SARASOTA, FLA. (November 14, 2019): Dr. Carlyle Luer, co-founder of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, passed away on November 9, 2019. Serving as the second Chair of Selby Gardens’ Board of Trustees from 1974 to 1979, Dr. Luer is credited with stewarding Selby Gardens’ direction in becoming a world-class leader in research on epiphytes—air plants that live on other plants. Today, Selby Gardens is renowned with having the best scientifically documented collection of orchids and bromeliads.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Selby Gardens’ co-founder” says Jennifer Rominiecki, president and CEO of Selby Gardens. “This is a tremendous loss for Selby Gardens, the community, and the world of botany. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
Specializing in the orchid family, Dr. Luer described and illustrated more than 3,000 new orchid species. During his botanical career, he also amassed a huge collection of thousands of spirit specimens (mainly flowers, parts of plants, and sometimes the whole plant) that are preserved in liquid solution. In 2018, Dr. Luer’s personal collection was donated and moved to Selby Gardens, along with his illustration collection. Specimen No. 1, Aceras anthropophorum, Orchidaceae, was collected in Gerona, Spain by Luer in April 1974.
Recognizing the need to have a first class research library, Dr. Luer and Selby’s first CEO, Dr. Calaway Dodson, worked to purchase the most important scientific orchid literature to be found on the market. As a result, Selby Gardens’ collection includes a set of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine— first published in 1787 by Kew Gardens and is still in publication today. Selby Gardens has a rare, complete set. Another treasure in the collection is Bateman’s Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala. It is an immense volume with 40 hand-colored stunning lithographs, colorful descriptions, and many black and white vignettes. Selby Gardens’ rare book holdings includes more than 500 volumes and 2,500 prints dating back to the 1700’s.
Dr. Luer was also the founder and first editor of Selby Gardens’ research journal, Selbyana, which is still published today. During his tenure on the board, he would often fund and lead expeditions to document orchid diversity. Dr. Luer also published two foremost books on North American orchids, The Native Orchids of Florida and The Native Orchids of the United States and Canada Excluding Florida in addition to hundreds of scientific articles.
Dr. Luer worked closely with the staff at Selby Gardens’ after his chairmanship. As of recent, Dr. Luer worked with Selby Gardens’ intern Helena Ignowski preparing botanical illustrations. While photography is frequently used to document plant structure, ink illustrations are the preferred method to show fine structural detail. Dr. Luer was a master of this art form in creating the initial outline, and other artists such as Ignowski and Stig Dalström assisted with the final preparation.
“Dr. Luer was an inspiration and mentor,” says Dr. Toscano de Brito, orchidologist at Selby Gardens. “I am extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to work directly with Carl. His passing is a loss for botanists worldwide. His influence on the world of botany, and orchidology in particular, is immeasurable and his contributions will forever be of utmost importance to the study of orchids.”
The two developed a great admiration for one another since their first meeting in London in 1991 when Toscano de Brito was a Ph.D. candidate at Kew Gardens. The two published their first article together in 1993 and have collaborated ever since in the study of orchids from the tropical Americas.