The Tropical Plant Taxonomic Challenge

botany in the tropics
One of the biggest challenges in building a career in biodiversity is the ability to quickly and correctly identify the plant species that you encounter in the field. If you need to go to an herbarium, then you’re screwed. I know this because i happen to have a great botany teacher in my college, his name is William Vargas. When i go with him on a trip, he can identify almost all plant species, even down to species level, with the blink of an eye. Off course there are some identifications that needs to be done in the herbarium, but only in special cases, if your making a revision etc.

Studies in vegetation are so important because they are the support for planification, management and conservation of tropical ecosistems. And remember that the tropics comprise almost two thirds of all vascular flora. Colombia itself has about 30,000 plant species. This is why learning to identify plants is not an easy task.  There are at least 250 plant families in the neotropics only. Some very different from each other. Some perplexingly similar. By identifying a plant to family level then it’s easy to go down to the genre and species level, whoever  i would say it’s best to identify to genre level because with the APG system some families are constantly changing.

I’m completely determined to be able to identify tropical plants (currently i’ve learned some 25+ families), and luckily I’m in the right position to get the job done:

1. I live in the tropics (Colombia) and travel a lot.

2. I’m an assistant at ICESI herbarium and have access to the 20,000+ plants we currently have there.

3. I have books great available

-Alwyn Gentry’s excelent book:  A Field Guide to the Families and Genera of Woody Plants of North west South America : (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru).

-And my favourite, my teacher’s own book,  “Guía ilustrada de las plantas de las montañas del Quindío y los Andes centrales” which is a guide to the botany of the Andean mountain regions of Colombia, containing at least 206 plant families.

4. I will be taking  a course in plant taxonomy and systematics with my teacher  and that will be my catapult to reach my objective. (i will keep you informed)

So, that’s the tropical plant taxonomic challenge i’m up to right now, and i can’t see the day when i go to the field and have cracked the code to identify all  plant species, the way Neo sees the matrix. Meanwhile, i have to enjoy and honor this journey.

identify all species

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