Heather Stone

Heather (2)

Heather is not technically a grad student. (No one is 100% sure exactly what she is, but she does work as a research assistant and is definitely a mammal.)

She a Colorado native and graduate of CU Boulder with a BA in Spanish. In the summer of 2012, she traveled to Costa Rica with the aid of a UROP grant to augment her Spanish and work as a research assistant at La Selva Biological Station. The stunning biodiversity of Costa Rica and exciting atmosphere of the research station galvanized an intense curiosity and interest in science. This enthusiasm, coupled with a lifelong love of plants, made working with Erin Tripp a great fit. Among other projects, Heather is currently doing a large-scale reproductive isolation experiment on 16 Ruellia species, which will enhance understanding of what factors prevent or facilitate speciation within the genus. Her research interests include anthocyanins, pollination biology, and a little bit of lichens thrown in too. In her free time, Heather maintains an art and science website and co-hosts a podcast. She also likes to travel, enjoy the outdoors, make ceramics, bicycle, and draw.

Mathew Sharples


Mathew is a Massachusetts native with a B.A. in English Literature (German minor) from the University of Massachusetts. He moved to Colorado after being inspired by some of the West’s extensive wildlands. Now, he studies Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, with a particular interest in Kingdom Plantae. His main research interests are floristics, phylogenomics of the Caryophyllaceae and other lineages, biogeography and evolution of Stellaria, and phylogeography. In his spare time he enjoys scaling some of the country’s—indeed, the world’s—highest peaks, and applying that literature degree to his own writings.

Mat recently returned from fieldwork and herbarium work in the Himalaya and other mountainous regions of eastern Asia. There, he completed sampling for a more or less full phylogenomic analysis of the genus Stellaria.

Mat’s floristic inventory of the South San Juan Mountains was recently published:
Sharples Floristic Inventory.

His website can be visited here: https://mathewsharples.com/

An updated C.V. can be located here: Curriculum Vitae – Mathew Sharples_Spring18

Melinda Markin


Raised in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho, Melinda Markin developed a love for plants at an early age. Melinda received a B.S. in Environmental Studies with a focus in conservation biology and botany. After graduating college, Melinda moved to Durango, Colorado where she worked at the Fort Lewis College Environmental Center. She spent three years in Durango enjoying the flora of the San Juan Mountains before moving to Boulder. Melinda is now a PhD student in the Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Department at the University of Colorado Boulder and is interested in studying the impacts of climate change on high-elevation plant communities, including population genetics, phylogeography, and field experiments. In her precious spare time, Melinda enjoys gardening, orchid hunting, climbing, and befriending the local pika population.

Her CV is available here.

Vanessa Diaz


Vanessa (on the left!) is from Tucson, AZ and got her BS in microbiology form the University of Arizona. She moved to Colorado for the natural beauty and new opportunities the state had to offer. Over the years she has developed a special interest in mycology and is currently researching lichen development in the Museum and Field Studies program as a graduate student. Playing viola in the university orchestra, cooking, hiking, and trail running are among other activities Vanessa enjoys.

Erica Tsai


Erica is a math-nerd with expertise in bioinformatics, phylogeography, and programming.  As a postdoc, she’s working on genome assembly and transcriptome analysis of next generation sequence data from Ruellia species.  She grew up in Fort Collins, CO, earned her B.A. at the University of Colorado Boulder, then did her Ph.D. at Duke University on the migration history of a parasitic plant.  Following a joint postdoc between Louisiana State University and the University of Notre Dame on phylogeographic methods development and ancient DNA analysis, she has returned to Colorado.  She happily enjoys hiking, biking, and the good life here.

