Botanist and researcher. He was a professor in that field at the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico in San Germán. He was known as a collector and scholar of the botany of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Some of his published studies are considered central works in the field of Antillean botany.
Ismael Vélez was born in the town of Yauco in 1908 to a family of farmers. After completing his elementary studies in Sabana Grande and secondary studies in his hometown, he won a scholarship from the Grand Lodge of Puerto Rico to study at the Puerto Rico Polytechnic Institute in San Germán, which is known today as the Inter-American University. He was part of the institution’s first graduating class (1927).
After completing his degree, he joined the faculty of the Biology Department at the university. In the late 1930s, he traveled to the United States to continue his doctoral studies at Louisiana University, where he graduated in 1939. He returned to Puerto Rico to continue teaching at the Polytechnic Institute, where he taught classes for 40 years.
During the 1940s, he was one of the researchers who contributed to the Institute of Tropical Agriculture, located in Mayagüez. In 1948, he won a scholarship from the Guggenheim Foundation that allowed him to collect plant specimens from the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. He published Plantas indeseables en los cultivos tropicales: manual ilustrado para el agricultor, basado en material de Puerto Rico (1950) and Herbaceous Angiosperms of the Lesser Antilles (1957). Both books are considered important sources for studying the field.
Ismael Vélez twice took part in the Fulbright Program, which provides support for educational exchange among students, researchers, educators and professionals and was established in 1946 by U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright. With the program’s support, he presented conferences on botany at Ceilán University in 1957 and the University of Cuzco in Peru in 1960. In 1965, with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank and the Ford Foundation, he returned to Peru to present lectures on the methodology and teaching of biology.
He also published approximately 27 articles in academic journals, such as “Wild Pineapples in Venezuela” (1946) in Science; “Barbados, an Agricultural Tropical Island without Weeds” (1950) in The Scientific Monthly and “Notes on the Ecology of West Indian Species of Malpighia” in Science (1956).
Ismael Vélez also distinguished himself as the first president of the Puerto Rico Association of Science Teachers. Beginning in 1958, he managed various science institutions for high school teachers and students with support from the National Endowment for the Sciences in the United States. He also served as the president of the Sigma Club in Mayagüez and was a member of the Puerto Rico chapter of the American Society of Agricultural Sciences.
In 1970, the Puerto Rico Academy of Arts and Sciences awarded Ismael Vélez the top Puerto Rican award for biological sciences. At the award ceremony, the honoree presented a speech titled “Consideraciones sobre la flora de Puerto Rico.” He died the same year, on October 3.
His collections of vegetation specimens are deposited in the University of Louisiana herbarium, with duplicates placed at various other universities in the United States. The duplicates at the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico’s San Germán campus were almost entirely destroyed by pests. The remaining specimens are located at the Metropolitan (San Juan) Campus of the university.
The Inter-American University of Puerto Rico in San Germán honored the memory of this scholar of Caribbean biology by naming one of the campus’ buildings and the Natural History Society after him.
Lugo Lugo, Herminio, Eugenio María de Hostos Brunet y Ramón M. Suárez. “Gran premio puertorriqueño de ciencias biológicas: laudo”. Boletín de la Academia de Artes y Ciencia de Puerto Rico. 6.4 oct-dic. 1970: 668-672. Impreso.
Lugo Lugo, Herminio. “Ismael Vélez: in memoriam”. Revista/Review interamericana. 1.1 1971: 50-52. Impreso.
Acevedo Rodríguez, Pedro. Introduction. Flora of St. John, U. S. Virgin Islands. Bronx, N.Y.: New York Botanical Garden, [c.1996]. En línea.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 08, 2014.
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