Cornell is full of the names of students past: Olin Library and Donlon Hall to name a couple.
Alfonso Doucette has given his name to something a little more unusual: a plant.
Orchid expert and taxonomist Eric Christensen named the Maxillaria × doucetteana in Alfonso’s honor after being wowed by his vast knowledge of orchids.
Alfonso has loved plants for as long as he can remember, but he said the orchid has always stood out. From an aesthetic standpoint, he loves their shape and texture, and from a scientific one, he loves that they are understudied. Though orchids are the largest family of plants, many species are rare and endangered and thus have little written about them.
As a plant sciences major, Alfonso is rectifying this situation and has shed some light on a particularly rare subset of orchids: the Dracula, or “little dragon” genus. For his senior honors thesis, he collected molecular and morphological data to create a family tree for the genus, which more accurately reflects evolutionary relationships and offers new insight on Dracula orchids.
In addition to this taxonomic research, Alfonso has used his time at Cornell to “describe” numerous orchid species, meaning he was the first to recognize a given species and publish a detailed description of it.
A species he described in a 2011 issue of “Phytotaxa”—the Dracula immunda—was nominated for the 2012 “Top Ten New Species” list, compiled by the International Institute for Species Exploration.
This year, he described another species in the same journal, and he plans to publish several more works on Dracula orchids in the upcoming year.
Alfonso said he first fell in love with Cornell during a pre-college program. While exploring Mann Library, he found a little-known book of botanical monographs. He was amazed and impressed by the depth of Mann’s collection, and he knew that if he came to Cornell he would have access to incredible botanical resources.
Years later, the library remains one of his favorite parts of Cornell.
“As students, we have access to basically anything we want,” he said.
Alfonso also appreciates Cornell for the opportunity it has afforded him to work alongside experts in his field and get close to cutting-edge research.
After graduation, Alfonso plans to pursue a career in plant systematics, in which he hopes to discover why orchids are such a diverse family. He will be entering a Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin.