Ph.D.: University of Texas at Austin, 1996
My botanical research focuses on the family Rubiaceae
(the coffee family), the fourth largest family of flowering plants on
earth, with approximately 650 genera and 13,000 species. One familiar
with the Rubiaceae of temperate climates, would hardly be able to recogize
those of tropical forests, where the family is mostly represented by
large shrubs and tall trees. Several genera are well known ornamentals,
like Gardenia, Ixora, Pentas and Mussaenda. By far, the best known product
from this family is coffee, an infusion obtained from the toasted seeds
of Coffea spp. Due to the large variety of alkaloids produced by almost
all Rubiaceae, many genera are used as medicinal plants. For example,
quinine (used to cure malaria) is derived from more than forty species
of Cinchona and relatives; ipecac (Psychotria ipecacuanha) is widely
used for production of emetics; and many other genera are being studied
as potential cures for cancer (e.g., Pogonopus spp.). Many other alkaloids
found in this family influence human psychological activity, the most
well known is caffeine, for the most part derived from species of Coffea,
which acts as a stimulant. Many others are used by native tribes as
the principal ingregients of psychoactive drugs (e.g., ayahuasca, Psychotria
viridis) and aphrodisiacs (e.g., yohimbe, Pausinystalia johimbe).
I have an interest in the Linnaean system of botanical nomenclature and the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature. In addition, I am interested in "tracing the steps" of botanical collectors and studying the lives of famous botanists. As part of this interest in botanical history, I am compiling accounts of botanical expeditions in the Neotropics by early explorers. Although my interest in Rubiaceae and tropical botany is worldwide, my research is primarily focused on the plants of the Amazon Basin, the Guayana and Brazilian Shields, and the Greater Antilles.
My curator painting shows the understory of an Andean cloud forest at Macquipacuna in Ecuador, the very area in which I developed my first interests in the systematics, evolution, and ecology of the coffee family.