Marie Selby Botanical Gardens reappoints Dr. John L. Clark as a Research Associate in the Department of Botany at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Dr. Clark’s appointment will last through May 2026. He officially joined the Selby Gardens staff this January. The field botanist with expertise in gesneriads has been contributing significantly to science at Selby Gardens for more than two decades.
“The renewal of John’s appointment as a Smithsonian Research Associate attests to the value of the science being conducted at Selby Gardens,” said Jennifer O. Rominiecki, president and CEO of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. “Our botanists have discovered or first described for science more than 2,000 species, and their findings are critical to the understanding and conservation of plant biodiversity. This affiliation helps John share his work with researchers around the world, and it expands opportunities for Selby Gardens to contribute to vital scientific exploration.”
Specifically, the academic affiliation with the Smithsonian gives Clark personal access to the vast collections in the NMNH’s Department of Botany. The department’s herbarium, or collection of dried and preserved plants, currently holds 5 million specimens, making it one of the world’s 10 largest.
The Research Associate position also will facilitate Clark’s ongoing collaborative research with botanists around the country and the world. He is particularly excited about several projects he is working on with Dr. Larry Skog, research botanist emeritus at NMNH and Clark’s advisor when he pursued his PhD at George Washington University. Clark’s sponsor for the new three-year Smithsonian appointment is Paul Peterson, a current research botanist and curator of botany at NMNH.
“Institutionally, this appointment promotes sharing information,” said Clark, who praised the Smithsonian as a worthy institution for depositing important plant material collected in the field. “The Smithsonian does such a good job with digitizing, curating the specimens, and making the information widely available.” Clark, who has contributed more than 17,000 plant collections to major herbaria, typically dedicates his collections to at least three priority institutions—Selby Gardens, the Smithsonian, and an herbarium in the host country where the plant was collected. He noted that the NMNH’s plant collection is particularly strong in “type” specimens, the specimen designated as the reference point for a plant species when it is first named. “Whenever I describe something new to science, I try to make sure that a type is at Selby Gardens and a type is at the Smithsonian,” said Clark.
Clark has been affiliated with Selby Gardens through a research partnership since 2009. He joined the staff full-time in January 2023. Since then, he has conducted plant research expeditions to Dominican Republic and Ecuador.
Clark specializes in the plant family Gesneriaceae, flowering plants that are distributed throughout the world’s tropical forests. Gesneriads are an important part of Selby Gardens’ botanical research and a notable component of its living plant collection. About a third of gesneriads are epiphytic, meaning they grow on other plants without harming them. Selby Gardens is the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to the study and display of epiphytes.
Selby Gardens is also a Smithsonian Affiliate, one of more than 200 museums and cultural institutions around the country that have engaged in a long-term partnership with the Smithsonian to promote “the increase and diffusion of knowledge” by creating experiences that educate and inspire.