Darwin replaces Jesus (no, not that Darwin, and no, not that Jesus)



Jesus Recalde. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga


[Vea traduccion en espanol abajo.]

Our most senior reserve guard, Jesus Recalde, has just retired. He worked with us for twelve years, almost since our inception, and has helped guide our evolution and growth with his gentle wisdom. Jesus’s place will be taken by his only son, Darwin Recalde.

Jesus first came to my attention through his signs. Long before Fundacion Ecominga existed, I encountered these signs during my botanical explorations in the area which is now our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. One of the signs, in the middle of this fairly remote forest, said “No cazar los aves” (“Don’t hunt the birds”), an unusual sentiment at a time when every kid in rural areas carried a slingshot to kill birds. Years later I learned that Jesus was the author of these signs, and that he had even planted a quarter-hectare plot with flowers and fruits that attracted birds, instead of with human crops. Around here nobody does that. This was an unusual man.

The first reserve guard we hired, Abdon Recalde, was Jesus’ brother and was also an exceptionally sensitive and honest man. It was through him that I came to know Jesus. At the time, the country was in an economic crisis, and Jesus and his family were desperate. Like many Ecuadorians, he was considering moving to Spain to find work so he could send money home to support his family. His young daughter Diana made him rethink that plan when she asked him point-blank how he could abandon her for money… So he and his wife Piedad found my house in Banos and asked if he could be a second guard for our growing reserves. I was nervous about being able to find donations for his salary, but we took the risk and hired him.

Soon he made me feel like part of family. At various times his daughter Diana, his son Darwin, his daughter Rosa’s husband Israel, and David the son-in-law of Abdon also joined our team for brief periods, as did his other brothers Fausto and Luis more permanently (Luis, an expert woodsman and brilliant photographer, retired a few years ago to be replaced by Fausto’s stepson Jordy, also an exceptional photographer). This extended family’s personal qualities — curiosity, intelligence, and integrity — were the key to the success of our foundation; we did not have to micro-manage them but rather we worked as a team of equals, co-managing the reserves, parts of which we bought from them (including Jesus’ quarter-hectare bird plot). Every visitor who interacted with them came away impressed. Today our “Team Recalde” is famous among Ecuadorian biologists, and they are frequently asked to help out in field research.

Curiously, Jesus and his brothers were originally voracious hunters when they were younger, until the day that Jesus shot a mother monkey with a baby. As the mother died in front of him, she looked at him with a face so full of pain that it could be understood across species. Jesus was shaken to his core; this was his conversion experience, and he never again killed anything. He planted his bird plot as repentance, and vowed to live the rest of his life trying to redeem himself for the damage he had caused in his youth.

He became a leader of his community, and was elected its president. In this position he helped his community develop an ecological conscience, and worked to integrate the community with our conservation work.

He was an energetic guard, but one day when crossing a road in Banos he was hit by a fast police motorcycle clearing a parade route. Initially there was some doubt whether he would ever walk again, but we helped him get an aluminum stud to join parts of his shattered leg bone, and eventually he recovered enough to resume his life.  He worked for many years after the accident, but this year he began to feel that he couldn’t keep up with the younger guards, so he asked to retire.

_1110931v2 Darwin Recalde
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Dr Carl Luer, world’s most productive orchid taxonomist and my orchid mentor, died yesterday at age 97


Carl at work. Photo courtesy Lorena Endara.


Sobralia luerorum. The Latin ending “-orum” is the genitive (possesive) plural ending, indicating that this orchid is named for Carl Luer and his devoted wife, Jane. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost


[Ver traduccion en espanol abajo]

Carl Luer, assisted by his wife Jane, “the most prolific orchid research couple the world has ever known” (Dalstrom 2017), has described more orchid species than any other modern scientist, more than 3000 species, a record that can never be matched again. He would describe and draw up to three new species each day, based mostly on specimens found in the world’s herbariums or collected personally by him and Jane and their orchid friends. The pencil drawings would then be inked by Stig Dalstrom and sent to the Missouri Botanical Gardens press, which would publish them in a steady stream of green paperback books officially titled “Icones Pleurothallidinarum”, known to many in the field as the “Green Books”.

