Stop and Smell the Rhododendrons!

Fri., Apr. 28, 2023

By Juliana S. Medeiros, PhD, Plant Biologist

One of my favorite parts of working as a scientist at a public garden is the strong emphasis on education and outreach, which is something I am passionate about. In fact, when I was first hired at Holden, I picked Rhododendron as my study system specifically because it has both exceptional ecological relevance and it brings joy to our everyday lives. Now, HF&G graduate student Miranda Shetzer has chosen to study Rhododendron as well, so we’ll have even more great information about our favorite plant genus to share with the public over the next few years.

Our research in Rhododendron physiology can certainly help support gardeners and native plant enthusiast who are interested in growing and conserving Rhododendron, but we like to keep focused on the fact that this knowledge sharing is a two-way street. Indeed, Rhododendron enthusiasts have their own rich experiences with the plants, and many have gained expertise in plant physiology, engaged in native plant exploration, and even conducted manipulative experiments on Rhododendron as a hobby that is near and dear to their heart.

In contrast, the fast pace and high publication demands of modern scientific research leaves us career scientists little time to “stop and smell the flowers”, so meeting with people who have made detailed observations of natural phenomena has been critical for driving our Rhododendron research in new directions.

To facilitate sharing of our research to the public and to find out what’s new and cool in Rhododendron world, Miranda and I attended the 2023 Joint Convention of the American Rhododendron Society/Azalea Society of America held in Dunwoody, Georgia April 19-23.

Plant society conventions are a great place to meet with the most plant-savvy members of the public, and it’s always a delight for me to be in a room with people of all ages, from all walks of life, “nerding out” over Rhododendron.

Left to Right: Miranda Shetzer, Juliana Medeiros, Shweta Basnett

Walking around a botanical garden with folks who have grown Rhododendron in their yard for 30, 40, 50 years is a wonderful way to stimulate ideas for plant research

– Juliana Medeiros

Walking around a botanical garden with folks who have grown Rhododendron in their yard for 30, 40, 50 years is a wonderful way to stimulate ideas for plant research, and I always learn some funny little tidbits that make me go “HMMMM, that sounds like another PhD project!”. In addition to trading ideas with members of the public, we also hosted an international group of early career researchers for a poster session and research roundtable at the convention, providing a chance for them to share their cutting-edge research, and to build their collaborations with other Rhododendron scientists.

One major highlight of the convention was our discussions about Rhododendron pollinators with Dr. Shweta Basnett, a Fulbright Fellow at University of Maryland. During our roundtable discussion, Dr. Basnett and other scientists stressed the need for more community-based researchers in Rhododendron, and this call was met with immense enthusiasm from Society members. One man approached me as we were leaving on Sunday, “Thank you for that” he said with a big smile on his face, “WE CAN CONTRIBUTE!”. “YES!” I said, and truly I can’t think of anything more beautiful and important right now than folks working together, across disciplines, across cultures, across generations, let’s put our heads together and solve those pressing issues in plant and environmental science. For the good of the planet and the delight of gardening, let’s stop to smell some flowers together and listen to what our fellow plant enthusiasts have to say.

Juliana S. Medeiros, PhD

Juliana S. Medeiros, PhD

Plant Biologist

My research focuses on plant anatomical and physiological acclimation and adaptations to the abiotic environment. I am interested in how phenotypic and genetic variation in plant form and function interact with variation in climate over space and time to drive ecological patterns and the evolution of plant diversity. I focus primarily on plant hydraulic traits, including xylem water transport, leaf gas exchange and the integration of leaf and xylem function.  Click here to learn more about research in my lab: Medeiros Lab Webpage

Learn more about me


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