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Manual de Plantas de Costa Rica

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The Cutting Edge

Volume XI, Number 3, July 2004

News and Notes | Leaps and Bounds | Germane Literature | Season's Pick | Annotate your copy

DNA SPECIES IDENTIFICATION (GENETIC BARCODING) WORKSHOP. This grand event was realized at INBio on 9 July, pursuant to the initiatives of Daniel H. Janzen (PENN) discussed in this column in our previous issue. In addition to Dan and numerous other Guanacaste associates such as Roberto Espinoza and Adrián Guadamuz (see next entry), as well as most everyone at INBio, the participants included Angiosperm Phylogeny Group honcho Peter Stevens (MO) and Smithsonian luminaries John Kress, Lee Weigt, and Ken Wurdack. The presentations and discussions centered on the use of the Costa Rican flora (basically the INB herbarium) for a two-year pilot project aimed at beginning to build the DNA database necessary to put this idea into practice. Several caveats became evident: DNA barcoding is a sp.-level tool for identification, and differs fundamentally from molecular work of a phylogenetic nature (e.g., it will not necessarily reveal the generic affinity of spp. that are undescribed or not in the database); it will cost money; and the hand-held device and very inexpensive processing envisioned by Janzen seem to lie in the distant future. Nevertheless, if seen as adding a large and wholly new set of characters (bands from small pieces of the DNA code) to herbarium specimens that will allow, at the same time, identifications of many spp. based on tiny fragments of material, the idea seems hard to resist. Given Janzen’s contagious enthusiasm and boundless energy, as well as the possibilities outlined by Kress and company (from the Smithsonian DNA lab), the concept will most likely get rolling very soon in botany. If this is all “Greek” to you, take a look at:


The “movement” has been afoot and moving strongly for quite some time in the animal (especially entomological) world.

SANTA ELENA REVISITED. The penultimate of four planned month-long botanical inventories of the previously inaccessible Península de Santa Elena, funded by a National Geographic Society grant to Manual co-PI Mike Grayum, was realized in June. Critical roles were played by both co-PI’s on the NGS grant, María Marta Chavarría, of the Área de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG), and Manual co-PI Nelson Zamora (INB). Although June proved to be a down time for flowering in the area, many important collections were nonetheless obtained, mostly with the critical collaboration of ACG botanists Roberto (‘Lupo’) Espinoza and Adrián Guadamuz, as well as ACG interns Kattia Araya, José Cortés, and Jorge Hernández; on a few occasions we were joined by intern Noemi Espinoza and German student Nadine Sandav. The early phase of the inventory, involving INB curator José González and Manual co-PI Barry Hammel, was highlighted by an excursion to Isla Bolaños, in the Bahía de Salinas; although this isolated site is technically outside our study area, we couldn’t resist the opportunity (coordinated by María Marta) for free transport, graciously provided by neighboring Hotel Ecoplaya in return for a complete list of the island’s plants (a perfect incentive, as if any were needed, to collect everything in sight). The intermediate phase, with Nelson involved, featured a four-day camping trip to remote Playa Potrero Grande, a pristine beach, 2 km in length, with perhaps the most extensive population of Uniola pittieri Hack. (Poaceae) in Costa Rica. A large estuary, extending behind the beach for nearly its entire length, supports a tall mangrove forest with such spp. as Pelliciera rhizophorae Triana & Planch. (Theaceae), Rhizophora racemosa G. Mey. (Rhizophoraceae), and Tabebuia palustris Hemsl. (Bignoniaceae). Behind these habitats is the most interesting forest, covering the rich bottomland of the lower Río Potrero Grande, with many large individuals of spp. such as Astronium graveolens Jacq., Bombacopsis quinata (Jacq.) Dugand, Ceiba aesculifolia (Kunth) Britten & Baker f., Dalbergia retusa (Mill.) Standl., Enterolobium cyclocarpum (Jacq.) Griseb., Ficus insipida Willd., Hura crepitans L., Hymenaea courbaril L., Jatropha costaricensis G. L. Webster & Poveda, Licania arborea Seem., Manilkara chicle (Pittier) Gilly, Pseudobombax septenatum (Jacq.) Dugand, Pterocarpus michelianus N. Zamora, Samanea saman (Jacq.) Merr., Sideroxylon capiri (A. DC.) Pittier, S. obtusifolium (Humb. ex Roem. & Schult.) T. D. Penn., Simarouba glauca DC., Sterculia apetala (Jacq.) H. Karst., Swietenia macrophylla King, Trichilia americana (Sessé & Moç.) T. D. Penn., and Trophis racemosa (L.) Urb. The final phase of the inventory, with only Lupo, Adrián, José, and Jorge, was based on Isla San José, the largest of the Islas Murciélago, off the southwest coast of the peninsula. From here we explored (aside from the island itself) several otherwise inaccessible locales on the mainland of the peninsula, including forbidding Fila Carrizal, its never-visited western extremity. Kudos to our cook, Matilde López, and also to our boatman, Enrique Alemán, who valiantly defied unexpectedly inclement weather to bring us back to terra firme.