Carl was a surgeon by profession, retiring in 1975 or 1976. By that time he had already become very interested in orchids, publishing two books on North American orchids: The Native Orchids of the United States and Canada Excluding Florida and The Native Orchids of Florida.  These instantly became classics; they are still some of the most authoritative treatments of the US and Canadian orchid flora (and I loved my copy back when I was growing up).

When Carl retired, his passion for orchids was completely unleashed. He asked one of the most famous orchid scientists of the time, Calaway Dodson (who later became a founding board member of EcoMinga) what would be a good group of orchids to work on. Cal told him that the pleurothallid subtribe of orchids had been overlooked in the past because they are usually small and not very showy, but that this group appeared to have a huge amount of hidden diversity if only someone would pay attention to it. This sounded great to Carl, who set out to master the known pleurothallid orchids and discover the ones that were not yet known.

It immediately became clear to him that some of the previously described genera made little sense, mixing morphologically dissimilar things. For example, he noticed that the genus Masdevallia consisted of at least three very different kinds of plants, easily distinguishable by both the flower and the leaves. One of these groups, the group containing the species that was the original basis for the genus, had to keep the name Masdevallia under the international rules for plant nomenclature. Carl established new genera for the other two groups, naming them Dracula and Dryadella. Of course Carl’s genus Dracula has now become the focus of EcoMinga’s Dracula Reserve in northwestern Ecuador.

Dracula terborchi Luer & Hirtz, a member of Carl’s new genus Dracula. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Carl also began the long process of breaking up the artificial genus Pleurothallis into more natural groups, and began to notice that previous taxonomists had wrongly lumped many different species together, because they had not looked closely at these tiny flowers. Indeed, the standard way of preserving flowers, pressing them flat and drying them to make herbarium sheets, obscured many of their important details. Carl helped popularize the practice of preserving these flowers in alcohol, which did not affect their delicate structures (though they lost their colors). This was a major advance. As he compared his specimens in alcohol from all over the tropical Americas, it soon became clear that the previously-described species in the pleurothallid subtribe were just  the tip of the iceberg. He began one of the biggest unveilings of plant diversity anywhere in the modern world.  He quickly doubled, tripled, or quadrupled the sizes of many major genera of pleurothallid orchids, with especially huge numbers of new species in overlooked genera like Stelis and Lepanthes.

In 1996 he published the Green Book dealing with the Lepanthes of Ecuador, and this was how I got to know him. I had just started noticing the Lepanthes of the forests around my new home in Banos, Ecuador, and I was desperate for information about them. My friend Cherise Miller bet me a brownie that I could find information about them on a newfangled thing that had just come to Ecuador, the “internet”. I scoffed but went to an “internet cafe” which had computers, and did the search. I gladly bought Cherise the brownie when the search turned up Carl’s freshly-printed book. I bought the book and tried to identfy my local Lepanthes, but some of them didn’t fit. I was puzzled and wrote to Carl with drawings, photos, and paintings, and he immediately and enthusiastically answered my questions and encouraged me. He agreed that some were new, and he began to draw and describe and publish them as fast as I could discover them. This went on for more than a decade. His encouragement and kindness was limitless, not just to me but to nearly everyone in the field. He even sent me his first microscope, hand-carried to Ecuador by Stig Dalstrom, to help me make better drawings.


My heavily-used first book from Carl. This book went everywhere with me, and it shows.


Inside the book. Click to enlarge.

Beside the genus Dracula, Carl had established many other new genera as he continued to re-organize the pleurothallid tribe. In 1991 he had noticed that there was a small subset of species in the genus Platystele which had larger flowers with a distinctive morphology, including a deep pit in the lip (the enlarged central petal of an orchid). He created the new genus Teagueia, named after his friend and collecting partner Walter Teague, for these five species, and added a sixth species from an overlooked old museum specimen.\

2019-04-20-23.22.55 ZS ret Stitchedv2

Teagueia zeus Luer, a member of Carl’s genus Teagueia. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/Ecominga

One day in the year 2000, on a long hard hike to a high mountain which EcoMinga now owns, I stumbled across four mysterious orchid species that I could not recognize even to genus, though they were clearly pleurothallids. When I got down from the mountain I eagerly searched the Green Books for these species, but could not find them. Of course I turned to Carl for help. He informed me that all four were new species in his genus Teagueia! He immediately described them as Teagueia alyssana, T. sanchezii, T. jostii, and T. cymbisepala. These were the first of about 30 new species of Teagueia my students and I eventually discovered in the area, an unprecedented local evolutionary radiation that was part of the impetus for the creation of EcoMinga, which now protects the most important Teagueia populations.


