For several years now The Gesneriad Society has helped support the Gesneriad Research Center at Selby Gardens in Sarasota, Florida, with an annual contribution. The Center has had an exciting year in 2009. Next year will be even more exciting with the Center hosting the World Gesneriad Research Conference from October 12-17. Mark your calendar! Here is a letter from John R. Clark, PhD, Director of the Gesneriad Research Center, summarizing the Center's activities:
Dear Dr. Shalit,
This last year has been an exciting one for gesneriad research and conservation complete with fieldwork, cutting-edge research and program development including new initiatives in science and education. Through generous contributions from The Gesneriad Society and dedicated donors, the official start of the Gesneriad Research Center became a reality this last fall along with establishing a full-time GRC Director position. The GRC is now the preeminent center in North America for gesneriad research and conservation. Having a full-time GRC Director has addressed many of the concerns shared by Society members including raising the profile of gesneriads at Selby Gardens. Gesneriads are commonly talked about at the Gardens now, and understanding and conserving gesneriads is fully part of the Gardens’ mission.
Highlights from this last year:
• A gesneriad show and sale was co-hosted by the Tampa Bay and Suncoast Chapters of The Gesneriad Society in September 2008. The show raised awareness of gesneriads and also initiated increased interest in these plants among Gardens visitors and supporters.
• A Gesneriad Display was set up in the Gardens’ Conservatory complete with signage and other educational labels. The display features space for rotating gesneriads in bloom as well as permanent plantings of Columnea, Drymonia, Episcia, Gasteranthus, Nautilocalyx, and others.
• Gesneriads are now available for sale in the Gardens Shop along with copies of “How to Know and Grow Gesneriads.”
• Interest in gesneriads has grown and several new Gardens volunteers and supporters have come on board to assist with GRC activities and fund raising.
• Collections management has steadily moved forward including archiving remaining Wiehler literature, accessioning new books and papers, and initiating the “second-phase” of the Gesneriaceae files – Old World Gesneriads. Original species descriptions are continually being acquired and filed for all gesneriad genera.
• Program development has been a major focus and four large-scale grant proposals have been submitted to request funding for the GRC and related activities. Of these, a grant from IMLS for $133,025 has been awarded and will be used to set up a molecular laboratory at Selby to conduct DNA-based research on gesneriads and to partially fund the GRC Director’s salary for the next two years.
• The existing Spirit Lab has been recently renovated to include a 13’ x 15’ modern DNA laboratory. Molecular Programs at Selby Gardens will provide the tools needed to explore gesneriad classification and conservation issues relevant to the mission of the GRC and The Gesneriad Society.
• The GRC Director has given numerous presentations on gesneriads including presentations at Selby Gardens, at local and regional chapter meetings of The Gesneriad Society, at the annual convention of The Gesneriad Society, and as an invited speaker at major universities and institutions including the University of Alabama and The Field Museum Chicago.
• Basic research has continued with a focus on new species descriptions and evolutionary and biogeography studies of Gesneriads of the Interface Zone, the GRC signature research project. As part of this research, a two-month long expedition to the Solomon Islands was conducted. Preserved and living specimens were collected and returned to the GRC for growth and study. Specimens have been distributed to some growers in the Society and will become more widely available to Society members as material is further grown and propagated.
• Publications have also been a primary focus; a new GRC brochure was designed and published along with lay articles published in Gesneriads, The Tropical Dispatch and MelanesianGeo. Scientific papers resulting from GRC research on gesneriads have been published in some of the top journals in the field including Systematic Biology and Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.
• The GRC Blog was created to disseminate up-to- date information on GRC activities. Since September 2008, we have had over 12,000 visitors to the blog.
• A GRC FAQ sheet was drafted and made available on the web. The FAQ covers many basic aspects of the GRC including information on its origin, mission and management.
• A gesneriad conservation initiative has been established within The Gesneriad Society, spearheaded by efforts at the GRC. In this new initiative, we seek to empower gesneriad growers to use their unique skills to propagate and preserve rare and endangered gesneriads and to maintain accurate records for collections and conservation purposes.
This next year promises to be equally full. The GRC is in a unique position to facilitate collaborations among the world’s gesneriad researchers. As part of this, the GRC and Selby Gardens are planning and will be hosting the World Gesneriad Research Conference 2010, 12-17 October 2010. The largest gathering of gesneriad researchers in history, WGRC 2010 will feature scientific presentations and discussions on gesneriads with the goal of establishing a web-based coalition to facilitate future collaborations worldwide. Students and new researchers will be sponsored to attend WGRC 2010 to increase participation. A gesneriad exhibition, hosted by the Tampa Bay and Suncoast Chapters of The Gesneriad Society, will be held the final two days of the conference to showcase rare and unusual gesneriad from around the world and to encourage discussions and exchange between scientists, students and lay enthusiasts.
Thank you again for the ongoing support of the GRC. I look forward to sharing continued advancements in gesneriad research and conservation as we progress through this next year.
John R. Clark Director, Gesneriad Research Center