Epiphytes, which include many bromeliads, ferns, gesneriads
, and orchids, are plants that grow upon other plants.
The founder and head of Sarasota's Gesneriad Research Foundation, Wiehler is prominent in the small but passionate subculture of people who burn for gesneriads, a large family of exotic and often strikingly beautiful tropical plants.
In 1970, he traveled to the hinterlands of Ecuador, and when his host learned that Wiehler was interested in gesneriads, he said, "Why, I have a whole rainforest just for you
In seconds, I saw more than 30 species of gesneriads.
Wiehler will tell you gesneriads are "wonderful" and even "intelligent" plants, ingeniously adapted to their environments and fascinating from the tips of their shapely leaves to their quirky sex lives (disparate species can be bred to produce new species, and many are pollinated by only a single kind of insect out of the near-infinite number in the tropics).
He returned in April 1986, with a group of gesneriad lovers.
He had been given some rare gesneriad seeds; and when he tried to learn more about these strange new plants, he discovered that almost nothing was known about them.
The park would also include centers for rainforest plant research, including the new home of the Gesneriad Research Foundation.