Dr. Jany Renz Abroad
Herbaria are vital tools for research on the systematics of plants. A herbarium collection does not assemble itself but requires years of hard work and travel. Over a period of more than 80 years, Dr. Jany Renz developed a fine private herbarium devoted to orchids and housed in the attic of his house in Basel. It comprises over 20'000 herbarium specimens and all the types of the many orchid species that he described as new to science. At the age of 21 he described his first new species of orchid, which he had discovered in Greece and about 100 further were to follow during his life.
He travelled extensively in his search for orchids. His early travels were confined to Europe, especially to Greece and Crete but as he became more familiar with European orchids he travelled further afield, firstly to Turkey, then Iran and finally to the tropics. His orchid collecting trips were often combined with a conference, chemical or botanical. I met up with him on a number of his field trips, in Thailand, Africa, New Guinea and Japan. Occasionally we managed a day or two in the field, for example in the mountains north of Chiang Mai where we were accompanied by the South African orchid specialist Professor Ted Schelpe and the Thai botanist Dr. Tem Smitinand.
Preparation of herbarium specimens
On his travels, he prepared herbarium specimens for later study. Orchids are tricky subjects for the collector. Many have succulent stems, leaves, tubers or roots and fleshy flowers. It is easy to end up with rotten or mouldy specimens, especially in the tropics, and difficult to achieve a scientifically useful and aesthetically pleasing outcome. He achieved both and, as a result, his herbarium collections are a pleasure to work with and study. They are amongst the best-preserved specimens of orchids that I have ever seen.
His travels were directed particularly at those orchid floras and genera that he was studying. Between 1972 and 1975, lengthy half-yearly expeditions in his Range Rover took him to Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The material he collected on these trips was written up in the orchid accounts for Flora Iranica (1984) and Flora of Pakistan (1984), the former commissioned by his good friend Professor Karl Heinz Rechinger of Vienna. Dr. Peter Davis of Edinburgh then asked him to write, with Gerd Taubenheim, the family account for the Flora of Turkey (1984). These excellent treatments could only have been produced by someone with detailed knowledge of the orchids in the field. One has only to examine specimens of Ophrys or Epipactis in a herbarium to realise how difficult they are to interpret and identify, and what a fine job he completed. These accounts have stood the test of time and remain the standard treatments for the regions, despite much fiddling by later authors.
His combined interests of travel and the systematics of the subtribe Habenariinae were particularly felicitous. Species of this group are found almost everywhere, from within the Arctic Circle to the southern tip of Africa and from Europe, Africa, Madagascar, Asia, the Pacific Islands to the Americas. He studied them in the field in every continent and as far afield as Fiji, Malawi and Ecuador. Although his ambition of a world revision of the subtribe remained unfulfilled, he published important revisions of parts of it (Renz, 1980, 1987, 1989; Renz & Grosvenor 1979; Renz & Schelpe 1980; Renz & Vodonaivalu 1989; Pearce, Cribb & Renz 1999). His work and meticulously prepared collections await the next scientist to tackle this difficult group and will certainly make his task that much easier.