Graziela Barroso 1912-2003 - The Tropical Botanist

by Orlando Graeff

President of the Brazilian Bromeliad Society

Dona Graziela

In 1975 Paulo Raguenet (now a well known plastic surgeon in Rio de Janeiro) and I had decided to become trainees at the Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro (BGRJ). Both of us loved nature and used to make research excursions in the tropical rain forests of southeast Brazil, looking for animals, orchids and bromeliads. The Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro appeared to us the greatest symbol of knowledge in this area - and I guess we weren't wrong at all.

We were school-boys, sixteen years old, in the middle of the seventies. Every one of our school mates wore surf-trunks to their knees, while we loved to be in army suits, with forest camouflage, spending most of our time in the heart of the Atlantic Forest. The door-keeper of the BGRJ must have been surprised when the two young boys knocked at the door, asking for a place on the staff of such a traditional institution: "We are not accepting any trainees here these days!", he told us. But we insisted: "We don't need any certificate! We are only looking for knowledge!" The man then asked us to wait a minute.

There was someone who could deal with that strange request - a certain Mrs. Graziela Maciel Barroso. Our minds will never forget that sweet but strong figure of an old lady coming toward us and saying: "Knowledge is what you want, uhm? That´s OK! Come with me, my sons, I'll help you to learn a little of botany."

We followed Graziela Maciel Barroso, at that time already known by her colleagues by the nickname of Dona Graziela (or simply - Dona Grazi ), along the corridors of the Systematic (Taxonomy) Botany Building. We had crossed the threshold of our dreams and Dona Graziela had definitely entered into the history of our lives. She presented us to Mrs. Ariane Luna (now the chief of the National School of Tropical Botany of the BGRJ), at that time, one of her pupils. Ariane helped us, together with Dona Graziela, in our search for knowledge, as we spent an entire year in the BGRJ. This was the most important foundation for my naturalist career.

Dona Graziela knew exactly the importance of the support she gently donated to each one of her pupils. Born in the hinterland of the Mato Grosso Swamps (Pantanal Matogrossense), in the small village of Corumbá, in the year of 1912, Graziela, herself, would have experienced the incredibly hard track that led her to the scientific world. She married Liberato Joaquim Barroso, an agronomist, in 1928, and followed him in his adventurous life across the country. He was in fact the open door to Graziela's interest for botany. Named director of the horticulture department of the BGRJ, in 1942, Liberato Barroso hardly knew that Graziela was about to become the most important seed he could ever have planted.

In the same year of 1942, Graziela started up as an employee of the BGRJ, taking care of the seeds that came from the wild that had been planted by Liberato. "I'll teach you a little of botany" said Barroso to his beloved Grazi. She must have remembered this very exact moment each and every time she accepted a new pupil, many years later, just like she did when she took us as trainees, in 1975.

Climbing to the top of the botany world, from that moment on, was only a question of time. Every one of her ex-pupils and admirers knows very well it was written in the stars. Liberato Barroso died in 1949 and since then Dona Graziela seemed to have decided dedicating all of her love to science. Destiny also played a great part by putting next to her some other unforgettable names, such as Roberto Burle Marx, Helmut Sick, Margaret Mee, Guido Pabst and Dimitri Sucre. Together, they wrote some of the most brilliant lines in the history of tropical botany in Brazil.

The last years of her life were spent in the studies of the botanical family of the Myrtaceae, still at the BGRJ, where she loved to be, even after her former retirement. Dona Graziela died this year(2003), in May, 5th and left everyone of us orphans of her kindness and love for nature in the tropics.

The caprices of destiny had recently put Dona Graziela in my way again. Since 1998, I have been studying a new population of the tiny bromeliad Tillandsia grazielae, in the rocky outcrops of Petrópolis, State of Rio de Janeiro.

Tillandsia grazielae

In 2001 while visiting the State of Goiás, in the central plateau of Brazil, I saw another small species of Tillandsia, in the Pirineus Mountains. It was Tillandsia barrosoae, also named after Graziela Maciel Barroso. One thing is sure: The size of these two small bromeliads is rightly the reverse to that of Graziela's heart. I'm just one of the many naturalists who owe their careers to this big hearted old lady. Thank you very much, Dona Graziela!

Tillandsia barrosoae

GRAZIELA MACIEL BARROSO (1912-2003), Homenaje Póstumo - John F. Pruski, Missouri Botanical Garden