Ph.D.: Duke University, 1975
The major focus of my research addresses the origin and evolution, biology, and taxonomic diversity of neotropical blueberries (Ericaceae, tribe Vaccinieae). I search the wet Andean cloud forests looking for wild relatives of native blueberries. I study the ecology of their natural habitats and preserve specimen samples for The New York Botanical Garden's Herbarium. I also collect floral material to make detailed studies of their morphology and dna-containing leaf material for molecular analysis in the laboratory. Whenever possible, I also take photographs of all species and collect living material for cultivation.
In additon to my long-term monographic studies in the family Ericaceae, I also study the general floristics of Andean cloud forests and páramos, the high-elevation, grass-shrub ecosystem ranging from Costa Rica to northern Peru that is located above timberline and below perpetual snow.
Publishing the results of my research completes my program. In over three decades of research at The New York Botanical Garden, I have written nearly 100 scientific revisions, monographs, and floristic treatments of plants that grow mostly in Central America and the Andes of South America. Additionally, I have edited or authored eight books including Contributions toward a Classification of Rhododendron, Biodiversity and Conservation of Neotropical Montane Forests, Páramo: An Andean Ecosystem Under Human Influence, and Páramos: A Checklist of Plant Diversity, Geographical Distribution, and Botanical Literature. The last work is also presented on my Neotropical Páramos website. I have finished regional floristic inventories of the Ericaceae for Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, the entire Mesoamerican region, Ecuador, and the Guayana Highland of Venezuela. I have also prepared monographs of selected ericaceous genera for the series Flora Neotropica, as well as for other international botanical journals. These treatments present detailed descriptions of the plant species, distributional and nomenclatural data, diagnostic illustrations, discussions of relationships, local names and economic uses, and keys to the identification of the species.
My curator's painting depicts a scene from within a premontane cloud forest in western Ecuador, an area not only of high species diversity for Ericaceae but also of high human disturbance. The five species of blueberries shown in the painting are all epiphytes: Psammisia ecuadorensis, Thibaudia inflata being visited by the "purple-bibbed whitetip" hummingbird (Urosticte benjamini, female), Macleania pentaptera being visited by the "booted racket-tail" hummingbird (Ocreatus underwoodii, male), Macleania bullata, and the delicate Sphyrospermum dissimile.