Scott A. Mori, Ph.D., is the Nathaniel Lord Britton Curator of Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. Nate Smith is an Honorary Research Associate at the Botanical Garden, and Fernando Matos is a Ph.D. student of the Garden’s Institute of Systematic Botany. Michel Ribeiro is a student at the Universidade Federal de Espírito Santo, Brazil, and Anderson Alves-Araújo serves as one of his advisers. This is the last in a three-part series documenting Dr. Mori’s recent trip to Brazil.
As I wrote in my last post, my colleagues and I recently searched for species of the Brazil nut family in the fragmented Atlantic coastal forests of the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo. There are only 12 species of this family (whose scientific name is Lecythidaceae) in the entire state, but some of the species in northern Espírito Santo are endemic, meaning they are found only there. The goal of our field work was to evaluate the conservation status of Lecythidaceae in this biologically rich but endangered part of Brazil.
During two weeks in November, three colleagues and I explored the remnant woodlands of the once-abundant Atlantic coastal forest of Espírito Santo, a Brazilian state on the Atlantic coast just north of Rio de Janeiro. We were searching for poorly known species of the Brazil nut family, whose scientific name is Lecythidaceae, and we were especially interested in collecting in Espírito Santo because it is an area of intensive human development. Only a fraction of the natural habitat remains.
The trip followed my visit to the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden, where I taught a short course on the Brazil nut family. Joining me were Michel Ribeiro, who is preparing a treatment of the Brazil nut family as part of his master’s degree requirements; Anderson Alves-Araújo, a botany professor at the Federal University of Espiríto Santo who is one of Michel’s advisors; and Nate Smith, a specialist in the Brazil family and an Honorary Research Associate at The New York Botanical Garden.
In nearly 50 years as a tropical botanist, I have spent a great deal of time in Brazil, where most of the species I study—belonging to the Brazil nut family of woody plants—are found. Usually I go in search of new species or new information about known species in this large and economically important family, but recently I went for a different reason—to pass on some of my botanical knowledge to the next generation of Brazilian botanists.
I was invited by the Escola Nacional de Botânica Tropical (a division of the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden) to teach a short course on the classification, evolution, and ecology of the Brazil nut family, scientifically known as Lecythidaceae. This opportunity was appealing for a couple of reasons: first, I have a National Science Foundation Grant to synthesize my career-long research on the Brazil nut family and pass that on to future generations of botanists, and second, one of The New York Botanical Garden’s missions is to help students of all ages learn about botany.
During the early years of my career, there were few Brazilians with doctorate degrees in systematic botany. Today, Brazil has some of the world’s best programs for the study of tropical biology, including the one at Rio’s botanical garden. This garden has state-of-the-art molecular labs, an outstanding herbarium, a program of botanical exploration throughout the country, an advanced database system used to inventory the country’s flora, an outstanding program to monitor endangered species, and an excellent post-graduate program.
Scott A. Mori is the Nathaniel Lord Britton Curator of Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. An expert on the Brazil nut family of trees, he has also investigated the co-evolution of plants and the insects and animals that pollinate and disperse them.
Among the most spectacular of tropical cultivated trees is the Pride of Burma (Amherstia nobilis), a tree in the legume family that is known from only a few localities in the wilds of Myanmar (formerly Burma) but commonly cultivated in tropical botanical gardens throughout the world.
The tree is stunning because of its long, pendulous clusters of flowers, or inflorescences, and its crimson-colored petals painted bright yellow at their tips. These images were taken at the Botanical Garden in Rio de Janeiro, where I recently presented a week-long course on tropical botany.