Harry E. Luther | 1952-2012
Throughout my eight years as photographer of the living collection at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, I was in close contact with Harry Luther, director of the Mulford B. Foster Bromeliad Identification Center.
As part of his daily tour of the campus and greenhouses, Harry would stop in the work area of the display greenhouse and comment on the plants that I was photographing. Invariably he would single out at least one plant as the subject of a mini-seminar. He had a prodigious, photographic memory and would describe, in detail, collecting the specimen as he did the day I was “shooting” a Pitcairnia halophila. He recalled finding it on a rocky, costal section of Costa Rica where it was dripping with salt-water spray- hence the name. Another day he saw the tiny, white orchid, Neofinetia falcata on the bench. He described its native habitat in the snowy, mountainous areas of Northern Japan, clinging to a mossy base. He added that, in olden times, it was a sacred orchid entrusted solely to Samurai for care; banned to all others; and so it went on during my twice weekly “shoots”.
Harry was a self-taught scientist and internationally recognized expert on the horticulture and botany of bromeliads. He did not finish St.Petersburg (FL) Junior College but instead went to work at the historic Webb City complex in the garden department. A love of plants, especially bromeliads began and a life-long journey of investigation, exploration, and plant collection ensued.
In 1978, Selby’s first director, Dr. Calloway Dodson, appointed Harry as head of the new bromeliad identification center and he spent over three decades at Selby Gardens, traveling extensively on expeditions throughout Central and South America. He described more than 100 bromeliad species new to science and authored over 200 publications. Through observation and study he excelled in virtually all of the plant families found at Selby and resisted the tag “bromeliad specialist”. His close friend and co-explorer, Dennis Cathcart, commented that it was Harry’s approachability and willingness to talk to the public that set him apart from many scientists.
In early 2010, Harry accepted the position as Assistant Director / Horticulture at the new Gardens by the Bay, in Singapore. He was instrumental in developing the extensive bromeliad collection and its display. Bromeliads are found in nature only in the Americas and a tiny area on the West African coast; hence they are considered an exotic and exciting part of Asian collections. His untimely death at the zenith of his career represents a huge loss to his many friends in the botanical community.