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Photo by Carol Gracie

Ph.D.: University of Texas at Austin, 1996
Title: Assistant Curator
Research: monographic studies of Rubiaceae

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).

My current research has four main objectives: 1) understanding the systematics and evolution of the family Rubiaceae using morphological and molecular data, 2) contributing monographic and floristic treatments of neotropical Rubiaceae, 3) understanding patterns of flower/fruit evolution and biogeography within the family, and 4) participating in private and public initiatives devoted to preserving tropical forests.

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.

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