Carlyle Luer, who helped found Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in the 1970s and guided the organization toward an emphasis on orchid and epiphyte research, died Nov. 9 at age 97.
Luer’s botanical work, which included the publication of two books on orchids and five years as the chair of Selby Gardens’ Board of Directors, was his second career. In 1953, Luer became the first board-certified surgeon in Sarasota County and ran a medical practice for nearly 25 years.
Through his medical practice, Luer became friends with Marie Selby. The two devised the concept of turning Selby’s estate into a botanical garden and research center. The gardens opened to the public in 1975 after Selby’s death in 1971. Luer served as Selby Gardens’ board chair from 1974 to 1979.
As a botanist, Luer’s work focused on orchids; he described and illustrated more than 3,000 new species of the plant family. He worked with Selby’s inaugural CEO Calaway Dodson to establish a high-quality research library for the institution, and he founded and edited Selby Gardens’ research journal, Selbyana. Luer donated his personal collections to Selby in 2018, and he continued to author scientific papers until his death.
“His passing is a loss for botanists worldwide,” Selby orchidologist Toscano de Brito said in a release. “His influence on the world of botany, and orchidology in particular, is immeasurable and his contributions will forever be of utmost importance to the study of orchids.”
Luer was born in Alton, Illinois in 1922 and got his medical degree from Washington University in St. Louis. He served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946 before moving to Sarasota in 1953. Beyond his professional work, Luer was also involved with community organizations including Sarasota Little League and the Kiwanis Club of Sarasota.
Luer is survived by his wife of 74 years, Jane Pfeiffenberger Luer, and five children. Plans for a celebration of life will be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, Luer’s family requested donations be made to Selby Gardens.