Mauricio Diazgranados Is a Botanist in a Hurry

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A decade ago, Dr. Diazgranados was the head of the botanical garden in Bogotá. During his tenure, he embarked on the ambitious projects of constructing a new herbarium and the largest greenhouse in the Americas. However, a change in mayoral administrations led to a change in leadership, and Dr. Diazgranados left for London. At the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, he established a Colombia program from scratch, capitalizing on a groundbreaking peace agreement that opened up opportunities for biological expeditions, eco-tourism, and the development of plant-based products. One of his noteworthy achievements was the publication of a world checklist of useful plants, an extensive and searchable database containing species that provide food, medicine, fiber, fuel, or contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change.

During a recent tour of the New York Botanical Garden’s science facilities, Dr. Diazgranados emphasized the role of science in investigating and understanding nature, as well as in protecting the planet and enhancing our quality of life. He expressed the need to explore how the institution could better respond to the challenges at hand.

Dr. Diazgranados’ offices are housed in the glass-walled plant research laboratory of the botanical garden, which is nestled within an ancient oak forest. Here, researchers make use of various collections, including resins, seeds, and plants preserved in spirits or silica powder. They also have access to extensive DNA samples and plant chemicals. Dr. Diazgranados highlighted the diverse range of research being conducted in the laboratory, which includes studying the evolution of fruits and seeds, the adaptation of plants to marginal habitats, the potential consequences of climate change, and biodiversity in the neotropics.

Adjacent to the laboratory is the garden’s herbarium complex, which resembles a secure vault. Within its walls, a dedicated team meticulously presses, labels, and attaches botanical specimens onto acid-free paper. On this particular day, they were working on a scientist’s collection from Peru. The herbarium houses nearly eight million specimens, including the frailejones leaves collected by Dr. Diazgranados himself when he was a young researcher. Approximately 40,000 new specimens arrive each year from field scientists and other institutions. The living collection of plants within the botanical garden serves as a bridge between public attraction and research facility. These plants are regularly sampled to provide insights into plant genetics, structure, and evolution.

Dr. Diazgranados’ experiences and accomplishments demonstrate the vital role of botanical gardens in advancing scientific knowledge and conservation efforts. With his focus on utilizing science to protect the planet and improve quality of life, he aims to enhance the New York Botanical Garden’s ability to tackle the challenges of our time.

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