.pdf).

Applications submitted as multiple documents and/or in a different format (e.g., MS Word document) will not be reviewed with the exception for unavoidable technical limitations (e.g., no access to a scanner or program to assemble the single PDF document). In the latter case, contact the WGRC 2010 Registrar (wgrc2010@gmail.com) well in advance of the deadline to make other arrangements.

Applications exceeding the specified length for description and CV will not be reviewed.

Review of applications will begin immediately after the deadline. Award recipients will be notified as soon as possible to expedite airline and hotel bookings as required. However, funds will not be issued until the conference - students will need to cover these costs in advance.

All applicants will be notified by email of their award status prior to the conference.

Thank you. We look forward to receiving your applications.

The WGRC 2010 Planning Committee

23 June 2010

Registration Now Open - World Gesneriad Research Conference 2010

On-line Registration for the World Gesneriad Research Conference 2010 is now open. Please click on the link in the right hand column of the GRC blog for more information and to register.

To go to the GRC blog (if you aren't already there): GRC Blog Home

Or go straight to the WGRC 2010 registration site: Register Now!

On the link you will find detailed information on registration, a general schedule, information on hotels, travel, other important considerations, and more.

Registration is easy and takes just a few minutes. All registration is being handled through our on-line provider 123Signup, the same outfit that has been handling The Gesneriad Society Annual Convention for several years now. Those of you familiar with registering for Convention will know exactly what to do. For everyone else, the site is user friendly.

If at any time you have questions concerning the conference, please contact the WGRC 2010 Registrar at wgrc2010@gmail.com.

Looking forward to October!

The WGRC 2010 Planning Committee

04 June 2010

REGISTRATION INFORMATION - World Gesneriad Research Conference 2010


The World Gesneriad Research Conference 2010 (WGRC 2010) is an international meeting of the world’s Gesneriaceae researchers, students and lay enthusiasts who come together with the goal of understanding and promoting knowledge of the plant family Gesneriaceae. The next conference will be held at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, FL, USA from 13-15 October 2010 with a gesneriad exhibition 15-17 October. The objectives of WGRC 2010 are to provide opportunities internationally for new researchers and students of Gesneriaceae to enter into discussion groups, formalize existing informal international collaborations and working groups into a virtual organization by initiating a web-based Gesneriaceae coalition, and summarize the current state of knowledge on Gesneriaceae phylogenetics with the ultimate goal of creating a comprehensive Gesneriaceae phylogeny.


Tuesday 12 October: Arrivals, registration, poster set-ups (optional activities may include tours of the gardens, research facilities, collections, local sights, as well as a visit to a private grower's extensive gesneriad collection)

Wednesday 13 October: Registration, conference opening, presentations, and discussions followed by evening mixer

Thursday 14 October: Conference presentations and discussions followed by dinner with keynote speaker

Friday 15 October: Morning summary session and closing remarks (optional afternoon tours and time in the herbarium; optional evening preview of gesneriad flower show; possible departures)

Saturday 16 October: Continuing departures (optional time in herbarium and at gardens and show or local sights)

Sunday 17 October: Continuing departures (optional visit to a private grower's collection or local sights)

Note that all conference activities will be held at Selby Gardens; attire will be casual. Optional activities will be planned based on interest levels and time available of individual attendees based on responses received on the soon-to-be-available registration form.


Formal on-line registration will begin as soon as possible (most likely within the month) and a more detailed daily schedule will be provided along with a listing of the more than 35 presenters and abstracts. However, to aid in planning and budgeting for potential attendees and presenters, the following is a breakdown of registration fees and some preliminary information on travel and accommodations in Sarasota.

Full Registration: US$220: Includes full access to meetings and events, misc. conference materials, coffee/tea breaks, 2 lunches, mixer (Wednesday evening; light food; cash bar), dinner [Thursday evening with cash bar), and printed proceedings (special proceedings issue of Selbyana).

Student Registration: US$150: Letter from major advisor required; includes all of the above except printed proceedings (which can be purchased separately).

Partial Registration Options: Wednesday only (US$65) includes presentations, breaks, lunch, and evening mixer; Thursday only (US$80) includes, talks, breaks, lunch, and dinner with keynote address. (Proceedings not included in individual day registration but can be purchased separately.)

Housing (preliminary): We have identified three options for nearby accommodations (within walking distance or less than a mile from the Gardens): basic, about $US65; mid-range, about $US85; and deluxe, over $US125. The rates indicated are per room for 1-2 people per night and include taxes, but we are negotiating better group rates based on conference registrations. More information will follow.

Travel: Two main regional airports (both international) service the area - Sarasota (SRQ) and Tampa/ St. Petersburg (TPA) which is the larger airport served by more carriers with more frequent flights at better cost. TPA is, however, over an hour-long commute to Sarasota so we are also looking at shuttle, bus, carpool, and car rental options. Additional information will follow.

