From Plant Press, Vol. 20, No. 1, January 2017.
By Marcelo R. Pace
The Smithsonian Institution hosts the second largest wood collection in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world, with 5,000 microscopic slides and over 42,500 specimens from 3,000 genera. Such a remarkable wood collection exists thanks to a proud lineage of plant anatomists who have worked at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, including Richard Eyde, Edward Ayensu, and especially William Stern.
Stern was an accomplished wood anatomist who significantly increased the Smithsonian wood collection before becoming a Professor at the University of Maryland. The collection increased from 14,017 samples when Stern started in 1960, to 35,000 samples by 1967 when he left the Smithsonian. His contribution to advances in wood anatomy continued to extend beyond his tenure at the Smithsonian, being an active member of the International Association of Wood Anatomists (IAWA), and mentoring future generations of plant anatomists. Among his students was Regis Miller who would later go on to become a renowned systematic wood anatomist at the Forest Products Laboratory of Madison, Wisconsin, and who later mentored my own doctoral advisor, Veronica Angyalossy (University of São Paulo, Brazil) when she was a post-doctoral fellow in his lab. Angyalossy has since trained most of the wood anatomists in Brazil. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to return to the Smithsonian to work on the wood collection that Stern had built.
The work that I am carrying out in the anatomy lab of the Department of Botany is inspired by the extraordinary stem anatomy of lianas (woody vines). Unlike stems of trees whose wood is rigid and able to sustain enormous organisms such as the Californian redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens, Cupressaceae), the stems of lianas are flexible and pliable. Indeed, unlike trees they tend to get more flexible as they develop (Rowe et al. 2004 J. Plant Growth Regul. 23: 108-128) and this is at the very core of the lianescent habit.