Erin Tripp


Erin is an evolutionary biologist who loves field, herbarium, and lab work (perhaps in that order: ask her!). She uses data from all three sources to reconstruct macroevolutionary patterns and correlates of biodiversity distribution and ecology. She attended University of North Carolina-Asheville for her undergrad degree, Duke University for her Ph.D., and Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden for a postdoc. Erin’s work draws primarily from rich datasets available for the pantropical family Acanthaceae, which is among the 10 or so largest families of flowering plants. Closer to home, she is keenly interested in discovery, documentation, and conservation of the North American lichen biota, in particular, of “her old favorite and new favorite places on Earth,” the Southern Appalachians and Southern Rocky Mountains. In her spare time, she enjoys botanizing, birding, exploration of wild areas on foot, carpentry, and flying airplanes. She dreams of starting a biological research station on top of a tepui…


Tepui Expeditions: Video Footage

You can reach Erin at erin.manzittotripp@colorado.edu.



University of Colorado, Boulder
Museum of Natural History, COLO Herbarium
Clare Small Basement, Campus Box 350
Boulder, CO 80309
Phone: 303.492.2462

Molecular Lab:

University of Colorado, Boulder
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
C105 Ramaley Hall, Campus Box 334
Boulder, CO 80309

Ruellia yurimaguensis

Behold, a purple-flowered herb from wet forests of tropical western South America. I have never seen or collected it, but I have some suspicions that it may be synonymous with a couple of other ‘species’ in that part of the world. Many thanks to Alexander for sharing his photograph collection with me.

Wild collected, Bolivia, Erin Tripp #6031 w/ Manuel Luján, and Dina Clark; Photos by Manuel Luján and Dina Clark

Ruellia wurdackii


Here is a highly enigmatic species from Venezuela. I have tried to find it in the field, but have failed. If you know something of this plant, please do share. Its calyces remind me of Ruellia glischrocalyx, from Brazil.

Collector and collection information unknown, Venezuela; Photo unknown. If it is yours, kindly claim!

Ruellia tubiflora


Oh, to rewind time and ask Emery Leonard out to dinner. Then, I might understand his basis for his habitual naming of minor variants. I might also ask him about the origins of his awesome first name. In any case, I digress. Ruellia tubiflora (var. tubiflora, if I must) is a small tree that produces lovely white flowers with a purple splotch in the throat. It was described a very long time ago by Kunth (1818) and grows happily in lowland to mid montane forests of northern South America – primarily Colombia. Some number of years later, a variant that produces pure white flowers was discovered and named by Leonard as Ruellia tubiflora var. tetrastichantha (a mouthful). This variety grows abundantly in similar habitats and in southern Centeral American and northern South America – primarily Venezuela. Along with variety tetrastichantha, Leonard proceeded to names six other infraspecific taxa… most of which are not in current use.

Here is a photo that long predates my existence in botany. It’s actually the first picture of any Ruellia that I ever laid eyes on…. pretty enough to convince me that the genus warranted further thought. Ruellia tubiflora is a highly charismatic species that is member to a clade that leaves behind conspicuous, congested, cone-like scars after flowers (and their pedicels) that have fallen. See Tripp 2007, Systematic Botany. Plants in this clade tend to prefer high quality, tropical habitats that stay on the wet side throughout the year. Thanks to Lucinda for sharing this with me as a young intern, way way back in 2002. I have since seen and photographed this beautiful plant numerous times in the wild, but I still prefer the above photo, which so altered the course of my life.

Wild collected, Colombia, McDade & Stein #933 (DUKE); Photo by Lucinda McDade

Ruellia tuberosa

Many people have expressed frustration at this species to me… that it looks a lot like a few other weedy, pedunculate, purple-flowered species (e.g., R. simplex, R. nudiflora). I find Ruellia tuberosa, the type species of the genus, to be rather distinctive owing to its leaves that are almost always obovate or oblanceolate. Its native range is northern South America.

The second photo depicts a fruiting specimen…long elliptical in shape, preparing to explode (yes, ballistically) and fling its seeds about the environment.

Wild collected, Venezuela, Tripp & Lujan (RSA-POM); Photos by Erin Tripp