Botanist and Associate Curator of Plants

Botanist Dr. Kenneth Wurdack crouched down in a dark space holding a orange giant “corpse flower”.
Dr. Kenneth Wurdack with a giant “corpse flower” in Sarawak, Malaysia that looks and smells like rotting meat to attract its pollinators, carrion flies. The flower belongs to a parasitic plant (Rafflesia tuan-mudae) that lives in a host plant and has no stems, leaves, or roots of its own. Image courtesy of Ben van Ee.

Dr. Kenneth Wurdack’s passion for botany came via his parents who were also botanists and instilled a broad curiosity about natural history. At a young age he started gardening, beginning with vegetables and moving on to rare and exotic species, before formally studying botany and biochemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland. His Ph.D. in 2002 from the University of North Carolina was based on research on the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae (containing the economically important cassava, rubber tree, poinsettia, and castor bean), and placing it in the Tree of Life.

Since 2005 Ken has continued this research as a curator in the Department of Botany. His current work in systematics and evolution emphasizes DNA-based approaches to infer relationships between plant species and understand the origins of their amazing morphological and chemical diversity. His tropical fieldwork has yielded new species and taken him to previously unexplored mountains in Guyana as well as, remote parts of Madagascar, Malaysia, Peru, and Venezuela.