Scientific community plants name of SCSU professor on new species

Thursday, October 27, 2005

"You'll never get rich in this profession," admits Biological Sciences Professor Jorge Arriagada, director of the SCSU Herbarium. But there are other rewards in the life of a plant systematist: he loves to teach, he loves to travel and, now, a newly-discovered species of plants found in Latin America and the West Indies carries his name.

Clibadium"Clibadium arriagadae" is the newest one of 29 species within the genus Clibadium, of the sunflower family, which includes plants known for poisons commonly used by natives of Latin America to kill fish and for their potential medical uses. Arriagada collected his first specimen of the plant in Ecuador in 1992, when he was conducting research on the genus, but did not realize that it was an entirely new species. When that determination was made by the assistant curator of the Missouri Botanical Garden, he named the species after the professor in recognition of his research and publications on the plant and the genus as a whole.

"Not too many people have a species named after them," Arriagada admitted. Plants are usually named – in Latin or Greek – for their main feature or their locality (e.g., canadensis), only occasionally for a person who contributed significant knowledge to the study of that plant or species.

After years of research in the field and at herbaria and universities, Arriagada joined the SCSU faculty because, he said, he missed the interaction with students and faculty that are not as frequent in research settings. He also appreciated the quality of the university's herbarium, which he found to be a small but excellent collection of plants largely native to Central Minnesota. The collection has more than 35,000 specimens representing more than 160 families of flowering plants. It includes samples ranging from the maple and milkweed families to the ginseng and dogbane families, as well as a unique collection of 333 specimens collected in 1887.

This is not a glamorous area of science, Arriagada said. Though taxonomists "can't study plants behind a desk" and have the opportunity to travel, there are drawbacks: results are not immediate, the work can be tedious, it can be challenging to
spend time in countries with different languages and dialects, and much of the work is done in tropical rainforests. "There are no hotels. You're getting dirty, you're getting wet, there are mosquitoes and leaches ..."

In the classroom Arriagada teaches courses in plant taxonomy, wetland plants, cultural botany, organismal diversity and population biology. And, as time and student assistance allow, he works on the backlog of 6,000 specimens yet to be mounted and catalogued for addition to the 35,000 specimens already in the SCSU Herbarium. Learn more about the herbarium and Clibadium arriagadae, the October "plant of the month," at www1.stcloudstate.edu/herbarium

- Marge Proell

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