Student Travel and Participation: We have sponsors for two students at this time and are soliciting more. These sponsorships will be awarded on a competitive basis and will cover basic travel expenses and conference fees. We currently estimate that expenses will range from US$720-US$920 for domestic (in US) student attendance, and US$920-US$1420 for international. More details about student sponsorships will follow. Students are encouraged to apply for other sources of funding and the WGRC Planning Committee will assist in providing letters of support.

We hope this preliminary information will help in planning your attendance at the conference. Specific questions about the conference can be directed to John R. Clark at gesneriadresearch@gmail.com. As noted earlier, online registration and more details will be available soon.

We look forward to seeing everyone in Sarasota this October.

The WGRC 2010 Planning Committee

28 April 2010

Selby Gardens publications on gesneriads

In my experience, many gesneriad enthusiasts are interested not only in growing and displaying plants, but also in learning as much as they possibly can about their favorite plant family. Society members eagerly await each quarter's instalment of Gesneriads, the preeminent journal for all things gesneriad. But did you know that the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, home of the Gesneriad Research Center, is a great connection to receive current literature on gesneriads as well?

Both the Gardens' membership magazine, the Tropical Dispatch, and the Gardens' peer-reviewed scientific journal, Selbyana, frequently feature gesneriad articles, images and information.

A peek insides the most recent issue of the Tropical Dispatch.

This month's Tropical Dispatch, with a picture of Drymonia decora on the cover, contains several articles of interest to gesneriad enthusiasts. In the magazine, Bruce Holst provides a valuable overview of epiphyte biology, and in it he discusses gesneriads and other plant families that contain epiphytic species. Selby's Director of Horticulture Mike McLaughlin explains the challenges and pleasures of maintaining one of the world's most scientifically valuable collections of living plants and features an image and discussion on Gasteranthus atratus. In a column on epiphyte evolution, I explain how we are using DNA and molecular techniques at Selby Gardens to better understand epiphytism in the Gesneriaceae and other plant families.

A page out of a past issue of Selbyana featuring a new gesneriad species description.

Bruce Holst and I have taken over editorship of Selbyana and just recently submitted the next instalment, Selbyana 30(2) to Allen Press for publishing. This issue contains two original scientific articles on gesneriads. Laura Clavijo and John L. Clark publish a new species of Drymonia from Colombia and Ivonne SanMartin-Gajardo and José Renato Santana Vianna present a fascinating study on hummingbird pollination in Nematanthus brasiliensis. Both articles feature excellent photographs and new insights on gesneriad biology.

So, are you interested in receiving either or both of these publications? If you become a member of Selby Gardens, you will automatically receive the Tropical Dispatch. Selbyana is available through subscription.

How to join and subscribe:

Tropical Dispatch - Basic Membership at Selby Gardens, starting at $60/year, includes three instalments of the Tropical Dispatch and unlimited access to the Gardens for you and a guest (among other benefits). Not in Sarasota that often or at all? There's still reason to join. Your membership to Selby gives you free admission to over 200 participating gardens, arboreta, and conservatories nationwide, so the rewards from your Selby membership are likely within a short drive from where you are right now. To learn more about the benefits of being a member and to join, please visit Selby Gardens' website or call me directly (941.366.5731 x256) and I'll get you in touch with our membership department.

Selbyana - The journal of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, published since 1975, Selbyana is a peer-reviewed scientific journal devoted to publishing original research on tropical plants, with an emphasis on epiphytes and their forest canopy habitats. Selbyana is available by yearly subscription for only $55. Gesneriad articles frequent the pages of Selbyana and as editor, I am working to include gesneriad-related articles in every issue. To subscribe, please visit SBG Press or give me a call and I can help you get signed up.

21 April 2010

Welcome new Research Assistants at Selby Gardens

Selby Gardens is pleased to announce the addition of two new staff members into the Research Department – Carly Summers, a B.Sc. graduate from New College of Florida, and Elaina Margenthaler, a B.Sc. graduate from Southern Illinois University.

Elaina Margenthaler (left) and Carly Summers (right)

Both Carly and Elaina have exceptional experience in modern molecular methods and will be working under the direction of Dr. John R. Clark in Selby’s new molecular laboratory. Their research will be geared towards understanding the role of plant characters and ecology in the evolution and diversification of epiphytic plant lineages, with a focus on Selby’s three core plant families – bromeliads, gesneriads and orchids. Dr. Clark is particularly excited to have two qualified and eager research assistants in his department. He encourages staff, volunteers and members to stop by Research to meet Carly and Elaina and to learn more about this new and exciting research program at the Gardens.

