Mexico's First Female Biologist
Today is the birthday of the Mexican botanist Helia Bravo Hollis who was born on this day in 1901.
Bravo Hollis was the first woman to graduate with the title of Biologist in Mexico. By the age of 29, she was named curator of the University's herbarium, where she was assigned the job of studying the cactus.
In 1937, Bravo Hollis published "Las cactáceas de México," making her a leader of global cactus research.
Bravo Hollis focused on cactus in, and in 1951, she cofounded the Mexican Cactus Society. Six cacti species are named in her honor. In 2001, the Cactus Society had planned to celebrate her 100th birthday, but she died four days shy of the century mark.
Bravo Hollis also helped found the Botanical Gardens at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She served as the director of the Gardens throughout the 1960s. When a strike occurred, Bravo-Hollis offset the pay owed her workers with money out of her own pocket.
Last year, Google commemorated the 117th birthday of Bravo Hollis with a Doodle.
If you search for her online, you'll see a memorable image of Bravo Hollis, in a skirt and blazer with a knife in her hand, standing next to an Echinocactus platyacanthus, also known as the giant barrel cactus, that appears to be over 5 ft tall and just as wide; an imposing specimen. This species is the largest barrel cacti. In Mexico, where the cactus is a native, the hairs are harvested for weaving, and a traditional candy is made from boiling the pith.
Today, the Helia Bravo Hollis Botanical Garden, with more than 80 species of Cactaceae, is found at the Biosphere Reserve of Tehuacán.