If a fungus deep in a forest is named after you but no one ever sees it again, does it really count?
Ernie Schuyler thinks so. In fact, that might make it even better.
“Human beings are turned on by rarity,” said Schuyler, emeritus curator at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. “There’s something aesthetically pleasing about it.”
A friend and former colleague recently found and named a rare type of lichen, an organism formed when fungus and algae form a symbiotic relationship, after Schuyler. Vezdaea schuyleriana is known to exist on one boulder in a forest in central Pennsylvania. Schuyler, who spent much of his 50-year career specializing in rare plants, approved.
“It takes a very special person to spot it,” Schuyler said. “I guess for me to find that plant I’d have to crawl over the forest in Pennsylvania on my belly. This is a really minute plant.”
The founder of the species, James Lendemer, started working with Schuyler at the Academy of Natural Sciences when Lendemer was in high school. Now a doctoral student and an expert on lichen, Lendemer credits Schuyler with supporting his work over the years.
Lendemer said colleagues have long lamented that Schuyler had never had a species named after him. When he found the lichen en route from his home in New York to Pittsburgh, he thought it was the perfect opportunity.
“The connection to a potentially rare lichen, found growing humbly on top of a rock deep in the forest, seemed logical,” Lendemer wrote in an e-mail.
Schuyler, who has identified about 10 of his own species, said he has named them after colleagues and people who have worked for him.