Marie Selby Botanical Garden Logo

People Behind the Plants: Dr. Carlyle Luer

Selby Gardens is featured weekly on ABC7 News at Noon. Tune in Thursdays to see more informative segments like this one.

Marie Selby was an avid gardener who was passionate about roses. How then did Selby Gardens become a world-renowned center for orchid research? It’s due largely to the efforts of Dr. Carlyle Luer, a Sarasota-area surgeon who counted Mrs. Selby as one of his patients.

Orchidology had been a lifelong pursuit for the doctor, who would go on to become the undisputed experts on the group of miniature orchids known as the “pleurothallids.” It was Luer’s vision, along with consultation with the New York Botanical Garden and University of Florida, and the backing of William Coleman of Palmer Bank, Mrs. Selby’s executor that would turn the Selby property into a true botanical garden. The gardens would focus on orchids and other epiphytes, Luer explained, which are small plants, and allow a unique collection to be housed on less than a dozen acres.

Dr. Luer didn’t just want a world-class plant collection, however, he wanted a world-class staff as well. So he and Mr. Coleman travelled to Ecuador to ask a leading orchid researcher, Dr. Calaway Dodson, to come to Florida to serve as the first director of the botanical gardens. Cal agreed, and thus began a decades-long friendship and collecting partnership; a legacy resulting in dozens of collecting trips to the American tropics; thousands of new specimens brought back for the Gardens’ collection; and a litany of new species described for science, such as the Maxillaria lueri described by Dodson and named in Luer’s honor in 1980.

Dr. Luer continues his work with orchids today, working closely with the Gardens’ current orchid specialist, Dr. Toscano DeBrito. Together they are focusing, appropriately enough, on the large group of small orchids, pleurothallids.

We hope you enjoyed the history of some of the people behind the plants here at Selby Gardens. To explore more about our past, stop in for a tour. We look forward to seeing you in the Gardens.