06 April 2010

Cyrtandra samoensis - on display in Selby's Tropical Conservatory

We have a rather impressive specimen of Cyrtandra samoensis currently on display in Selby's Tropical Conservatory. The plant is just about 1 meter (3 ft) tall and is in full bloom. The delicate white corollas last only about a day or two but are constantly being replaced by new blooms.

Cyrtandra samoensis belongs to a group of about 10 closely related species that are found scattered across the South Pacific from Papua New Guinea all the way out to the Society Islands. At the GRC, we are using traditional morphological studies combined with modern molecular methods to better understand how these species are related to each other and how they came to be distributed across so many remote islands in the Pacific.

30 March 2010

Call for Abstracts - World Gesneriad Research Conference 2010

The Gesneriad Research Center, The Gesneriad Society, Inc., and the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens are pleased to announce



Abstract Deadline: May 1, 2010

The World Gesneriad Research Conference 2010 (WGRC 2010) is an international meeting of the world’s Gesneriaceae researchers, students and lay enthusiasts who have come together with the goal of understanding and promoting knowledge of the plant family Gesneriaceae. The objectives of WGRC 2010, to be held 13-15 October 2010 (with a gesneriad exhibition show the 15-17 October) at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, FL, USA, are to provide opportunities internationally for new researchers and students of Gesneriaceae to enter into working groups, formalize existing informal international collaborations and working groups into a virtual organization by initiating a web-based Gesneriaceae coalition, and summarize the current state of knowledge on Gesneriaceae phylogenetics with the ultimate goal of creating a comprehensive Gesneriaceae phylogeny. The key note address will be delivered by Prof. Anton Weber, distinguished Gesneriaceae researcher and faculty emeritus of the University of Vienna, Austria. WGRC 2010 will also provide opportunities meant to broaden awareness of the plant family Gesneriaceae including conservation-based lectures/discussions and a gesneriad exhibition where rare and lesser known gesneriads from around the world will be on public display.


All researchers interested in the biology and systematics of the plant family Gesneriaceae are encouraged to attend and present some aspect of their scholarly research at WGRC 2010. The deadline for abstract submissions is May 1, 2010. Registration will begin June 1, 2010. Additional details on the conference including program schedule, registration fees, and options for other special events, will also become available in June. At this point, submission of abstracts does not mean a submitter is obligated to attend WGRC 2010. If you are considering presenting but are unsure about attending the conference (due to costs and/or logistics), please submit an abstract and indicate your level of commitment (see below). You will then be contacted with additional information regarding your registration.


There are three options for presenting at WGRC 2010. Researchers are encouraged to submit abstracts for more than one option (e.g., give a talk and a poster, two talks, etc.). However, presentation at WGRC 2010 is not required to attend the conference.


Talks – Talks or oral papers will be 25 minutes in length including questions. Talks will be grouped into sessions and included within the program based on the subject matter of the presentation.

Posters – Posters should be 4’ high by 4’ wide (122 x 122 cm). Materials may be secured to bulletin boards with push-pins that will be provided. All posters will be on display for the duration of the conference, and at least two poster sessions will be held where presenters will have opportunities to discuss their work.

Discussion Forums – Three Forums will be convened during the conference: 1) Gesneriaceae systematics, 2) Developing a virtual coalition of researchers, and 3) Gesneriaceae conservation. While these forums will be directed by invited presenters, other researchers interested in contributing to these forums are encouraged to contact the conference Chair, John R. Clark, for additional information (jrclark@selby.org).

To submit an abstract for WGRC 2010:

Abstracts should be emailed to gesneriadresearch@gmail.com by no later than May 1st, 2010 and include the follow information in this order:

Presenter’s full name(s) and title(s)

Affiliation or Institution


Telephone (with country code)

Email address

Presentation type (talk or poster)


Abstract Text: The abstract should be 250 words or less.

Key words: Include a list of six keywords related to the presentation that are not in the title or body of the abstract.

Level of commitment: Please indicate your level of commitment to attending WGRC 2010 (high, moderate, low) and please briefly explain (e.g., low due to travel costs). This information will be used to plan the conference schedule, details of which will be available by no later than June 1, 2010. We encourage potential participants to keep the committee updated on circumstances related to attending WGRC.

Thank you for your interest in WGRC 2010. We look forward to receiving your abstracts and seeing you in Sarasota this coming October.

The WGRC 2010 Steering Committee

13 January 2010

A wrap-up of fall GRC lectures

The last several months have been a flurry of activity at the GRC. Everything from continued development and fund raising to research and lectures and even a little construction work. When I finished up my Ph.D. in May of 2008 and started full-time work at the GRC, I never imagined I would be involved in all of this...or that all of this was going to be so involved. In order to catch everyone up, I will be giving a series of updates on different projects we have been working on.



