Helia Bravo-Hollis (30 September 1901 – 26 September 2001) was a Mexican botanist, distinguished with the titles of Emeritus Researcher and honoris causa doctorate by the UNAM. For many years she developed her scientific research at the Faculty of Sciences of the same university.
She was born and raised in the neighborhood of Mixcoac, in Mexico City. Her vocation for the study of living beings came from Sunday walks with her parents.
Though the Mexican Revolution conflicts affected her family, she made progress with her studies and entered high school in 1919.
Saint Ildefonso (National Preparatory High School), in Mexico City, was a very interesting institution for her, with professors like Vicente Lombardo Toledano, Sotero Prieto, Erasmo Castellano, Antonio Caso, and Isaac Ochoterena, who influences in the interest of Helia for the biological sciences.
Successfully finishing high school, she continued her studies in medicine, as there was pressure from her family to follow that profession and Biology was not available as a career in the UNAM. Fortunately, such opportunity arose a year afterwards, and she transferred to study at the College of Sciences of the same university.
In 1931, she obtained the degree of Master of Science in Biological Sciences from the College of Philosophy and Letters of the UNAM, with the thesis Contribution to the knowledge of the cactus of Tehuacán, Puebla.
Contributions to Biology
Bravo worked in the field of zoology in the area of parastic and free-living protozoa, publishing nine studies between 1921 and 1927 while still a student alongside Professor Isaac Ochoterena. She joined the teaching faculty at the National Preparatory School as a teaching assistant, and later as a professor.
She is invited to head the Biology Department of the UNAM, which has changed its name to "Instituto de Biología de la UNAM" after the University becomes autonomous in 1929.
In the 1950s, she returns to academic life and is a professor of Botany at the National School of Biological Sciences of the Instituto Politécnico Nacional. Two years later she returns to the Instituto de Biología at UNAM. It is during this period that she shares the leadership of the National Herbarium with Débora Ramírez Cantú.
She makes contributions to the area of floriculture, although in the arid regions of eastern Mexico, she focuses on the taxonomy of cactaceae. She organizes a collection of live cactaceae and other succulent plants in order to observe their development and evaluate morphological characteristics.
She co-founds the Sociedad Mexicana de Cactología in 1951, and later helps to found the Botanical Gardens at UNAM in 1959, serving as its director in the 1960s. She specializes in the taxonomy of cactacea in Mexico, authoring an entire monograph on the Mesoamerican region. She conducts fieldwork and work in herbarium, disseminating her findings in publications, conferences, and in the classroom.
Her scientific writings span over 160 publications, 60 taxonomy descriptions, and 59 reclassifications.
Helia Bravo obtained several distinctions as well as national and international recognitions. The last one was for her work regarding the flora of Metztitlán, Hidalgo, during the creation of the Reservation of the Biosphere of that county in 2000.
Nine taxa of the flora and fauna of Mexico have been appointed in her honour, among them:
- (Cactaceae) Heliabravoa Backeb. -- Cact. Succ.