Rutgers New Brunswick/Piscataway Campus

Lena Struwe's Home Page

  Lena Struwe
Dr. Lena Struwe

Symbolanthus mathewsii from Ecuador
Ring gentian

photo: Lena Struwe

Potalia resinifera from South America
Potalia gentian
photo: Paul Maas


Tachia guianensis from French Guiana

Tachia gentian

photo: Paul Maas


Bottle gentian, Gentiana autumnalis, from New Jersey

Bottle gentian

photo: John Mitchell


Associate Professor,
        School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
        Chrysler Herbarium (CHRB)

Dept. of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources
  & Dept. of Plant Biology and Pathology
237 Foran Hall, 59 Dudley Road
Cook Campus, Rutgers University
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8551, USA 

Phone: (848) 932-6343,  Fax: (732) 932-9411


Areas of professional expertise: evolution, botany, economic plants, taxonomy, nomenclature, safety of herbals, medicinal plants, native and non-native plants, food and cooking history, weeds, international collaborations, descriptions of new species, classification of biodiversity and biogeography, GIS-based evolutionary studies, ecological niche evolution, teaching, education, interactive educational components, informal education, bioactivity screening, conservation of biodiversity, morphological and genetic variation in plants, sustainable gardening and agriculture, identification of and keys to plants, mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students in research projects, outreach activities for K-99 ages.

RESEARCH (link to more information)  
COURSES (link to current and past courses)

SELECTED PUBLICATIONS (link to full list)
(link to pdf)

Past and current STUDENTS and their projects, click here for list

Hosted student or former student projects:
Online identification key to Hymenodon mosses
by Mike Tessler

Research Interests (see also RESEARCH):
I am involved in several different research areas that involves plant taxonomy and biodiversity, historical biogeography, GIS, and phylogenetics, and contemporary ethno- and urban botany. I have worked in several areas of the world, with emphasis on North America and Latin America, and also have been collaborating on projects in Europe, Central Asia, Africa and tropical Asia. As part of my research I have developed the method Spatial Evolutionary and Ecological Vicariance Analysis (SEEVA) with collaborators.

I have recently started several projects focused on urban and global weeds, these misunderstood plants that are true success stories and get around a lot. Within this area I will focus on invasive species, the psychology of our love-hate of weeds, the evolutionary and ecological processes affecting urban weeds, the biodiversity of weeds in cities, the opinions of weeds in different cultures worldwide, and of course edible and toxic weeds.  I also use weeds as an important teaching tool since it is an easily accessible resources for plant biology, evolution, and ethnobotany studies in any school area, urban to rural and for grades K-99. 

One of my main research foci is also the historical evolution and biodiversity of angiosperms, especially plants from the order Gentianales and its families Apocynaceae (dogbanes and milkweeds), Gelsemiaceae (Carolina jessamine), Gentianaceae (gentians), Loganiaceae (strychnine family), and Rubiaceae (coffee and madder family). I am investigating tropical plant diversity, evolution, and biogeography based on phylogenetic reconstructions using anatomical, morphological, and molecular data. Much of my recent work has focused on the classification and phylogeny of the families Gentianaceae and Loganiaceae. The gentian family is also the focus of my research in the evolution of morphology and New World biogeography. 

Another research focus are contemporary ethnobotany; how humanity use plants in our lives. I have worked with the development of sustainable use of plants for medicinal research on an international scale through the projects of ICBG Central Asia (until 2008) and GIBEX. We investigate new plants for medicinal use, based on old traditions and scientifically investigate their phytochemical content, variation, and safety. I teach several courses in this area (see COURSES), and have done research related to medicinal plants, the need for quality control and vouchering in pharmaceutical research, reviews of historical texts for leads for new drugs, and much more.

This means that I look at a group of plants and track their ancestors and changes in their looks and attributes through their evolution tens of millions of years into the past. How old are these species? Where did they evolve?  How did they get there?  Which traits have they inherited from their ancestors?  Why do they look like this? How did their looks become like this? How do their flowers and fruits develop? What are their proper names and how many species are there out there?  Are they endangered?  How are they useful to humans? Why do some grow in the mountains and some in the rainforests or on savannas?

I study these questions using modern molecular (DNA) and traditional (morphological) techniques. This requires field work for collecting new plant material, visits to herbaria in many countries to study specimens collected during the last 300 years, and work in my laboratory with DNA sequencing, herbarium material, computers, and microscopes. We also use methodologies such as histological preparations, SEM, GIS, statistical methods (multivariate statistics, etc.), light microscopy, phylogenetic analyses (parsimony, Bayesian, and maximum likelihood), and DNA sequencing.

For more information on gentians, see the Gentian Research Network.   


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