Teagueia alyssana Luer & Jost, drawing by Carl Luer.

Carl’s kind and helpful interactions with me were not at all unusual; he nurtured and inspired a vast crew of orchid scientists around the world over the four decades since his “retirement”. He will live on long after this sad day, in his mountain of Green Books and in his army of new taxonomists, and in the hearts of the people who were lucky enough to have known him.


Some of my much-used volumes of  Carl’s “Green Books”.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

See also the special volume of the journal Lankesteriana dedicated to Carl on his 95th birthday: Lankesteriana17(2)

Dr Carl Luer, el taxónomo de orquídeas más productivo del mundo y mi mentor de orquídeas, murió ayer a los 97 años.
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano Flores
**IMG 01** – Carl en el trabajo. Foto cortesía de Lorena Endara.
**IMG 02** – Sobralia luerorum. El final en latín “-orum” es la terminación plurar genitiva (posesivo), indicando que esta orquídea es nombrada por Car Luer y su devota esposa, Jane. Click para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost.
Carl Luer, con ayuda de su esposa Jane, “la pareja de investigación de orquídeas más prolífica que el mundo haya conocido” (Dalstrom 2017), ha descrito más especies de orquídeas que cualquier otro científico moderno, más de 3000 especies, un record que nunca podrá ser alcanzado de nuevo. Él describiría y dibujaría hasta tres nuevas especies cada día, basándose principalmente en especímenes encontrados en los herbarios del mundo o colectados personalmente por él y Jane, y sus amigos orquideólogos. Los dibujos a lápiz serían entintados por Stig Dalstrom y enviados a la prensa del Jardín Botánico de Missouri, los cuales serían publicados en un flujo constante de libros de bolsillo verdes titulados oficialmente “Icones Pleurothallidinarum”, conocidos para muchos en el campo como los “Green Books”.
Carl fue cirujano de profesión, y se retiró en 1975 o 1976. Por ese tiempo ya se había interesado mucho en las orquídeas, publicando dos libros sobre las orquídeas norteamericanas: “The Native Orchids of the United States and Canada Excluding Florida” y “The Native Orchids of Florida“. Instanteaneamente estos libros se volvieron clásicos; todavía son algunos de los tratados más confiables de la flora de orquídeas de EEUU y Canadá (y yo amé mi copia cuando estaba creciendo).
Cuando Carl se retiró, su pasión por las orquídeas fue totalmente desatada. Él preguntó a uno de los más famosos científicos de orquídeas de ese tiempo, Calaway Dodson (quien después se convirtío en un miembro fundador de EcoMinga), cuál sería un buen grupo de orquídeas en las cuales trabajar. Cal le dijo que la subtribu Pleurothallidinae de orquídeas se había pasado por alto en el pasado porque usualmente son pequeñas y no muy vistosas, pero que este grupo parecía tener una gran diversidad escondida si solo alguien le prestaba atención. Esto sonó bien para Carl, que se propuso dominar las orquídeas pleurotalidas conocidas y descubrir aquellas aún no conocidas.
Inmediatamente se volvió claro para él que algunos de los generos previamente descritos tenían poco sentido, mezclando morfologicamente cosas diferentes. Por ejemplo, Carl notó que el género Masdevallia consistía en al menos tres tipos muy diferentes de planta, fácilmente distinguibles tanto por sus flores como por sus hojas. Uno de estos grupos, el grupo que contenía las especies que fueron la base original para el género, había mantenido el nombre Masdevallia bajo las reglas internacionales de nomenclatura vegetal. Carl estableció un nuevo género para los otros dos grupos, nombrándolos Dracula y Dryadella. Por supuesto, el género Dracula de Carl ahora se ha convertido en el foco de la Reserva Dracula de EcoMinga en el noroeste de Ecuador.
