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Plant Diversity beyond the numbers

May 19, 2014

Plant Diversity beyond the numbers

Carmen Galdames could easily describe Panama’s plant diversity in terms of the thousands of specimens stored in STRI’s herbarium

Carmen Galdames could easily describe Panama’s plant diversity in terms of the thousands of specimens stored in STRI’s herbarium. As lead technician since 1994 of STRI’s herbarium, under STRI staff scientist Mireya Correa who has been in charge since 1987, Galdames has personally collected and catalogued many of the plants it contains. However, instead of citing figures, Galdames encourages people to perceive and understand plant biodiversity by cultivating a direct relationship with the flora around us.

“Regularly we hear and repeat the word ‘biodiversity’ and its numbers, but this doesn’t mean much for many people,” said Galdames, while she removes specimens from the collection and shows herbarium visitors the multitude of characteristics that allow botanists to identify species. “As a botanist, I feel indebted.

I learned to appreciate plants through knowledge. It’s this knowledge that makes people value them.”

“This process of raising awareness and education ultimately leads to conservation,” she said.

Galdames studied Botany at the University of Panama. Before joining STRI, she worked with Mahabir Gupta at the University’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Galdames’ work included collecting and processing plants that would be used in phytochemical analyses in various national and international projects. Galdames collaborated in the development of ethnobotanical studies and in the compilation of information from 21 countries for a volume on 270 medicinal plants from Latin America.

“The more I learned, the more it fascinated me,” said Galdames, who tirelessly stresses the importance of accurately identifying medicinal plants and their chemical properties before using them.

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