Dr. Calaway (Cal) Dodson, the first Executive Director of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens passed away on Sunday, August 9, 2020 at the age of 91. Dr. Dodson began his tenure at Selby Gardens in 1973 and established it as a viable botanical garden for the public to enjoy, focused on programs of research, conservation, education, and horticultural display.

Inspired by Dr. Dodson’s orchid research, Dr. Carlyle Luer, co-founder of Selby Gardens, recruited Dr. Dodson to become its first Executive Director.  This critical placement launched Selby Gardens toward becoming a world-class leader in research on epiphytes—air plants that live on other plants. Today, Selby Gardens is renowned for having the best scientifically documented collection of orchids and bromeliads in the world.

During his tenure, Dr. Dodson opened Selby Gardens to the public in 1975, expanded Marie Selby’s original gift of seven acres with additional property, and created the Museum of Botany & the Arts in the Payne Mansion in 1979. He also oversaw the construction of the greenhouse complex while conducting field expeditions to Ecuador to collect specimens for research and display.

“I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to develop a friendship with Dr. Cal Dodson,” says Jennifer Rominiecki, President and CEO of Selby Gardens. “Cal’s insight on the early days of Selby Gardens will be missed as will his contribution to orchid research and wonderful sense of humor. My heartfelt wishes go out to his family during this difficult time.”

Through field research and publications, Dr. Dodson established himself as one of the premier students of orchid pollination and classification. He was also a conservationist and a prolific orchid taxonomist. Dr. Dodson conducted field work and contributed to orchid research during his tenure at Selby Gardens and was honored by a colleague with the orchid genus name “Dodsonia.”

Dr. Dodson continued his passion for orchid research after he departed Selby Gardens in 1983. Dr. Dodson’s work primarily focused on the country of Ecuador. Throughout his career, he was decorated by the President of Ecuador with numerous awards including a National Award of Merit in 2011. He was also recognized by the President of Congress of Ecuador for his scientific research that contributed to the knowledge of the country’s flora. It is the first time that a foreign scientist was awarded such honors. He was the founder owner of a primary forest in western Ecuador, Rio Palenque that became the Mecca of biologists due to the biodiversity that exists in this forest.

According to Bruce Holst, Vice President for Botany at Selby Gardens, “Dr. Dodson is responsible for describing, either alone or with colleagues, 770 species of orchids for science. He published landmark studies that helped speed the pace of botanical inventory work in the face of massive losses of primary forest, established a publication that would later become the standard in the American tropics for publishing new species of orchids, and he published more than 400 scientific articles. Up until 2011, he continued to publish three volumes about orchids in the technical journal Flora of Ecuador with co-author Dr. Luer.”

For more information, please contact Lynn Bates at lbates@selby.org or 941.366.5731 Ext. 225.


About Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens provides 45 acres of bayfront sanctuaries connecting people with air plants of the world, native nature, and our regional history. Established by forward thinking women of their time, Selby Gardens is composed of the 15-acre Downtown Sarasota campus and the 30-acre Historic Spanish Point campus in the Osprey area of Sarasota County, Florida. The Downtown Campus on Sarasota Bay is the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to the display and study of epiphytic orchids, bromeliads, gesneriads and ferns, and other tropical plants. There is a significant focus on botany, horticulture, education, historical preservation, and the environment. The Historic Spanish Point (HSP) Campus is located less than 10 miles south along Little Sarasota Bay. The HSP Campus, one of the largest preserves showcasing native Florida plants that is interpreted for and open to the public, celebrates an archaeological record that encompasses approximately 5,000 years of Florida history. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a Smithsonian Affiliate and is also accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.