**IMG 03** – Dracula terborchi Luer & Hirtz, un miembro de Dracula, un nuevo género de Carl. Click para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
Carl también empezó el largo proceso de fragmentar el género artificial Pleurothallis en más grupos naturales, y comenzó a notar que taxónomos anteriores habían englobado erróneamente muchas especies diferentes en este grupo, sin observar de cerca sus pequeñas flores. En efecto, la forma estándar de preservar las flores, presionandolas y secándolas para hacer hojas de herbario, ocultó muchos de sus detalles importantes. Carl ayudó a popularizar la práctica de preservar estas flores en alcohol, lo cual no afectaba sus delicadas estructuras (a pesar de perder sus colores). Este fue un gran avance. Mientras comparaba sus especímenes en alcohol por todas las Américas tropicales, pronto se se hizo evidente que las especies previamente descritas en la subtribu Pleurothallideae eran solo la punta del iceberg. Él comenzó una de las mayores revelaciones de la diversidad vegetal en cualquier parte del mundo moderno. Pronto dobló, triplicó e incluso cuadruplicó el tamaño de muchos géneros principales de orquídeas pleurotálidas, con un numero especialmente grande de nuevas especies en géneros ignorados como Stelis y Lepanthes.
En 1996 publicó el Libro Verde sobre los Lepanthes de Ecuador, y así fue como lo conocí. Yo había empezado a notar los Lepanthes de los bosques cerca de mi nuevo hogar en Baños, Ecuador, y estaba desesperado por información acerca de estos. Mi amiga Cherise Miller apostó conmigo un brownie a que podría encontrar información sobre ellos en una cosa nueva que acababa de llegar a Ecuador, el “internet”. Me burlé pero fui a un “cibercafé” que tenía computadoras e hice la búsqueda. Con mucho gusto le compré a Cherise el brownie cuando en la búsqueda apareció el libro recién impreso de Carl. Compré el libro e intenté identificar a mis Lepanthes locales, pero algunas de ellas no correspondían. Estaba perplejo y le escribí a Carl con dibujos, fotos y pinturas, y él inmediatamente y de manera entusiasta respondió a mis preguntas y me animó. Estuvo de acuerdo en que algunas eran nuevas, y empezó a dibujar, describir y publicarlas tan rápido como yo podía descubrirlas. Esto continuó por más de una década. Su aliento y amabilidad eran ilimitados, no sólo para mí, si no para casi todos en el campo. Incluso me envió su primer microscopio, traído a mano a Ecuador por Stig Dalstrom, para ayudarme a hacer mejores dibujos.
**IMG04** – Mi bien usado primer libro de Carl. Este libro fue a todos lados conmigo, como se puede observar.
**IMG 05** – Dentro del libro. Click para agrandar.
Junto al género Dracula, Carl había establecido muchos otros nuevos géneros mientras re-organizaba la subtribu Pleurothallidinae .  En 1991 había notado que había un pequeño grupo de especies en el género Platystele los cuales tenían flores más largas con una morfología distintiva, incluyendo un hoyo profundo en el labio (el pétalo central agrandado de una orquídea). Él creó el nuevo género Teagueia, nombrado así por su amigo y compañero en el campo, Walter Teague, para estas cinco especies, y agregó una sexta especie de un antiguo espécimen de museo pasado por alto.
**IMG 05** – Teagueia zeus Luer, un miembro de Teagueia , género de Carl. Click para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost/Ecominga
Un día del año 2000, en una larga y dura caminata a una montaña alta, la cual ahora pertenece a EcoMinga, me tropecé con cuatro especies de orquídeas misteriosas que no pude reconocer ni siquiera a nivel de género, aunque eran claramente pleurotálidas. Cuando bajé de la montaña, busqué estas especies ansiosamente en los Libros Verdes, pero no pude encontrarlas. Por supuesto fui a Carl por ayuda. Él me informó que las cuatro eran nuevas especies de su género Teagueia! Inmediatamente las describió como Teagueia alyssanaT. sancheziiT. jostii, y T. cymbisepala. Estas fueron las primeras de cerca de 30 nuevas especies de Teagueia que mis estudiantes y yo eventualmente descubrimos en el área, una radiación evolutiva local sin precendentes que fue parte del impulso para la creación de EcoMinga, que ahora protege las poblaciones más importantes de Teagueia.
**IMG**-   Teagueia alyssana Luer & Jost, dibujos por Carl Luer.
Las interacciones amables y provechosas de Carl conmigo no eran inusuales; él nutrió e inspiró a un vasto equipo de científicos de orquídeas al rededor del mundo durante cuatro décadas desde su “retiro”. Él vivirá mucho después de este triste día, en su montaña de Libros Verdes y su ejército de nuevos taxónomos, y en los corazones de las personas que tuvieron la suerte de haberlo conocido.
*IMG* – Algunos de mis muy  utilizados  “Green Books” de Carl.
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga.
Vean también el volumen especial del journal Lankesteriana, dedicada a Carl en su cumpleaños número 95: Lankesteriana17(2).


