Nov. 14 program: Dracuphilia: A Gothic Romance, by Gary Meyer, Ph.D.

[The following was provided by November’s program speaker.]

Dracula presbys

Gary Meyer’s interest in orchids began when he was a freshman in high school in Michigan. He had already replaced much of his dad’s beloved lawn with hundreds of perennials and North American native plants, partly in an attempt (futile, unfortunately) to attract hummingbirds. Among this plant collection were several Cypripedium species, which ignited his curiosity about orchids from other parts of the globe. He found a photograph of Masdevallia vietchiana in a library book that rendered him helpless to resist the pull to Pleurothallids. Shortly thereafter, he laid eyes on a line drawing of Dracula chimaera in a J & L Orchids catalog, and has been enslaved by Draculas ever since. 

Gary started growing Draculas in his parents’ basement in 1990, with some degree of success. However, college, then medical school, and finally graduate school became unavoidable distractions for him. By the time he finished his Ph.D. in neuroscience in 2004, he thought he had managed to completely kick the orchid addiction.

In February, 2003, Gary moved to San Francisco, and within two weeks of his arrival, found himself face to face with a pure yellow Dracula gorgona xanthina (owned by John Leathers) at the Pacific Orchid Exposition. The addiction was immediately revived, stronger than ever. Six years later, Gary now has two overcrowded greenhouses in his backyard in San Francisco and several hundred Dracula plants (along with a reasonable dose Masdevallias, Lepanthes, and Anguloas).

In 2005, Gary attended the first Scientific Conference on Andean Orchids, held at Ecuagenera’s facilities in Gualaceo, Ecuador. There, he met Ken Cameron, Ph.D., then the director of the molecular taxonomy program at the New York Botanical Garden. Given Gary’s access to most of the Dracula species and variations currently in cultivation and his laboratory science background, Ken suggested they together take on the task of investigating the taxonomy of Dracula through molecular technologies. Gary spent the summer of 2006, and occasional weeks thereafter, in Ken’s lab at the New York Botanical Garden and his new facility at the University of Wisconsin, isolating and studying the DNA of more than 200 Dracula specimens. The initial results from this work were presented at the Second Scientific Conference on Andean Orchids in 2007, held in Loja, Ecuador. 

Gary has been travelling to Colombia and Ecuador once or twice a year since 2005 to observe Draculas in the wild and visit collections of South American Dracula growers. His talk today will cover a variety of topics, including the current state of Draculas in nature, cultural cues from the environment, and new insights from his laboratory research.

[The photograph above was taken from the Hawk Hill Orchids website and shows a Dracula presbys.]

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