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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Artist’s reconstruction of a new fossil species Hemignathus vorpalis (bottom), based on its probable resemblance to adult males of its genus: H. wilsoni (Akiapola’au, above) and H. lucidus hanepepe (Kauai Nukupu’u, middle). Illustration © J. Hume


Artist’s reconstruction of a new fossil species Hemignathus vorpalis (bottom), based on its probable resemblance to adult males of its genus: H. wilsoni (Akiapola’au, above) and H. lucidus hanepepe (Kauai Nukupu’u, middle).

Illustration © J. Hume

John Kress in the field
John Kress in the field


W. John Kress, PhD, is a research botanist and curator in the Department of Botany. He studies reproduction, evolution, and conservation of tropical and temperate plants, including heliconia.


What I observed among the plants and the hummingbirds that pollinate them in the Caribbean closely paralleled Darwin’s insights from his visit to the Galápagos Islands.

I first read On the Origin of Species during one of my earliest trips to South America. I was overwhelmed by the insights Darwin provided about evolution, which was at work in the rainforests I was exploring. His Tree of Life drawing impressed me most. The branching diagram opened my eyes to the evolutionary origin of Earth’s spectacular biodiversity.

When I began my research in the islands of the eastern Caribbean, I realized how important these natural laboratories were for studying and understanding the processes of evolution.

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