“In defense of plants” podcast

[Traduccion en espanol abajo]

I was interviewed recently by Matt Candeias, whose website “In Defense of Plants” is full of interesting posts and podcasts for botanists. You can listen to my interview here:


Matt was very well informed and asked good questions; I enjoyed the interview.I also recommend checking out some of the other articles and interviews on his site. One especially interesting article of interest to us orchid lovers is this one:


Thank you Matt for spreading the word about our work!

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Podcast “In defense of Plants” (En defensa de las plantas) 

Traducción: Salomé Solórzano Flores
Fui entrevistado recientemente por Matt Candeias, cuyo sitio web “In Defense of Plants” está lleno de posts y podcasts interesantes para botánicos. Puedes escuchar mi entrevista en inglés aquí:
Matt estuvo bien informado y realizó buenas preguntas; disfruté la entrevista. También recomiendo verificar algunos artículos y entrevistas en su sitio. Un artículo en inglés de especial interés para nosotros como amantes de las orquídeas, es este:


¡Gracias a Matt por correr la voz sobre nuestro trabajo!
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga

Our eaglet has died

[Traduccion en  espanol abajo]

We’re sad to report that last week our baby eagle had died, in spite of the heroic efforts of Abel and Andy. They found the baby eagle dead high in the trees, where we could not protect it. It may have crashed into a branch on its first flights, or it may have been attacked by an aerial predator like another eagle or an owl.  We thank all the heroes who worked to save this bird; they did everything humanly possible to return it safely into the wild.

WhatsApp Image 2019-10-07 at 21.43.40

Abel Recalde with the eaglet while it was still alive.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Nuestro pichón de águila ha muerto
Nos entristece informar que la semana anterior, nuestrro pichón de águila ha muerto, a pesar de los heroicos esfuerzos de Abel y Andy. Encontraron al pichón muerto en lo alto de los árboles, donde no logramos protegerlo. Al parecer pudo haber chocado con una rama en sus primeros vuelos, o pudo ser atacado por un predador aéreo como otra águila o un búho. Agradecemos a todos los héroes que trabajaron para salvar a esta ave; hicieron todo lo humanamente posible para regresarlo a salvo a la naturaleza.
**IMG 01**- Abel Recalde con el aguilucho mientras este se encontraba vivo.

The most spectacular new species we have ever discovered


New Hyloscirtus. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

We’ve discovered many amazing species of plants and animals new to science in our reserves over the years. Our new Magnolia and Meriania trees are extraordinary finds. Some of our new orchids and frogs are also spectacular.  But recently we have found something so striking and so unexpected that it has surprised even us.

Last year one of our Keepers of the Wild, Darwin Recalde, found this unbelievable new Hyloscirtus frog in one of our reserves. It is a big frog, maybe four inches long, black spotted with bright red.


New Hyloscirtus. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Such crazy color patterns in animals are usually warning colors. Sure enough, Darwin carried the frog down the mountain in his hand for hours, and by the end his whole arm was tingling and in pain….

There are a couple of other close relatives that are similar, such as Hyloscirtus princecharlesi.  But this is the most spectacular of them all.

An international team of researchers has recently confirmed that it is indeed a new species. We have to decide on a name for it. As we have done in the past, we’d be pleased to honor a major new donor by naming this frog after the donor or a loved one.  If interested, write me at loujost@gmail.com  We are in tough financial shape with respect to operating funds, and in debt for emergency land purchases, so help would be welcome.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga



EcoMinga friend Andreas Kay has died

I’m sorry to report that my friend and EcoMinga associate Andreas Kay, who was suffering from incurable brain cancer (see this post), has died today. His friends will make sure that his work lives on.


Note added Oct 21 2019: Heinz Schneider, our partner at the University of Basel Botanical Garden, has set up a website in memory of Andreas, with a detailed directory to his online photos, organized by subject: