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  • Writer's pictureLuis A Mazariegos

July 2021 - Anthuriums & Aroids Galore: The Araceae @ MPNR

Updated: Dec 26, 2021

Since the establishment of the Mesenia-Paramillo Nature Reserve (MPNR) in 2008, we have focused mainly in finding how many vertebrate species inhabit the cloud forests at the reserve. We paid most attention to the biodiversity of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, during the last twelve years. Regarding plants, we mainly searched for orchids, of which we have found more than 100 species; with a few that are yet to be described.

In 2013, a permanent parcel was established by the Universidad de Antioquia and the Alexander Von Humboldt Institute. Some 600-plus botanical specimens were identified in this one-hectare parcel, but our participation was minimal and little attention was paid to this plant list. We also had received a couple of visits in the past from the Tree Institute, led by Carolann Sharkey, who were mainly interested in looking at palm diversity at the reserve. As part of this group, Greg Wahlert, Botanist stationed at the University of California Santa Barbara, visited the reserve in 2018 and was interested in returning in 2020 to do a more extensive inventory, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic the visit had to be postponed.

Visitors from the Tree Institute led by Carolann Sharkey and Saul Hoyos on their way to the reserve in May 2018.

Recently during the last week of June 2021, Greg and a group of four more botanists visited the reserve: Thomas Croat, P.A. Schulze Curator of Botany, Missouri Botanical Garden; Felipe Cardona, Herbarium Director, Universidad de Antioquia; Rodrigo Bernal, Arecaceae and Reophyte expert; and Saul Hoyos, PhD candidate, studying a handful of families. Greg’s plan is to establish at the MPNR a long-term botanical program to assess the plant biodiversity of the area.

From right to left: Rodrigo Bernal, Tom Croat, Greg Wahlert, Adolfo Amezquita and Saul Hoyos, at the MPNR biodiversity and molecular lab, discussing future botanical projects.

Tom and Felipe’s main interest was to look at various Araceae with emphasis on anthuriums and aroids. I must confess I had paid little attention to this family and had low expectations to what we would find, other than the “common” anthuriums one sees on the trail to “El Alto”. After just a day’s search, I was astonished at how wrong I was. Every day we visited a different trail and mountain valley, and each was full of surprises, even for Tom, who also did not expect to find such diversity at altitudes ranging from 1900m to 2700m. A week later I found myself dumbfounded. I would have never dreamed of tallying some 130 species of Araceae with the possibility of 60% of them being completely new to science, according to Tom. That said, we still need to watch out for those plants that were not in flower during the visit and collect them in due time to have a complete species inventory. Tom returned in November 2021 and we have added new species, taking our count over 200 registered ones.

MPNR Park ranger, Osman Lopez, climbs a tree at 2700m elevation on the Paramillo massif to collect a giant anthurium of the Belolonchium group; an unexpected find at this altitude and a possible new species.

Tom, now 83, is considered the world expert on Araceae and for over 53 years has been part of the Missouri Botanical Garden. He has traveled extensively to all countries in Central and South America studying this family of plants and has described more than 3,000 species, an amazing accomplishment by itself. Nonetheless, it was a great privilege to witness him reach his 108,000th collection number at the MPNR. This number probably translates to more than 1-million dried botanical samples when one observes how the collected plants are prepared.

Tom Croat at MPNR's main station describing what could be a new species of Monstera.

I wish for Tom to continue his invaluable contributions to the world of Araceae for years to come and to have him visit us again in the near future. For me, I hope to have his energy when I reach his age, God willing, to continue supporting and uncovering the biological wealth at the MPNR.

Tom and Greg exploring the Maria Jesus creek at the MPNR.

Tom, carefully folding and bagging an Anthurium botanical sample.

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