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Long overdue

I felt very honoured when, in March 2006, I was asked by Alfonso Susanna if I could present an overview of the phylogeny of Asterales for The International Compositae Alliance TICA meeting in Barcelona later the same year. Of course my first — and probably wisest — reaction was to say Thank you very much I’m flattered, but no thanks, I can’t this time, and try to come up with some in all likelihood quite transparent excuse (like my new job at the museum…). But in the end I throw away all my concerns and decided to at least make a try (after all, I was asked after Kåre Bremer and Michael Donoghue who both had to decline). Or, try and try… it is not very much a try when you are up there in front of many of the world leading botanists and senior experts on many of these very plants I was going to present. It’s akin to present a person to her childhood friend. And not only doing it good, but also making people learning new things about their old friend. I think I failed miserably, but I tried, and I enjoyed it. And kind of completely forgot (or ignored perhaps) the second part, writing all up into a short chapter for congress volume, that was due a few months later… I did the only possible thing to do: I blamed the working situation, as I naturally had all my focus on the API scanning project, but in reality it was a writer’s cramp coupled with a feeling bordering to certainty that I didn’t had anything new or interesting to write, and that I really didn’t know anything about the plants (other than how they related to each other). 

No, not really. I did an early attempt to write an interesting piece. Inspired by Richard DawkinsThe Ancestor’s Tale, I started with Asteraceae and tried to, almost literally, travel backwards in time, meeting the different clades, branches, at the nodes where they connected to the Asterales (part of the) Tree of Life. But I tried in vain, being way too stuck in the Dawksonian way of writing. I was not good enough (and nobody should be surprised about that). And I quit and tried to forgot. Or ignore.

But funnily enough, when I was sure I was “safe”, and started to blame myself for missing this great opportunity to ponder on my favourite subject, a subject off which I know so much (or so I now could think), an e-mail from Vicki Funck reached my mail-box at the museum, desperately trying to get some kind of response from me (only an hour later, Bertil Nordenstam came and told me that Vicki tried really hard to get into touch with me). Now I really couldn’t hide more, and I responded at once. She gave me a few weeks (a month or two) to finish my contribution, and this was exactly the stress level I needed to get started! Somehow, I managed to write a chapter (that unintentionally ended up somewhat Dawksonian!) that’s perhaps not the best thing I ever will publish (I’m sorry ’bout that, but my writing skills in English are not good enough yet!), but is a personal meditation upon what I, right now, think is the most likely relationships and evolutionary scenarios on the Asterales branch of the Tree of Life. And not only that, but thanks to the Association Endemia Faune et Flore de Nouvelle Calédonie (Endemia), Flickr, the International Carnivorous Plant Society’s forum, and Google Images search – and most importantly, the generosity of several photographers around the globe, I even (in the very last seconds) could submit a beautiful two page colour plate with photos of representatives of all the families of Asterales!

Now I’m only eager to see the chapter (and colour plate!) in print! As soon as I have a pdf (which I hope I will receive), I will forward it to all the persons who contributed with photographs to the colour plate. I will also try to make my contribution available through my homepage in one format or another.

In conclusion, I only want to say many thanks to Vicki for pushing me to write the chapter, to Alfonso for asking me to present my view of the phylogeny of Asterales, and to the photographers who helped me complete my chapter! In the end, it was great fun writing, and very inspiring! A lot of new ideas took shape during the process… hopefully I will be able to follow up on one or two of them…

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