Pursuing Plants in Peru

[Click through for glorious high-resolution versions of the Andes landscapes and flower close-ups. -- Ed.]

The Neotropics is the most species-rich center of plant diversity on Earth, and the plants of the Andes are one of the major elements of the Neotropical flora. The Andes are home to many endemic species, belonging to lineages which radiated into the montane environments that appeared during the uplift of the world’s longest continuous mountain range.

In the foothills of the Peruvian Andes, the plant groups which we study are particularly diverse. We, in this case, are two of the current graduate students in Dick Olmstead’s lab at the University of Washington. Our research group is focused on the study of molecular plant systematics – using molecular tools (primarily DNA sequences) to infer the evolutionary histories of particular groups of plants. Pat Lu-Irving works on the Lantana tribe, in the verbena family; John Chau studies the genus Buddleja, part of the figwort family.

Thanks in part to the Herbarium Endowment through the UW’s Burke Museum, we have both traveled to northern Peru to seek out and collect our plants. Both of us were lucky enough to have been joined, on our separate trips, by Peruvian botanist Segundo Leiva, director of the Herbarium at the Universidad Privada Antenor Orrego (UPAO) in Trujillo. Segundo is a great field botanist, his passion for and knowledge of the Peruvian flora are extraordinary. The focus of Segundo’s systematic research is Jaltomata, a wild relative of the domestic potato and tomato.

Aloysia scorodonioidesBuddleja incanaJaltomata yungayensis
Members of our lab group have been friends and collaborators of Segundo and his group for several years. When we heard the terrible news that the Herbarium at UPAO had been completely lost in a fire, we could only imagine the devastation they felt. Dick Olmstead led a campaign to provide aid from the American Society of Plant Taxonomists’ Herbarium Emergency Fund, which has helped restore plant collections damaged by natural disasters, such as hurricane Katrina. Botanists at institutions across the USA pledged resources to help rebuild the collections at UPAO Herbarium.

Two years later, Segundo is back in good spirits and back in the field, working hard to bring in new specimens for his collections. We look forward to many more years of friendship with him and his students, exploring and collecting the hills of northern Peru.

Herbarium director Segundo LeivaJohn Chau with Segundo Leiva in Peru

Jan. 13, 2012; Pat Lu-Irving and John Chau. Photos by Pat, John, Segundo Leiva, and Tom Mione.

If you wish to donate to the ASPT Herbarium Emergency Fund, you can do so here:
ASPT Herbarium Emergency Fund

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