Typification of Costa Rican Orchidaceae described by Rudolf Schlechter. Species variorum collectorum
From Firenze University Press Journal: Journal of Plant Taxonomy and Geography (Webbia)
Franco Pupulin, Lankester Botanical Garden, University of Costa Rica
Isler F. Chinchilla, Lankester Botanical Garden, University of Costa Rica
Gustavo Rojas-Alvarado, Lankester Botanical Garden, University of Costa Rica
Melania Fernández, Lankester Botanical Garden, University of Costa Rica
Carlos Ossenbach, Lankester Botanical Garden, University of Costa Rica
Diego Bogarín, Lankester Botanical Garden, University of Costa Rica
Rudolf Schlechter (1872–1925) (Figure 1) was arguably the most proficient orchid taxonomist of the 20th century. With over 5,000 orchid taxa described before his premature death, he proposed the largest number of new orchid genera and species among his contemporaries and gave birth to monographic revisions of genera and subtribes, as well as national and regional orchid floras. His interest in giving shape to orchid diversity spanned the entire world’s tropical floras, from Africa to New Guinea, from Indonesia to South America, from Madagascar to China, from Central America to Japan, from the West Indies to Australia. In 1914 at the age of 42, and many years before ending his botanical activity, he produced an “encyclopedia” of the Orchidaceae, with notes on taxonomy and culture, under the title Orchideen, ihre Beschreibung, Kultur und Züchtung; Handbuch für Orchideenliebhaber, Züchter und Botaniker (“Orchids, their description, culture and breeding; manual for orchid lovers, breeders and botanists”, Schlechter 1914), a work that Senghas (2002) considered the crowning moment of his career. From 1899, when he published his first orchid species from Guatemala and Mexico, based on plants collected by Georg Eduard Seler (1849–1922) and his wife Caecilie Seler-Sachs (1855–1933) and received for identification at the Botanical Museum of Berlin-Dahlem (Schlechter 1899), he devoted a considerable part of his work to the study of the Orchidaceae from the American isthmus (for a geographic definition of the region, see discussion in Ossenbach et al. 2007). In the next 25 years, he proposed new genera and species of orchids from Guatemala (Schlechter 1906a, 1906c, 1916, 1918a, 1920, 1921b, 1925), Mexico (Schlechter 1906c, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1918b, 1918c, 1925), Costa Rica (1906a, 1907a, 1907b, 1913a, 1920, 1921a, 1921b, 1923a, 1923b, 1923c, 1923d), Panama (Schlechter 1913a, 1921b, 1922), El Salvador (1913b), and Honduras (Schlechter 1918a). During the 1910’s and 192 0’s, Schlechter was particularly fond of the orchid flora from Mesoamerica, a subject on which he maintained for a long time a fair academic competition with his North American colleague, Prof. Oakes Ames (1874–1950) of Harvard University, who in that same period also devoted himself to a fervent study of the orchid flora of the American isthmus.It was Costa Rica, however, that truly represented that orchid “El Dorado” (Schlechter 1923c) that he need-ed to complete his ambitious project of describing a new species of orchid every day of his life (Reinikka 1995). Eventually, he came to describe from the small Central American republic almost four hundred taxa new to science, including 23 new genera, 382 new species, and five subspecific taxa.
Without doubt, a combination of various factors contributed to this prodigious result. The position of Costa Rica in the central portion of the isthmus between two continents, in an area small enough to be affected by the climatic effects of both oceans, but large enough to host a complex system of mountain ranges of different origins that form a defined continental spine, is reflected in a particular number of different life zones and favors the maintenance of an extraordinarily diverse f lora. In terms of orchid diversity, Costa Rica has the high-est index in the American continent and possibly the highest globally (Karremans and Bogarín 2013), and the recent biogeographical assessment by Crain and Fernán-dez (2020) indicated the unique attributes underpinning diversity patterns and the occurrence of orchid hotspots. Furthermore, during the last decade of 19th centu-ry, Costa Rica saw the birth of a national science as the direct result of the educational reform inaugurated by President Bernardo Soto (1885–1889), who hired a group of European academics to staff the two new public high schools in the capital (Ossenbach 2009).
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