Plant Science Superstars

Some of America’s all-star athletes have spent the past couple of weeks at the Winter Olympics bringing home the gold (and silver and bronze), but did you know there are some all-stars closer to home, too?

While they may not be champions of ice dancing or curling, the Missouri Botanical Garden is home to some of the world’s top plant scientists and researchers.  They come from all over the world, and travel all around the world, discovering new species of plants, researching climate change and studying the relationship between people and plants.

You can meet some of our all-stars at our annual Science and Sustainability Open House.

Here are just a few in the lineup:

Photo by Andrea Androuais

Monica M. Carlsen, Ph.D.
Assistant Scientist – Education Coordinator | Science and Conservation Division
Birthplace: Caracas, Venezuela
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Area of Expertise: Genomics of rapid plant radiations
Years at the Garden: One year as staff, previously eight years as a graduate student
Favorite Winter Olympic Sport: Ice Dancing

Monica M. Carlsen spends much of her time at the Garden working with students, creating more opportunities for undergraduates through collaborations with universities and internships. It’s important, she says, to train the next generation of biologists to continue to preserve what we have now. Her own research focuses on tropical plant diversity and evolutionary relationships using a multidisciplinary approach, especially focusing on gingers, bananas, heliconias and aroids. Her research has taken her to 10 countries in Latin America to collect plants.

Carlsen has earned a slew of prizes and awards already in her career. Most recently she was awarded the Global Genome Initiative – Gardens Grant from the Smithsonian Institute for Biodiversity Genomics.



Liesner - cropped

Ronald Liesner
Curatorial Assistant, Herbarium
Birth City: Hartland, Wisconsin
Hometown: Bonduel, Wisconsin
Area of Expertise: Neotropical Plant Indentification
Years at the Garden: 45
Favorite Winter Olympic Sport: None (until they make chess an Olympic sport)

Ronald Liesner has 78 plant species and one genus named after him, which, he thinks, is a record among living people. Liesner specializes in the identification Central and South American plants and has sorted a large number of them into families, often working with plants that don’t already have a specialist studying them. He is an expert in sorting, having sorted 480,000 plants from China and a large amount of other incoming collections. In a 10 year period, he sorted 1 million plants into families, which he said no one has done before. He speculates no one has sorted that many in their lifetime.

Liesner has collected specimens in Venezula, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, and Belize. On one four week-trip on Arecamuni tepui in Venezuela, he collected 28 new species, two new genera, and three new subspecies.


Photo by Karen Fletcher

Armand Randrianasolo, Ph.D.
Birthplace: Madagascar
Hometown: Vatomandry
Area of Expertise: Madagascar Anacardiaceae (Madagascar Mango plant family)
Years at the Garden: 20
Favorite Winter Olympic Sport: Hockey

Armand Randrianasolo’s work in botany began as a college student in Madagascar when he volunteered to help with a 15-day plant collecting expedition in the forest and met the Garden’s James Miller. Eventually, be joined the staff at the Garden and since then has been studying plants in Madagascar, discovering new species and working to preserve the country’s rich flora. He helped developed the Garden’s Madagascar conservation program, which works to raise awareness among local stakeholders about the importance of and threats to their natural ecosystems. Conservation is also a focus of the Madagascar Ethnobotany Program Randrianasolo helped develop, which works with local people to conserve Malagasy traditional knowledge of plat uses and protect and replenish the ecosystem in a way that agrees with their daily lives and cultural practices.


Photo by Molly Krohe

Jan Salick, Ph.D.
Senior Curator
Birthplace: Fort Brag, North Carolina
Hometown: Monona, Wisconsin
Area of Expertise: Ethnobotany
Years at the Garden: 18
Favorite Winter Olympic Sport: Skiing- downhill or cross country

Jan Salick’s work in ethnobotany, or the study of how people use plants, has taken her all over the globe, including South America, Africa and Asia. Since joining the Garden, she spent 15 years working in the Himalayas studying climate change and its effects on alpine plants and indigenous people. Most recently, she has spent her time on Cape Cod where she is researching the effects of climate change by monitoring when plants flower and comparing it to a comprehensive study from the 19th Century. She also works on projects with American Indians there, and curates the Garden’s growing biocultural collection.

Salick has written many scientific papers and co-authored two books, Curating Biocultural Collections: A Handbook and Khawa Karpo: Tibetan Traditional Knowledge and Biodiversity Conservation.


Base Camp, Tintaya Plot Expedition, Madidi, Bolivia. Left: Sebastian TelloSebastián Tello, Ph.D.
Assistant Scientist | Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development
Birthplace: Cuenca, Ecuador
Hometown: Quito, Ecuador
Area of Expertise: Ecology and biogeography of plants and animals
Years at the Garden: Six
Favorite Winter Olympic Sport: Ski jumping

Sebastián Tello research has extended to include studies on animals, namely bats and rodents, but now he is focused on studying biodiversity with plant data. He has a particular interest in mountain systems. Much of his work is with the Madidi Project, which aims to document and describe flora of the Madidi region of northwestern Bolivia and study the structure and dynamics of Andean species and ecosystems. The project is a multi-institutional research effort lead by the Missouri Botanical Garden in association with the National Herbarium of Bolivia and others.

In 2015, Tello received a grant to look at climate change and tropical forest dynamics along a large-scale gradient in Madidi National Park, Bolivia.


Catherine Martin
Public Information Specialist
Photography by Phoebe Mussman, Andrea Androuais, Karen Fletcher, and Molly Krohe

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