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Sharing The IAS Newsletter 3 Vol 38, No 2 – June 2016 Crazy Gringo By Noel Calvert

The IAS Newsletter 3 Vol 38, No 2 – June 2016

Crazy Gringo

By Noel Calvert

Hello everyone. Some of you may have heard my name from at least one previous article with Thomas Croat. For those of you who have not, my name is Noel Calvert. I and my wife, Jessy Guevara Biojo, are new researchers living here in the southwest corner of Colombia near the island of Tumaco in the Nariño Department.

Figure 1. Wedding photo of Jessy Guevara & Noel Calvert

Some of you may ask what all that means to you, and why that may be important for the International Aroid Society. You are right to ask, and for that we need a bit of background. 

I will first talk about my own history and what brings me here to Colombia. When I was about 3–4 years old, my mother did something rather interesting. She took my hand & placed a small slippery green frog in it. These green tree frogs are a common occurrence in the Midwest, and very common in Missouri where I was born. You can find them many nights stuck to windows waiting for the stray moth to pass into the light close enough for them to catch. This one act started me on a path that wound through the animal & plant kingdom like an anaconda meandering through the jungle.

Around my 7th birthday or so, I told my mother I wished to go buy a piece from “there” & live in the jungle.

fig 2 Noel Calvert with mayflies

(Figure 2. Picture of me as a kid)

I was referring the tropical rainforest. I also told my mother on various occasions which branch of science I wished to specialize in. 

When I was in the 5th grade my family lived in Tennessee as my father was on a long-term construction job there. It was there that I found an interest in herpetology. I started reading about snakes & discovered how they are not an evil to be extinguished from the face of the Earth as most cultures seem to believe. I was intrigued by them and began a long history of raising these reptiles in captivity. While in Tennessee, I discovered the feeding habits of the miniature Coach Whip that was severely threatened at the time. The forest conservation agency officials told me keeping the animals was illegal due to their status, but allowed me to keep them as they were thriving and breeding in my care. The officials also asked me what they were eating as they had no information on their diet.  It turns out they were consuming the salamanders I kept trying to house with them.

This is just a short part of my history with scientific interests. After this, I found recombinant DNA technology which was introduced in my 7th grade science class. This set me down the road to studying genetic engineering.  Many things passed in my life to deter me from this path, and in the end I decided to pursue another education.

My life has had its ups & downs. I have been married, divorced, served my country during the Iraq war, found love in South America, moved to Colombia, and started myself on a path that will benefit science, the International Aroid Society, and Colombia.

First, how did I end up in Colombia? You may have already guessed, but here is the story. After returning from Iraq, I was disheartened with the breakdown of my marriage. We ended up divorcing, and are both the better for it. I took a bit of time to consider what I want in a partner, and decided I would like an old fashioned marriage with a traditional woman.  After that it was easy to decide where to go looking for my one true love. I went online, and found Jessy after a couple false starts. We began communicating, and within 3 months had decided to meet, learn if the spark in
person was as real as online and get married.  That was 4 years ago.  Jessy and I decided to stay in Colombia as
women from here find it difficult to leave their families behind. They experience a huge amount of culture shock coming to the United States.

We started out in a tiny apartment that Jessy furnished with my instructions and the little bit of money I sent her to pay the rent, buy the furnishings, and stock the fridge. This apartment is where my love of plants was sparked anew. Jessy & I developed the habit of walking hand in hand around our neighborhood and the rest of Tumaco each evening.

We would see Xanthosomas overtaking an abandoned lot, or a Caladium growing in the front yard of a neighbor.  Eventually I started dragging home some of the “weeds” that I liked such as Alocasia plumbea Van Houtte & the Xanthosomas I mentioned.

I also began trading plants with the local townspeople as a way to meet the locals. This is also how I met Thomas Croat.

(Figure 3. Xanthosoma atrovirens K. Koch & C. D. Bouché, photo from www.allthingsplants.com).

I posted a photo of this plant on www.allthingsplants.com as well as searching for information and advice online.  Somehow my message got to Thomas Croat, and he responded.  But I am getting ahead of myself. Due to the visa requirements I had to travel to Tulcán in Ecuador to renew my tourist visa. On those trips I noticed the many plants of Colombia growing on the roadsides. I asked our intercity taxi driver how we could arrange to be able to stop and collect some plants to take home. He told me there is no problem as long as we pay for the complete taxi. So, on the trip home with the same taxi driver, Omar Ibarra,

(Figure 4. Photo of Omar)

we started taking home some of the plants we noticed on the roadside.

