Reaching the summit of Kamakasa Tepui:

Collecting on the Karoweing River:

Climbing trees: not as easy as it seems!:

Building subsummit camp in the rain and Giant Earthworm:

Rock House lichenizing (Kamakasa Tepui):

Kamp Life (Episode 1):

I Love This Little Area (Kamakasa Tepui):

Building Camp 6 and Lichenology 101 (Kamakasa Tepui):

Lichenizing around Full Moon Camp (Kamakasa Tepui):

Aleks finds nodules (Kamakasa Tepui expedition):

Arriving at Swamp Camp (Kamakasa Tepui):

Ken and Erin’s day off (Kamakasa Tepui):

Stuck at camp (river too high for crossing) and smoked pois:

High Tech Science (Kamakasa Tepui):

Ken collecting (Kamakasa Tepui):

Botanists Do It In Trees: climbing and collecting in Camp 2 (Kamakasa Tepui):

The Tree Will Survive, and Hymenophyllaceae:

Searching Desperately for Sunlight, Camp 5

Building a Bush Spoon:

People complain about tepui specimens being so ugly:


Between May-June 2012, the Smithsonian Institution and National Geographic funded an expedition to the never before summited Kamakusa Tepui (western Guyana, Mazaruni River Watershed). This expedition was co-led by Ken Wurdack and Erin Tripp and, prior to her emergency evacuation in week 2, Karen Redden. We were joined by PhD student Alex Radosavljevic and 8 amazingly dedicated and hard-working Arawak Amerinidans.

Also in the Guyana folder to the left you’ll find a few photos from the Kamakusa Expedition (for full set, see: Below these is a selection of videos from the expedition. Our intention here was to capture and provide some of the only video footage of life on a tepui – camp life, botanical life, expedition life…. some of these videos are educational whereas others clearly are not (do forgive some of those moments)!

With time, photos will be added from our previous tepui expeditions, including those to Mt. Ayanganna, Mt. Wokomung, and Maringma Tepui, in collaboration with David Clarke. For now, see full sets of photos as follows:

Wokomung Expedition (2003):

Ayanganna Expedition (2001):

Maringma Expedition (2004):

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.

Ruellia sororia


This species is among my top five favorite finds in the field. Prior to our covert operations to relocate it (a fieldtrip in which I was accompanied by Carrie Kiel and Kristen Hasenstab-Lehman), it had been collected only twice in history: first in the late 1800s (the type collection), and again in the early 1980s (when it was described under a different name). We found it in an amazing, high quality montane semi-deciduous forest just E of Chilpancingo. Unfortunately, access to this area was just recently made way, way, way too easy by construction of a brand new superhighway right through the gut of the region. I fear it is only a matter of time before the forests (and plants such as these) slowly disappear to make room for the strip malls…

Ruellia sororia is member to Ruellia section Chiropterophila, an entire clade of which, at present, is known only from Mexico. Species in section Chiropterophila are for the most part rare or extremely rare (see Tripp 2010, Systematic Botany). Ruellia sororia happens to be endemic to Guerrero. The plant is, among other reasons, remarkable for its morphological intermediacy between two morphological groups within sect. Chiropterophila. It is the only species in the clade that produces those strangely urceolate corollas AND produces flowers in dichasia.

Note the tinges of anthocyanin production in three visible whorls of the flower. This clade is otherwise marked by a complete lack of anthocyanin pigmentation.

Wild collected, Mexico, Tripp et al. 1206 (RSA-POM); Photo by Erin Tripp

Ruellia saeri


Well here is an interesting species, and one I was very surprised to find in the field with my collaborator and friend Manuel Lujan. We didn’t have high hopes, given its restricted range within Venezuela.

Ruellia saeri is a small statured, high-elevation endemic species to that country, and was named by Silvia Llamoza. I don’t yet know much about its phylogenetic position, but based on its distinctive, decussate floral bracts, I predict relationship to the Ruellia blechum clade. Time will tell.

Wild collected, Venezuela, Tripp & Lujan 514 (RSA-POM); Photo by E. Tripp

Ruellia oaxacana


I first saw this species while doing some solo fieldwork in Mexico, at the terminus of an already dark and dreary day. Not enough sunlight for profound thought or for photography. Nonetheless, I was convinced it was Ruellia metallica and that I was seeing this species for the first time in Mexico.

[Time passes…a year later….]

Looking at my collection of this plant more carefully in the herbarium, it seems to consistently have more seeds per fruit and more slender fruits than does R. metallica (which is now affectionately known as R. terminale; see Tripp & McDade 2012, Brittonia). As it turns out, several other collections from this portion of Mexico also fit this pattern. With some additional research, I decided that these plants should be attributed to Leonard’s infrequently used name, Ruellia oaxacana. This species is genetically distinct from R. metallica/R. terminale, which was quite interesting to learn.

Wild collected, Mexico, Tripp 189 (DUKE); Photo by Erin Tripp

Ruellia brevifolia

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A common species of a large chunk of tropical South America. Widespread. Emblematic of the pedunculate species in the “Physiruellia” clade. In the second photo, note the woody capsule (fruit) with modified funiculi (hooks) that aid in seed dispersal when the fruit explodes, as all Acanths in the proper sense do.

(1) Not vouchered, seen in wild in Bolivia; Photo by Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn

(2) Not vouchered, cultivated (DUKE greenhouses); Photo by Erin Tripp