March 16, 2009

Exploring and Conserving: Fairchild Expedition Blog

Plant exploration in Jamaica. Photo at

I recently learned that some Fairchild staff is keeping a blog about their plant exploration in the Cockpit Country of Jamaica at This is in true keeping with the spirit of David Fairchild, the great plant explorer and namesake of the garden, of course!

The Cockpit Country is known for its rock formation and challenging -- if not forbidding -- access. Historically, this place was home to the Maroons, a group of slaves that escaped into this mountain region and evaded capture. An island of biodiversity within an island, the area holds much promise for plant exploration.

Plant exploration and collecting of specimens is pretty hard work. When I interviewed Noris Ledesma, Fruit Curator at Williams Grove (now known as Fairchild Farm, by the way), she told me that it's non-stop collecting, documenting and traveling -- rather like an Indiana Jones approach but without any of the big screen glamor. You don't get a lot of sleep, that's for sure. It's no tropical vacation, especially when you have to deal with a long flight from Miami over to Asia. 24/7, all you care about is those tree grafting and seed specimens you need to conserve in order to make for viable growing and study here in our own backyard.

While Noris works with the fruit program, the staff in Jamaica has a similar goal. Melissa Abdo writes about a Saturday -- first the market, then getting the laundry off the clothesline before it rains and then ...
I managed to run some preliminary analyses while stuck indoors, and am thrilled to report that we have already collected, documented, and prepared at least 640 scientific plant specimens- in addition to numerous propagules already representing a healthy, robust horticultural collection. Astoundingly, our hard work has already yielded critically important collections of plants- including many endemics- and provided growing evidence of the importance of biodiversity conservation of Jamaica’s Cockpit Country.
When you visit Fairchild here in Miami, keep this in mind: nearly every plant you see is a result of some kind of exploration that aimed at conserving and studying the plant for a universal benefit. That plant didn't just get here on a first class plane ticket. A lot of work went into this amazing display of tropical flora. But it's not just about looks: botany affects us all -- from the first cup of coffee in the morning, to the natural fibers in our clothes, to the pills we take for illness.

This blog also features some exploration notes from the garden's expeditions in Palau, written by Dr. Carl Lewis, who is now Fairchild's new director.

Check it out!

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