published June 28, 2011

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Orchid Digest Speakers Day


Harold Koopowitz presented the Orchid Digest Medal for 2011 to Mark Chase.  

The Orchid Digest held their 9th annual Speakers' Day at the Huntington Library and Botanic Gardens in Pasadena, California on June 18th. The topic of discussion was the Oncidiinae. Cordelia Head of J&L Nursery talked about miniature oncidiums; always a welcome topic for those of us who seem to have too many plants for our greenhouses. Jim Rassmann, past AOS VP and Judging Chair, explained how to grow those beautiful odontoglossums, while Howard Liebman up-dated the audience on what is being done in cyrtochilum breeding. Steve Beckendorf shared his amazing journey in search of two very rare odontoglossums in the cloud forests in South America.

The Orchid Digest Medal for 2011, a medal awarded for meritorious service to the orchid world, was given to Mark Chase. Since 2006, Chase has been the Director of the Jodrell Laboratory at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Prior to his current position he was Head of Molecular (DNA) Systematics in this same lab (1992-2006). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and ranks among the top ten botanists in the world in terms of citation frequency. His research is on the classification and evolution of orchids and other plants by comparing DNA sequences.

A global effort to determine relationships between all plants has been coordinated by Mark while he has been at the Royal Botanic Garden Kew. Until a few decades ago, only the physical appearance and development of plants guided how taxonomists classified species. More recently, many sophisticated techniques have refined taxonomy. Today, genetic analysis enables scientists to correct ideas of relatedness, and also to deduce the order in which groups of plants diverged from each other as they evolved. Would you have guessed that orchids, irises and asparagus are related?

There have been many discoveries that have generated great excitement about the power of DNA analysis to reveal secrets from the distant evolutionary past. Much of the work Mark has done has involved orchids and he was one of the first scientists to develop and use modern molecular techniques to investigate relationships among the various orchids. Together with his students, his work has changed the face of orchid taxonomy. He has probably had a greater effect on our understanding of the evolution of the Orchidaceae than any other living scientist. Mark also delivered the Orchid Digest Distinguished Lecture.