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W. John Kress

W. John Kress is Distinguished Scientist and Curator Emeritus at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and co-chair of the Earth BioGenome Project. He was curator of botany for over thirty years and formerly served as the interim undersecretary for science at the Smithsonian and director of science in the Grand Challenges Consortia. Kress received his B.A. from Harvard University and Ph.D. from Duke University, where he studied tropical biology, ethnobotany, evolution, and ecology. He is a taxonomic specialist on the tropical Zingiberales, and his current research is focused on biodiversity genomics, conservation, and the Anthropocene. Among his more than 200 scientific and popular publications are his books Plant Conservation: A Natural History ApproachThe Weeping GoldsmithThe Art of Plant Evolution, and The Ornaments of Life: Coevolution and Conservation in the Tropics. His most recent book isLiving in the Anthropocene: Earth in the Age of Humans. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is currently visiting scholar at Dartmouth College and the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. He lives in Dorset, Vermont.

On the left, Heliconia tarumaensis Barreiros (with yellow bracts); on the right, Heliconia acuminata L.C. Richard (with yellow and red bracts). Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection.

Plant of the Month: Heliconia

Heliconias can distinguish among pollinators like hummingbirds and respond selectively to their visits.