This probably requires some clarification as most would not appreciate this practice from a conservation standpoint. In Colombia it is common practice to cut and poison the roadsides up to 5 yards back to keep the jungle out of the road. This means anything growing there on the roadside is destroyed repeatedly.  The plants I took home were literally rescued from this occurrence. 

We were required to make this trip every 3 months and acquired quite a collection of interesting Anthuriums, Monsteras, Philodendrons, as well as some other families of plants.

Fig 6

Fig. 5 Anthurium Species         Fig. 6 Monstera Species

Fig 7

Fig. 7 Philodendron species     Fig. 8 Peperomia species

Fig. 9 Columnea species

I sent photos of these plants to Thomas Croat after we talked about the Xanthosoma. These trips were also frequently posted on www.allthingsplants.com as some of you are aware. Thomas became intrigued with my collection as well as my location, and began asking me about the local “political situation”. He was curious if it was safe & possible to visit Barbacoas which is about 70 miles away from me. At this point we started discussing a visit, and I began investigating how we could safely go to visit Barbacoas.

I spoke with the local environmental agency, and gained
verbal permission to collect lightly along the roadside in this
region before we made the visit. As I mentioned before, these roadsides are brutally treated, and the plants there are frequently destroyed. I arranged for a driver to take us to & from the city of Barbacoas in a slow 4-wheel drive minicamper.

While I collected, Thomas advised me, and took pictures. He was very good about collecting information as I was not
experienced with that yet. In this way he began to train me in this part of his work. We had a wonderful 3 days where we
found many interesting species.

Fig. 10 Cavendishia species        Fig. 11 Monstera species

Fig. 12 Anthurium species

Thomas also took an interest in various plants in my own
collection, & showed me how to make herbarium specimens with those.

Since then, Thomas and I have had quite a close friendship.  Tom has been wonderful helping support our goals here in Colombia as well as advising me on how to achieve them while bringing benefit to science as well as to horticulture.

With his support, my wife & I have established an
international nursery that will be exporting by June.

Update: Permits are still forthcoming at the time of this reprint.11/10/2016

My wife, Jessy, & I are realizing an amazing dream. We are
in contact with the environmental agency here, and actively
seeking permits to collect plants in endangered areas with
the intention of moving them to designated areas of our
reserve for preservation, propagation, documentation, and
eventual entry into the horticulture trade. Our contact with
the environmental agency here is excited to have this opportunity to educate this area of the treasures here, and
hopefully help curb the destruction happening in this part
of the world.

Our plans are to establish this nursery to help fund the construction and maintenance of a natural reserve along with a small botanical garden. We intend to add a small resort to this setup in order to invite botanists and ecotourists to the area also to help support the purchase of more virgin land for the reserve.

The botanical garden will be inviting schools to visit from the local region in order to begin educating the locals about the treasures they have around them, and hopefully to bring some awareness to the travesty that the loss of this diversity is for them as well as for the world.

Fig. 13 Local Students

With our new partner in Germany found at www.junglecube.com helping with propagation & distribution, we foresee a bright future providing all manner of Colombian plants to the world.

I am proud to say we have expanded our collection from just Araceae to other families as well. We have many other families of plants now.

Please enjoy the scenery and plant photos from our various trips in this region. Jessy & I are absolutely ecstatic to be able to have this life, and to be able to make this kind of a difference through the support of wonderful people like the
International Aroid Society.

Fig. 14 Columnea species           Fig.15 Colomnea species

Fig.16 Colomnea species

Fig. 17 Cavendishia species    Fig. 18 Cavendishia species

Fig. 19 Cavendishia species

Fig. 20 Peperomia species      Fig.21 Peperomia species

Fig. 22 Peperomia species

Fig. 23 Burmeistera species Fig. 24 Unknown species

Fig. 25 Fern Relative species

You can find our our website at www.guecalviverocolombiano.com.

Croat, Thomas B. & N. D. Calvert. 2014. Newslett. Int. Aroid Soc. 36(2): 4.

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