Bonnie Stolzmann’s cycad paintings


I had the good fortune to be introduced to illustrator Bonnie Stolzmann through a research colleague who uses Bonnie’s images in her scientific presentations. I knew immediately that I wanted to share some cycad images from her with the Cycad Society. These are the results of that request and were published in the most recent Cycad Newsletter. I do hope you enjoy.

Bonnie Johnson Stolzmann is a Denver based illustrator and fine artist. Her scientific illustrations have been published in association with The Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, The University of California and Harvard University as well as with Frontiers for Young Minds. She strives to amuse her viewers while also truthfully capturing her subject. Commissions, original artworks and archival prints are available through her

website or via e-mail at

2nd Cycad Newsletter

Video of my G4 symposium presentation

Yay, it’s finally here!  I presented a portion of my PhD thesis to the Harvard community as part of a symposium of 4th year graduate students (thus, G4) in my department, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.  A number of important people in my life were not able to be there and so I have been eagerly awaiting the video.  I’m sure they will enjoy it and I hope you will to.  This will give you a bit of a window into my research and my presentation style.  I completely love my study system; if you know me, you’ve heard me say “Cycads are the coolest plants in the world” and I hope it comes through in the presentation. You can also watch it on youtube for full screen.

Frontiers for Young Minds Live review!

I had one of the coolest experiences recently.  We did a live review for our publication ‘Don’t Judge a Plant by its Flowers’ to the journal Frontiers for Young Minds at Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland California.  I was called in to help mentor Riva Bruenn and Valorie Lavenburg on writing this paper that is aimed at children ages 8-16 because it is based on the research that I did for the Spiraling in to History Costus phylogeny.  These two ladies are incredible collaborators, writing with them was so much fun.  Not to mention the unique challenges that come with aiming your research towards children.  I think this should be a requirement for scientist, maybe it would help solve our ‘communication problem’!  The journal is completely rigorous too.  The child reviewers are guided by adults scientist and not only do the criticise you on clarity, but also on methods and larger questions (see my fumble in answering “you don’t really explain why evolution happens” in the live review).  They submit a much more through review online that must be addressed.  And finger’s crossed we get accepted.  Hope you enjoy!  You can also view on youtube for full screen.

ASPT Webster award and Specht lab love


Webster award ASPT

I am so stoked to have received the American Society of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT) Grady L. Webster Award for my first first author paper, ‘Spiraling into history: A molecular phylogeny and investigation of biogeographic origins and floral evolution for the genus Costus‘!!  I couldn’t be happier.  I was so very fortunate to have found the Specht lab at UC Berkeley where I did this work as an undergraduate for so many reasons.  Chelsea Specht is an incredible advisor because she gives you such a perfect balance of guidance and leaving you alone to create your own path.  She doesn’t hold your hand and she sets the bar for you just above what you think is your capability, pushing you to keep raising the bar for yourself (out of fear of looking bad at a lab meeting, but even so 😉 ).  I also found some of my greatest friends in the Specht lab, so she definitely brings the cool kids to the table.  I made a deep and lasting friendship with Tanya Renner (who another undergrad once said must be the only example of genius he’s ever meet – and she great for pizza and a beer).  She’s now an assistant professor at San Diego State University, with what I hear is a great offer from Penn State.  I’m selfishly hoping she moves there just because it will be closer to me!  I also count Thiago André as one of my best friends and was super lucky to work on a few more projects with him that you can see on my publications tab.  I also spent about two months visiting him in Brazil where he selflessly took me all over the country ‘hunting for Zamia‘ cycads, which we later learned is a euphemism for wasting time.  Although, due to his magic as a naturalist, we did find every species we were looking for and had some great adventures on the way.  He is now a professor at the Universidade Federal do Oeste do Pará and I’ve said many times that I wish he could be my phd co-advisor because I can’t imagine doing a paper with out his incredible ability to bring the big picture to any study (and make me laugh).

Anyway, it is truly wonderful to have capped my time at the Specht lab with such an honor.  And even better, UC Berkeley’s department of Plant & Microbial Biology did a little write up on the award, you can see it here.

Webster award PMB


My community college did a profile of me

I loved Santa Rosa Junior College.  I had a great time at UC Berkeley and am absolutely loving my PhD, but nothing compares to the growth I experienced at SRJC, a truly excellent school.  I was super happy that they reached out to me and gave me the chance to send a little praise their way.  Man, I miss you Santa Rosa!Shayla SRJC profile

Here’s the text:


Born in Texas, raised in Georgia and Germany, Shayla spent “too many winters” in Michigan working on an organic farm. She eventually settled in northern California, managing the Boonville farmer’s market. Her mother, a career counselor, discovered the SRJC Sustainable Agriculture Certificate program and recommended that her daughter return to school. Shayla planned to complete the certificate only, then move on. But one class led to another, and she fell in love with science.

“I wasn’t interested in an associate’s degree, let alone a bachelor’s degree when I started at SRJC. But I took Steve Mullany’s soil science class, followed by his plant science course, and found a passion for science. The faculty encouraged me to consider a higher degree. I decided to pursue the associate’s degree which meant more math and English classes, even more than I needed to receive an A.S., because I had dropped out of high school.” When she received a 100% on a test in Claire Shurvinton’s microbiology class, Shurvinton encouraged her to pursue a bachelor’s degree, suggesting UC Berkeley. “I began to see myself differently when I realized how supportive and serious my professors were about what I could achieve,” said Shayla. “SRJC’s lab equipment is top notch,” she added. “You don’t have the ability in other schools, even Berkeley and Harvard, to use the equipment that we got at the JC.”

She also raves about the faculty at SRJC: “I love the math faculty at SRJC. I love the biology and chemistry departments. Taking Robin Fautley’s biology classes at SRJC changed the course of my life. She gave a final lecture in Biology 10 that had half the class in tears, as she explained that to be good citizens of this planet we all need to have an understanding of biology. She has been one of my biggest supporters…Galen George [Chemistry] should receive the best teacher on the planet award. Joe Fassler took time outside of class to catch me up on chemistry. I still stay in touch with Galen and Robin.”

Supported by instructors, the scholarship office and financial aid office, Shayla transferred to UC Berkeley and later, Harvard, where she now is pursuing a PhD in plant-insect interactions. Shayla maintains that the hardest exam she ever completed was for the late Nick Anast’s zoology class. “At SRJC, the emphasis was on learning how to think and to use your experience to analyze and interact with new information. At Berkeley, they just wanted the two-word answer. That was not the way SRJC taught and because of that, it’s been a cakewalk since then.”

Shayla’s husband’s SRJC experience was also very positive. After a time at San Francisco State University, he returned to the JC, taking classes that led to his career as a professional photographer.

Shayla’s dream is to teach science at SRJC. “At SRJC’s graduation, you walk to the reception through a line of all the professors in their academic regalia while THEY applaud YOU. It’s like a movie, walking past all these people who helped you achieve your degree and changed the course of your life. I want to be one of those people for someone else one day.”