International Association for Lichenology

Antonin Vězda

Antonin Vězda

The life of A. Vězda (born 1920 in Brno, Czechoslovakia) was strongly influenced by political troubles. During the first world war, he was not allowed to go to university and had to act as a manager of a fruit company. In 1945 he began his academic studies at the University of Brno. Later he changed to the University of Forestry. He finished his studies with the doctoral diploma and became an assistant. Already he had a strong interest in plants, especially those of small dimensions. The decision to study lichens and not bryophytes was made because some younger botanists in Czechoslovakia already had begun to work with bryophytes. Antonin first undertook floristic studies within the country, some with a strong ecological emphasis. However, he soon became interested in taxonomy. He began with monographical studies of groups which were, at that time, united within the artificial family Gyalectaceae.

In 1960 he was suddenly expelled from the University, because he was not a communist, and he had to act as a forest worker until 1968. Even during this time he tried, whenever possible, to follow his scientific interests. For example, he discovered and diligently analyzed the lichen which later became the type species of the genus Vězdaea, dedicated to him.

From 1968, when he had already published many papers which made him well known in the lichenological world, he became a worker at the Czechoslovakian Academy of Sciences at Prague, and he was allowed to do his work in his apartment in Brno.

In the following years Antonin published many outstanding lichenological papers. He contributed in a second essential field to the growth of lichenology. Already in his first years, he had published his “Lichenes Cechoslovakiae exsiccati“, most of which he had collected himself in his own country. Later he initiated what became the largest lichen exsiccati ever to appear: his famous “Lichenes selecti exsiccati“, with altogether 2500 numbers originating from many parts of the world. Fortunate is the institute which possesses a set!

Through his exsiccata, he became acquainted with lichens from the whole world. It is no wonder that he became interested in travelling outside his own country and some surrounding regions, which he was allowed to visit a few times. But only some parts of the (former) Soviet Union were open to him to visit and to do lichenological work. For several reasons he selected the Caucasus mountains, and especially the very humid southwestern slopes, well known formerly as Colchis. Here he became acquainted with a very special group of lichens, which continue to fascinate him today: the foliicolous lichens, treated by R. Santesson 1952 in a worldwide monograph.

Antonin studied his own collections and received other material from different subtropical and tropical countries, sent by his many friends. Following the changing taxonomic concepts of our time, he described both many new species and new genera. But his most important contribution was understanding and analyzing the very peculiar organs for asexual reproduction that are formed in these lichens, hyphophores and campylidia. As he had done in his previous monographs, he illustrated his studies with his outstanding, perfect drawings, unique in modern lichenology. And his work goes on, many new taxa wait to be described by him.

When Antonin ended his “Lichenes selecti exsiccati“, he first decided to stop assembling exsiccata altogether. But making exsiccata had become a part of his life. He started with a third series “Lichenes rariores exsiccati”, though with a smaller number of sets. Several times on excursions, he had made up his mind to collect nothing for his exsiccata. But when he saw the first interesting species in sufficient quantity and he could not resist: “I must take it”, he said, and soon another number was collected.

Antonin Vězda made essential contributions to modern lichenology: by his taxonomic monographs, by his exsiccata, by his unsurpassed drawings, and by his studies of foliicolous lichens. But he always had another botanical interest as well, bulbous plants, which he cultivated in his own garden near Brno. He received material from many parts of the world, and grew those plants from seed to flower and seed again. Sometimes this field of botany fascinated him even more than the lichens. Fortunately the flowering season of bulbous plants is usually very short and the garden work with propagation did not take up too much time, so lichenology remained his main field, in which his outstanding contributions made him a convincing candidate for the Acharius medal.

J. Poelt