Bust of Richard Spruce unveiled in Ecuador


On 4 March 2006 a bust of Richard Spruce (1817-1893), the British botanist and South America explorer, was unveiled at Río Verde near Baños, central Ecuador. The work of art, fashioned by the Ecuadorian sculptor Edguin Barrera and generously supported internationally by various institutions, organizations and individual donors, honours the pioneering work of this great botanist on the rich Amazonian and Andean floras.


The celebration, organized by the Chamber of Tourism of the town of Baños, was attended by a large crowd, including the Vice-Mayor and other leading personalities of the region, the British Vice-Consul, and the heads of all the major herbaria of Ecuador. Speeches were given by the Vice-Mayor as well as Dr Plutarcho Naranjo, former Minister of Health of Ecuador and Dr Robbert Gradstein, member of the organizing committee. The programme also featured singing (hymns of Ecuador and Baños) and a toast by co-organizer Patricia Guevara of Baños. The unveiling was undertaken by Sophie Deeks, British Vice-Consul and Mrs Isabel Paredes, chairperson of the Río Verde community.


Following a splendid lunch in hotel Miramelinda, Río Verde at the invitation of its owners Patricia Guevara and Manuel Chauvin, the participants spent the afternoon on leisure walks to some of the localities visited by Spruce, including the Río Verde waterfall and the Río Topo valley. It was at the latter site that Spruce experienced great difficulties when trying to cross the swollen waters of the river, and almost lost his precious collections there. Local botanist and orchid specialist Lou Jost showed some of the plant species collected by Spruce along this spectacularly beautiful river. A highlight was finding the rare liverwort Myriocolea irrorata Spruce, known only from the River Topo and long considered extinct. Spruce was particularly attracted to this species, which he considered “perhaps the most interesting bryophyte that I have every found … and the only agreeable souvenir I have preserved of this river” (Spruce 1908, Notes of a botanist on the Amazon and the Andes, vol. 2, p. 167).


The inauguration of the bust of Richard Spruce in Río Verde should help keeping the memory of this great explorer of the Amazon and the Andes alive in Ecuador. It should also help in promoting awareness of the rich biodiversity of the upper Pastaza and Topo Valleys which are currently threatened by plans to build three hydroelectric projects. Efforts are currently being made by the tourist and nature conservation agencies of Baños to counteract these destructive activities and ensure conservation of the area. It is hoped that such endeavours to conserve the magnificent rain forest and watercourses of the valleys, first explored by Richard Spruce, will prove successful.


S.R. Gradstein, L. Jost, M.R.D. Seaward and G.T. Prance