Vanessa Handley, Director of Collections & Research

The last few months have been a flurry of activity at UCBG, both at the Garden and in the field. In the later realm, I recently had an exciting opportunity to join biologist Héctor Gómez-Domínguez for field work in Chiapas, Mexico. Héctor is not only a gifted botanist but also a dedicated conservationist and I was thrilled at the chance to collaborate with him. We were fortunate to be joined by our colleague Oscar Moreno, a palm and cycad specialist and expert horticulturist. Over two intensive weeks our trio covered major ground – ranging from lowland jungle on the Guatemalan border to high elevation cloud forest in the Sierra Madre range.

During our travels we were fortunate to meet many of Héctor’s collaborators and community partners and to learn about the myriad conservation initiatives they are implementing. Chiapas is extraordinarily rich in biodiversity, but local resources are generally insufficient to steward this natural wealth. Héctor and his colleagues are striving to remedy this with a diverse platform of projects and fundraising efforts – including education initiatives, floral and faunal inventories, community nursery projects, and pictorial guides to regional reserves.

We experienced these spectacular reserves firsthand, commencing with a trek into Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve. After passing through a rural community, we worked our way up into tropical forest replete with magnificent buttress trees, clambering lianas and diverse palms. Camping in this jungle setting was a treat, albeit rather hot and noisy. Throughout the night the thrum of insects was punctuated by the eerie bellows of feuding howler monkeys.

Our cloud forest camp was decidedly more peaceful, but the context was no less extraordinary. Dawn would break on mist-shrouded forest and, after a steady climb through the trees, we’d crest to breathtaking ridges speckled with Beschorneria, thickets of Gaultheria and, on one isolated pocket of rock, a mystery species of Echeveria. Below the ridge lines we enjoyed classic cloud forest assemblages with amazing fern diversity and tree limbs dripping with bromeliads, bryophytes and orchids.

Exploring such a wide range of habitats was a delight. As was the opportunity to collect specimens for the herbarium at Universidad de Ciencias y Artes de Chiapas … along with seed and spore for the UCBG living collections! These materials recently cleared USDA inspection and are currently coming along in our Nursery. Clare Loughran (Assistant Curator), Corina Rieder (Glasshouse Horticulturist) and I teamed up with Susan Malisch (Propagator) for a “planting party” in June. We are now enjoying the parade of emerging seedlings and gametophytes. I look forward to sharing a full account from the field and details about the new accessions in our upcoming Newsletter.

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