April 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

•  Prof. Andrew Vovides, Curator of the Botanic Garden of Xalapa and Researcher of the prestigious Instituto de Ecologia, Mexico visited us between April 7 and 18. During this visit Prof. Vovides taught a FIU graduate workshop in Cytotaxonomy.  Prof. Vovides is an authority in cycad biology and botanic garden management. His research focuses primarily on plant cytology, anatomy, histology, and systematics. In 1989-90 he was the first post-doctoral fellow supported by the Montgomery Botanical Center. Then he conducted his studies on cycad anatomy under the guidance of Fairchild scientist Dr. Knut Norstog. It is for us a privilege to have him back at Miami to train the new generation of tropical botanists. This visit has been jointly sponsored by the Department of Biological Sciences of FIU, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and Montgomery Botanical Center. A total of seven students took this workshop. Image on the right shows Prof. Vovides and the seven students who took this workshop.  



•  From April 6 through 8, Dr. Charles Kwit, a research scientist from the University of Tennessee’s Department of Plant Sciences, visited Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden to initiate collaborative research on genetic diversity of West Indian avocado (Persea americana var. americana). He was hosted by Mary Keppler, Fairchild’s Elementary Programs Coordinator and former Master’s student of Dr. Kwit’s wife, Dr. Elisabeth Schussler (currently an assistant professor in the University of Tennessee’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology). Dr. Kwit spent part of his time with Dr. Richard Campbell and Noris Ledesma at the Fairchild Farm’s Williams Grove Genetic Facility, where he collected leaf tissue samples from Fairchild’s ex situ living collection of West Indian avocado; with help from Dr. Brett Jestrow and Dr. Javier Francisco-Ortega, those samples are now in storage at the Center for Tropical Plant Conservation’s FIU/FTBG Molecular Laboratory. Dr. Kwit plans to utilize DNA from those samples to further investigate the genetic diversity of Fairchild’s collection in collaboration with Fairchild scientists and staff.


•  Prof. Esperanza Martinez-Romero of Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, an expert on nitrogen fixing rhizobial bacteria that associate with pulse crops such as beans is visiting the laboratory of Dr. Eric von WettbergProf. Martinez-Romero will be giving a special seminar on Friday April 15th at noon at the CTPC on her work with rhizobia and Phaseolus beans. You can learn more about her fascinating research at:


•  Dr. Eric von Wettberg was conducting field work in late April to document variation in salt tolerance in wild alfalfa from coastal habitats in the Algarve region of Portugal.  This work, carried out in and around the Rio Formosa Natural Park, aims to provide insight into the genetic basis of salt tolerance that can be applied to improving the ability of alfafa to grow on irrigated soils. Image on the right shows (left to right) Lisa Vance and Emily Bergmann from University of California, Davis; Eric von Wettberg, and Matilde Cordiero from Universidade Nova de Lisboa and University of California, Davis


•  Between March 31 and April 1 Fairchild
TropicalBotanic Garden and BokTowerGardens organized the 2011 Florida Rare Plant Task Force sponsored by the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry. Each year, the Rare Plant Task Force of Florida serves as the place for Florida’s professional plant conservation community to share ideas, discuss, prioritize, and coordinate ongoing plant conservation efforts around the state. The theme of this year’s meeting was preserving rare plant diversity on public lands.  Thursday, March 31, 2011 we offered a full-day program featuring oral and poster presentations along with group discussion.  On Friday, April 1, 2011, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., there were optional field trips led by the Fairchild South Florida Conservation Team to visit and participate in local rare plant projects.  Image below shows the participants at the grounds of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.


 •  The fieldwork component of a multi-institutional collaboration focused on conducting research on Bahamian coonties has recently been completed.  The field research, conducted on five separate trips, included fieldwork on all six islands in The Bahamas in which the genus Zamia occurs.  Research was conducted on Long Island (December 2009), Andros (February 2010), New Providence (March 2010), Eleuthera (March-April, 2010 and February 2011), Abaco (February 2011), and Grand Bahama (February 2011).

The Bahamian research was funded by the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, with additional funding for field research provided by Montgomery Botanical Center.  The field research was conducted in partnership with the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) by Dr. Javier Francisco-Ortega (Department of Biological Sciences of Florida International University [FIU-Bio], Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden [FTBG]), Dr. Alan Meerow (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA]), Michael Calonje (MBC), Lindy Knowles (Bahamas National Trust [BNT]), David Knowles (BNT), and Camilla Adair (BNT). Additional field assistance was provided by Louis Johnson, Sarah Gilmer, Russell Adams, and Claudia Calonje (MBC).   

The field work included collecting DNA samples for genetic studies that will be conducted at Dr. Alan Meerow’s lab, herbarium specimens to document wild Zamia populations, and seeds for ex-situ preservation. 

During the fieldwork in the Bahamas we found the genus Zamia to be much more morphologically diverse than expected. For example, Zamia angustifolia has the narrowest leaflets in the genus, whereas Zamia lucayana has some of the widest leaflets among Caribbean taxa. The diversity of habitats in which Zamia occurs was also quite surprising, as we found plants growing in pinelands, hardwood coppice, shaded coastal sand dunes, and coastal scrub.

The fieldwork resulted in a greater understanding of the distribution, ecology, and conservation status of Bahamian coonties, and the results of the genetic studies will help clarify how different populations of Zamia in The Bahamas are related to each other and to other similar taxa found throughout the Caribbean.

This text has been prepared by the MBC Cycad Biology Group and a mirror webpage can be found at http://www.montgomerybotanical.org/Pages/Current.htm