Today's installment is a wrap-up of lectures that I gave this fall. As many of you know, a critical part of doing what we do at the GRC is making sure that others know what we are doing. This means giving lectures at Selby Gardens for staff, volunteers and visitors as well as traveling to other venues to inform folks on gesneriads and gesneriad research.

On October 22, I gave a lecture on the new Molecular Programs and laboratory at Selby Gardens to staff, volunteers, and visitors in Selby's Cooley Theater. Basic concepts in evolution, facts that I often take for granted as an evolutionary biologist, are oftentimes unfamiliar to many, so I started out simple and tried to include as much humor as possible (lots of monkey jokes).
I talked about how all life on earth is related and has evolved over millions of years from a single common ancestor into all of the diversity we see on our planet today.

A popular feature of this talk were the "gene-gnomes" -- little characters I created to illustrate concepts in gene expression and inheritance. Not sure if everyone got it, but at least they were entertained somewhat. In this slide, I discussed how mutations in DNA were responsible for heritable differences found in living organisms.

After covering the basics, I jumped into a discussion on the actual methods employed in the lab. The slide above illustrates a basic DNA "extraction". While the details are rather complex, the basics are easy to comprehend, even by non-scientists. Later slides illustrated the entire process, from extraction, to gene amplification, to reading the order of the DNA building blocks (nucleotides).

The molecular laboratory at Selby is now finished. You can view pictures of the lab and its construction here. There is also a slide show of these images in the right hand column of this blog. Look for a discussion on the lab and what we are doing in an upcoming installment of the GRC blog.


On November 21, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the Greater New York Gesneriad Society to give a talk on Gesneriads around the World, a lecture I've been building and adding to over the last year.

The lecture had three parts -

1) An introduction to gesneriads and discussion on when, where and how gesneriads evolved:
In this slide, a hypothesis on the early evolution and range expansion of gesneriads is shown, including a hypothesis of gesneriads originating in South America and then dispersing into the "Old World" and Australia.
Today, as shown in this slide, gesneriads are found distributed throughout the world's tropics as well as extensions into subtropical to temperate regions in South America, Europe, Japan and Australia-Oceana.

2) Part two included an overview of gesneriad diversity from around the world:
Representative genera were illustrated, along with maps indicating the known ranges for these genera. In this example, the genus Columnea is featured.
Similarly, in this slide, the largest genus of gesneriad, Cyrtandra, is shown.

3) The final part of this lecture included a more detailed discussion on how my research is focused on understanding the biogeography of gesneriads:

At the core of this research is understanding how and why some gesneriads have dispersed across great ranges while others have not. I have written other entries about this subject here. The lecture also featured slides and discussion on my recent trip to the Solomon Islands as part of this work. Several past entries featured some of these images as well.


The next major lecture was on December 3rd, a summary of my research and experiences on my recent expedition to the Solomon Islands: Extreme Botany - adventure tales from the edge of the world.
This lecture was an opportunity to talk about my experiences in the Solomon Islands this last May and June. Not simply a travel log, I used the opportunity to highlight gesneriads as well as research and conservation issues related to the expedition.
The Solomon Islands are located east of Papua New Guinea and northeast of Australia. Several genera of gesneriads including Aeschynanthus, Boea, Coronanthera, Cyrtandra and Epithema are found in the Solomons. Only one genus, Cyrtandra, makes it further into the remote Pacific.

Many of slides had images of the Solomon Islands from Google Earth. On these satellite images, I included paths, areas, and features that I visited. It was an effective way to place the story I was telling into a geographical context.

The following week, on December 7th and 8th, I gave two lectures at Texas A & M University Corpus Christi. The first was to an undergraduate botany class in which I gave the Genseriads Around the World lecture. The following morning, I gave a scientific talk on my research to faculty and students in the School of Biological Sciences at the University.

This lecture was an opportunity to talk about my research to other scientists at a level of detail that I enjoy.
The core of the discussion was about methods used to infer the ancestral range of an evolving lineage. This schematic outlines what components go into inferring these past events.
This busy slide shows the results from a detailed study of the evolutionary relationships in Cyrtandra, including divergence dates (i.e., how old the lineage is), and when and where lineages evolved. These data support the hypothesis of a Fiji-first expansion of Cyrtandra into the Pacific followed by divergence and dispersal of other lineages into the remote Pacific from this "center of origin."
This map is basically a summary of the complicated results in the previous slide. The gist of it is that Cyrtandra dispersed to Fiji and Samoa and from there, numerous lineages populated the remote islands of the Pacific.

The New Year, 2010, promises to be an equally full lecture schedule. This month, on January 21st, at 12:00 p.m., I will be giving another update on Molecular Programs for Selby Gardens volunteers and guests. Check back here in the next few weeks to learn more about other upcoming GRC lectures and events.