Nature Today |  Compiled 25 years of research on the flora of Guyana

Nature Today | Compiled 25 years of research on the flora of Guyana

Authors Paul Maass (84) and his wife Hildge Maass (81), for Naturalis Guest Researchers, book Advertising The Guyanas were the culmination of their taxonomic research. Taxonomy, also known as systematics, is the science of classifying plants and animals into groups. Names of plants and animals also come under classification. That family Advertising One of the largest flowering plant families in tropical rainforests. About 140 species of this family are found in Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. “Annonaceae plants are an important part of tropical forests,” Maas explains. Additionally, they have large flowers that make them much easier to study and more interesting to students of plant taxonomy. Sylvia Motta de Oliveira, Naturalist of Tropical Botany, and Odile Ponzi of the Museum of Natural History in Paris edited the book.

Unique book

The uniqueness of this book on the flora of Guyana is that it is the first book in the series in which each species is illustrated, most with a color photograph. The book describes the conservation status of each plant as described by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN. This condition indicates how the plant species behaves. The book can also be used as a political argument for plant conservation. “This book gives us an insight into which plants and trees we need to protect and conserve in this area. It clearly shows that this area has some very special flora,” explains Ms Maas.

A large amount of knowledge

Paul Maas has been researching the Annoceae family in the Guyanas for about 25 years and is proud to say that the project is now finally complete. During his career he conducted several research expeditions to South and Central America, including French Guiana, Brazil and Guyana. His favorite plants from the book Annona hematanta And this Anona hypoglaca, with their spectacular flowers. However, Paul Mass was never clearly interested in a particular plant family. “Anonesie wasn’t my only love,” he says. He actually finds all tropical plants interesting and has developed a large body of knowledge about them. People still use his vast knowledge with gratitude. Moss smiles: “I get photos every week from all over tropical America: Paul, do you know what this is?” He usually finds the name of the plant, but often the photo is sent to a taxonomist friend who can help Mass.

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Life of Paul Maas

Maas began his career at the University of Utrecht, where he studied biology from 1957 to 1964. In 1964, Maas made his first trip to Suriname where he developed his interest in tropical plants. The first four months of the trip are the real collecting trip. In the following months, plants from a part of western Suriname were studied together with Surinamese tree experts. “The data collected during that trip is still being used!” says Mass proudly. At the University of Utrecht, Maas taught tropical plants and was group leader of the Plant Systematics Research Group. After the group disbanded, Paul and Hildje moved to the herbarium in Wageningen. The Utrecht Herbarium’s collection of nearly 1 million specimens, together with Wageningen’s collections, is now housed at Naturalis. This collection is still growing. Paul and Hildje now come to Naturalis one day a week to continue their research.

Paul Maas and Lubert Westra in 1979

You’re never done

So Paul and Hildje did not end their research on tropical plants. “It’s exciting to see what else is out there,” says Hildje. They are currently working on a new project, The Annonaceae For Ecuadorian plants. “You’re never done,” says Paul. Hildje and Paul hope to attract more students as the number of students interested in tropical botany dwindles. They hope that new researchers will bring new students with them so that research on tropical plants can continue. “There must be a new generation of taxonomists!”

Mass hands over the book to PhD student Robin Predero at the end of the presentation. With this symbolic gesture, Maas’ work is transferred to a new generation of researchers who will gratefully use it in the years to come.

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More info

Text: Lotte Berendse, Nature Biodiversity Centre
Photos: Paul Moss (Lead Photo: Anona hypoglaca)

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