GOING AND GONE. Evelio Alfaro, botanical parataxonomist, colleague, and author (Plantas comunes del Parque Nacional Chirripó/Costa Rica/Common plants of Chirripó National Park), has decided that life as a paraxonomist, while immensely rewarding in a metaphysical way, just don’t bring home da bacon; rumor has it that he’s off to Gringolandia to paint houses. Evelio’s field experience dates all the way back to Gerrit Davidse ’s legendary Talamanca expeditions during 1983–1984. Ulises Chavarría (based at Palo Verde) is now the sole remaining INBio parataxonomist specialized on plants. Also leaving INBio (sometime next month), but not lost to botany, is long-time curator José González, reportedly to accept a position with OTS. One of the most knoweldgeable botanists in Costa Rica, with an impressive command especially of the woody flora, José has contributed Manual treatments for numerous families including Euphorbiaceae, Lauraceae, and Moraceae. He has assured us that he will continue to be involved in the Manual project. A true gentleman, José will be sorely missed at INBio.

VISITORS IN COSTA RICA. Prolific Manual contributors Paul and Hiltje Maas (U) arrived in Costa Rica on 4 May for three weeks of collecting (principally Annonaceae, but also other favorites including Costaceae, Zingiberaceae and various saprophytic taxa). They continued their trip in Panama, in the company of INBio botany czar Nelson Zamora.

Lecythidaceae specialist Scott Mori (NY) was in Costa Rica from 14–28 May, together with his Ph.D. student and co-editor Nathan Smith (Flowering plants of the Neotropics), to gather final details (especially on the recalcitrant Eschweilera) for his Manual treatment, slated to appear in our next volume. Not long after his return, Scott reported: “I have completed a draft of Eschweilera (9 species) and now have manuscript for the entire Lecythidaceae (16 species).”

Manual Rubiaceae contributor Charlotte M. Taylor (MO) traveled to Costa Rica for a few days in mid-May, meeting at La Selva with Reinaldo Aguilar, Enrique Castro, and Luis Diego Gómez (OTS), Don Stone (DUKE/OTS), and Nelson Zamora (INB/OTS), in her new capacity as coordinator of the La Selva flora project. For more information on this critically important project, see the current Web site at:


The site was substantially updated just before the May meeting to include descriptive text and some interactive key to several groups, authored by Nelson.

Garrett Crow (NHA), contributor of Manual treatments for numerous aquatic plant families, was in Costa Rica from 27 June–17 July. He worked mainly on the northern Atlantic coastal plain, in the Caño Negro and Tortuguero regions, apparently gleaning nothing new; however, he did have the opportunity to personally collect various spp. that he had known only from herbarium material, notoriously inadequate in these groups.

The OTS plant taxonomy course blew in and out of town during June and July, shepherded by Brad Boyle (institutional affiliation unknown) and Robbin Moran (NY), now the default coordinators. Along with them came Manual Acanthaceae co-contributor Lucinda McDade (PH), who managed to squeeze in a brief but fruitful stint at INB (see under “Leaps and Bounds”).

OBITUARIES. Late on the night of 12 May, 2004, Alexander F. Skutch passed on. One of the most famous biologists to have resided in Costa Rica—a country with a particularly rich biological heritage—Skutch was trained as a botanist, and made many important plant collections during his early years in Costa Rica (especially 1935–1947). However, he was to achieve much more general fame for his later ornithological investigations. A native of Baltimore, Alexander Skutch earned his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in 1928. Born 20 May, 1904, he missed the century mark by just a week, recalling John Donnell Smith, another Johns Hopkins botanist prominent in the annals of Costa Rican botany, who also lived to the age of 99. Skutch was buried on the grounds of his beloved Finca Los Cusingos, near San Isidro de General, where he had lived since 1941 with his wife Pamela (who died a few years ago), the daughter of famed horticulturist Charles H. Lankester.

We must also report the highly untimely death, on 20 September, 2003, of Adelaida Chaverri, brilliant phytosociologist and indefatigable conservationist at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma in Heredia. A student of the late Luis Fournier [see The Cutting Edge 9(3): 1, Jul. 2002], Adelaida was formerly married to mammalogist Christopher Vaughan. Adelaida had a special love for and intimate knowledge of the montane forests and páramo of Cerro Chirripó and the higher portions of the Cordillera de Talamanca [see Cleef & Kappelle, under “Germane Literature”]. Hers is an immeasurable loss.


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