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The Future of Orchid Research and Conservation at Selby Gardens

Orchid Summit 2016In late April 2016, a group of international botanists specializing in orchids gathered at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens to discuss the institution’s strategic plan and how it will influence the future of orchid research undertaken by the Gardens’ scientific team.

The gathering was led by Jennifer O. Rominiecki, President & CEO of Selby Gardens, and Bruce Holst, Director of Botany for Selby Gardens. Holst, a 20-year employee of the Gardens, enlisted the advice of his colleagues, including Dr. Toscano de Brito, orchidologist for Selby Gardens. Visiting guests were Dr. German Carnevalli, Herbarium Curator at the Yucatan Center for Scientific Study in Mexico; Dr. Gustavo Romero from the Oakes Ames Orchid Herbarium of Harvard University; Stig Dalstrom, research associate of Lankester Botanical Garden, University of Costa Rica, and of the National Biodiversity Centre in Serbithang, Thimphu, Bhutan; and Dr. Wesley E. Higgins of the International Phaelaenopsis Alliance.

Notably, one of  the Gardens’ founders and former chairman of the board of trustees, Dr. Carlyle Luer, and the first executive director, Dr. Calaway Dodson, also participated, along with leadership from the horticulture and education departments of Selby Gardens.

The group agreed that Selby Gardens’ current geographic area of focus – the tropics of the Americas – was ideal as it has the highest diversity of orchids in the world right in the Gardens “backyard.” While plants from around the world are featured at Selby Gardens, the research zones for the botany team will focus on the Caribbean, Brazil, Central America and the Andes Mountains.

It was suggested that future seed storage for conservation efforts may be of interest to Selby Gardens, and that continued participation in consortiums like the North American Orchid Conservation Center based out of the Smithsonian were of particular importance to Selby Gardens’ continued growth. Currently, Selby Gardens has the highest biodiversity per square acre among botanical Gardens in the United States, however, only five percent of its collection is ever on display at one time. Long-range plans call for the ability through expanded greenhouses and

(L-R) Dr. Gustavo Romero, Dr. Wesley E. Higgins, Stig Dalstrom, Dr. German Carnevalli, Bruce Holst, Dr. Carlyle Luer, Dr. Calaway Dodson, Jennifer O. Rominiecki and Dr. Toscano de Brito.

(L-R) Dr. Gustavo Romero, Dr. Wesley E. Higgins, Stig Dalstrom, Dr. German Carnevalli, Bruce Holst, Dr. Carlyle Luer, Dr. Calaway Dodson, Jennifer O. Rominiecki and Dr. Toscano de Brito.

public display areas to showcase 40 to 50 percent of the collection.

“We have a vibrant orchid program, from field work and research to conservation and publishing efforts,” said Rominiecki. “We are focused on asserting our expertise so that Selby Gardens is a place where a botanist can develop a full career that impacts worldwide conservation of orchids, and all epiphytes.”

Ultimately, the team stressed that the cultivation of young botanists was most important to continue the work started by the founders of Selby Gardens more than 40 years ago.

“It is not possible to know and learn all the things about orchids in one lifetime,” said de Brito, Selby Gardens’ orchidologist whose work on pluerothallid (or miniature) orchids is recognized internationally. “The work we are doing we will never see completed, but we can provide a base of knowledge for those that follow.”

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