Gesneriadists Unite!

By Beau Denton October 1, 2010

This week, everyone is talking about the Ringling International Arts Festival. And no wonder—it’s not every day that Mikhail Baryshnikov comes to Sarasota. But head south a little bit and you’ll find over 70 researchers from 10 countries converging for the World Gesneriad Research Conference at Selby Gardens.



If you think it sounds like an international botanical geek fest, you’re right—and that’s what makes it so wonderful. Gesneriads are known for their uncommon beauty and strange pollination habits, and their enthusiasts are famously passionate. So when you gather several dozen of those enthusiasts to share ideas and compare notes, the response is almost giddy.

A full schedule of talks Wednesday was followed by an evening social at the beautiful Christy Payne Mansion. John Clark, director of Selby’s Gesneriad Research Center, says many of the visitors already knew of each other through shared research, so meeting them in person feels like a reunion of long-lost friends—only, the kind of friends who discuss annual pollination trends over shrimp cocktails.

And the fact that such a high-profile event is happening here, attracting names like Warren Wagner, head of botany for the Smithsonian Institution, and Professor Anton Weber of the University of Vienna, is wonderful news for Selby, boosting its reputation as one of the world’s leading botanical research centers.

The conference continues through Friday, and the schedule reads like a college botany syllabus, with topics such as “The neotropical genus Moussonia” and “Rediscovery of Phinaea pulchella in Cuba: implications for the independent origin of radially symmetrical flowers in the Gloxinieae.”

But Selby is bringing it to our level this weekend with the open-to-the-public “Gesneriads Around the World” exhibition and show, where you can interact with some of the researchers before they head back home—not to mention seeing the extraordinary plants that brought them here in the first place, and maybe even starting your own gesneriad collection. Visit the official blog for more details.

Selby’s setting on the bay doesn’t hurt, either, as Professor Weber pointed out to me Wednesday night in his thick Austrian accent: “Sunset in Sarasota. It’s really something, isn’t it?” I couldn’t agree more.

By the way—it’s pronounced “guess-NARE-ee-ad.” But I’m sure you knew that already.

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